It seems like such a big number. How can he be this number?

On the eve of his seventeenth birthday, his dad comes home from the neighbour’s fields and the evening is warm and lovely and the breeze is soft. And the old schoolhouse-turned-barn calls, and out they go. All my men, from top to bottom, to put a few rows of metal on the roof.

I stand at the bottom, looking up. And I see my husband at the top, calling to his sons. Hold it steady, an inch to the right, hold it, hold it. Below him, clinging to the roof like a monkey is the youngest. Whirling the power screwdriver in the air like a gun, blowing the pretend smoke away like in the old westerns. Passing tools between the older boys and his dad. Trying to be a part of what is going on. And then my big boys, together, as they’ve been for so many years. And I think to myself that they should be wearing their brave knight costumes and battling each other with plastic swords. Instead they’ve donned work gloves and they handle power tools, but wasn’t it just yesterday I was sending them to bed in matching footed jammies?

I can hardly watch. I imagine the falling and I hold up hands so that I have a shield of fingers through which to peek.

What are you doing? calls my husband to me. You have to watch, or you’ll miss it.

From the bottom, looking up at my men, I see the story of our family. Growing and changing before my very eyes. And I open my eyes wide, and I watch. Seventeen years have passed in an instant, and I know the precious gift I have. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Today will be the seventeenth time I make a cake for this boy. Chocolate, with vanilla ice cream.