Ezra Turns Sixteen—And Tinka Can’t Handle It

I wrote Ezra a one page letter this morning at 3:27 AM.

Today is his sixteenth birthday.

He’s not a ‘little dude’ anymore.

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Writing letters or poems about your children is quite possibly, as a writer, in my opinion, probably the easiest assignment you’ll ever have. It’s nothing. In fact, there are so many images, stored experiences, triumphs, failures, comebacks, celebrations, songs, and scenes locked in your head, you could go on infinitely.  I could. Especially about the leader of the Mighty. But I didn’t. I sat for maybe a minute, and then it just came pouring out. I write poems and letters for everyone in the house, but only on special occasions.

Here’s the test to see if I strike that emotional sweet spot—I have Tink read it out loud. I love her reading voice. She sounds like one of those erotic historical fiction audio book narrators, but better.  She’s an early riser, so it was perfect timing. I handed her the letter for Ezra, and waited to hear that voice. She read it silently. I think we both knew what was coming. Usually, when she smiles or maybe a tear or two may fall, I pump my fist like I just hit a grand slam homer over the Green Monster in Fenway Park. But this time was different. Close to thirty seconds into the letter, she covered her eyes and began to ball. It hit me. I tried to play it cool. Tossed a weak fist pump in the air, but I couldn’t celebrate as usual.  Not this time.

Her tears decorated the page and even hit two of the seven pictures of Ezra over the years that was attached to the letter. I went over to her immediately and embraced her , as if we were in mourning. It was weird. Before long—dammit—I was crying too. It wasn’t even about the letter anymore (even though I did put my foot in it; some of my best work really). We were both taken back by how fast this has all gone by. Seems like yesterday we were living in those apartments across the street from Peachtree Buffet in Kansas City , I was driving a brand new cherry red Ford Ranger, working at Hallmark Cards, and she was in her second year in med school. A lot can happen in sixteen years. We’ve had three more beautiful boys, survived the deadliest hurricane in American history, became a doctor, published children’s books, bought two houses, and even saw a Black man be elected to president.

The thing is, if you have more than one kid, they will all cross this way. Every last one. When I reminded Tink of this inevitable fact, she made a face like they were all packed up, all four of the brothers, and leaving for college today. If it was left up to her she would have frozen all four of them at around age six or seven and kept them tucked in her bosom. Letting them go is so painful I must admit. Dreadfully painful.

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When your parents use to say this you thought they were trippin’, but it’s the truth: no matter how big you get, how grown you are , you’ll always be someone’s baby. Ezra is huge. 6’1 250 pound huge.  Future North Carolina A&T valedictorian with a degree in computer science/engineering. He has locks like a modern day Sampson and the intellect of a young W.E.B. Dubois. He’s laid back, easy going, thus the nickname given to him by one of his football coaches in KC (big up to Dawud!) EAZY. He calls himself EAZY. I remember when he was little E. I remember…and this is such a crazy-fond memory—my first big book signing at the Superdome in New Orleans during the Bayou Classic. He was three years old when he accompanied me, like a road manager, to the event. I parked almost seven blocks away. I carried a box of maybe fifty copies of A LowDown Bad Day Blues in one arm and Ezra rode on my shoulders. Halfway there, he said that his legs were hurting and he wanted to get down. And then he said, “I’ll help you carry some books…” So I gave him four books to hold. He held my free hand and we marched the rest of the way. He watched me sell and sign my first book. The look in his eyes—I’ll never forget  how proud he was of me….let me stop.

See, ya’ll gonna have me crying again. Nope. I’ll just share the letter below. I love that boy…

The older you get , the more these two things happen:

1)Our pride in the young man you are becoming  grows, and 2)we recognize that you’re becoming, day by day, more independent; Making your own decisions, carving out your own path, through trial and error, figuring out who it is you eventually want to become. It’s not easy. There is no manual. No one can sell you anything that will lead you down the right pathways, lined with everything you’ll dream of becoming and acquiring as you continue to mature.

We remember when you needed help tying your shoes. We remember that tiny little laugh. We remember your smiling little face in the car when we’d head to the French Market in New Orleans. We remember how eager you were to run into your class on the first day of Pre-K. We remember your first tae kwon do class. ACE. Marvon. Sydney. Learning how to read before kindergarten. We remember you memorizing Malcolm X’s eulogy.  Your first soccer, basketball, football game. We still remember being able to hold you in our arms through Loose Park and Baptism at St. James on Ash Sunday. Some days we still see you as all of those ‘little Ezras’. And every one of those days helped formed the person you are today, and we love this 16 year old you more than you can imagine. We care about this 16 year old you. We support this 16 year old you, and will ALWAYS be here for you.

You will become everything and anything that you set your mind to, and even greater. We believe in you, always will. Move forward, continue to do the right things, pray and meditate daily, work hard, and expect the best from yourself. Make good decisions, strive for GREATNESS. Be a young man with unwavering integrity, high moral standards, and the belief that God has BIG plans for your life.

Be Ezra Langston Barnes. “EAZY”. There is, and forever will be , only one. Our one and only, very first blessing.

Happy Birthday, son.

We couldn’t love you more.

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2 Comments
  1. OMG! You have me doing that sniveling, breath-catching thing that’s a telll-tale giveaway of deep sobs. I know what has y’all broken down; yeah, it’s all of that. But as a family-once-removed observer, it’s layers of other things. It’s the vindication from busting the narrative of the broken Black family, the irresponsible, absentee Black father, the dependent, single Black mother. It’s the end of the harshly disciplined, unruly, underperforming Black boy myth. It’s the upgrading for a new century and a healthy philosophy of the picture of the Black family. It’s the culmination of hope and perseverance, and it’s the shared victory and pride. All of that – at this place in time, from the love that swells your hearts, seems like a tall order, a lot to live up to. Not for the mighty Barnes Family! Just keep doing what you’re doing day to day.

    • You hit the nails on all of the proverbial heads, Sharon. I just remember looking at Tink and thinking how just yesterday she use to sneak into my dorm room and how I went to Mississippi to find a thick country girl. Ended up finding one from South Central LA, but it all worked out.

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