“They choose you, you know. In Heaven. They choose who their parents will be. Your child’s soul chose you.” He smiled, the wrinkles lining his face almost swallowing his eyes.

I was in the hospital waiting room, one trip of many during a difficult high-risk pregnancy. He was waiting on news of the arrival of his grandchild. I smiled and nodded, not knowing then what I know now.

My son was pulled into the world, six weeks early, eyes wide open. Three pounds of fighter. A tiny human with a big heart and a soul that is older than mine.

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. When he was a baby, I would look into his clear blue eyes and swear I was looking into the eyes of a wise old man. If I squinted my eyes just so, I thought I could catch a fleeting glimpse of the old man hidden in his features. My son would blink and I would be overcome with the sense that somehow, he knew more than I did. I still feel that way.

When he was 4 years old, we were at the park. He was watching all the kids playing, smiling contentedly. “Don’t you want to go play with the other kids?” I asked him. “No thanks, I just like seeing how happy they are,” he replied. And the thing is? He really did.

He spends hours figuring out how things work, writing, drawing, reading; content to be on the outside looking in as his siblings play together. Sometimes I worry he doesn’t fit in with his peers, that he is a lone wolf and not a part of the pack. But then I’ll watch him on the school grounds, running around with his friends, playing soccer and basketball, chatting and laughing, and I realize he does fit in, when HE chooses to. The rest of the time? He’s watching and processing the world around him. Quietly contemplating life. And he’s just so zen.

He can be so strong-willed. Absolutely certain that his way is THE way. He isn’t concerned with doing what others want or following the crowd. Sometimes he struggles with authority, questioning why things are a certain way. He does what he feels is right, for his body, his mind, his soul. He marches to the beat of his own drum and lives by the mantra, “You do you, and I’ll do me.”

Some people think he’s just a tough nut to crack. Halfway through kindergarten the school secretary told me, “After saying hello to him every morning, I finally got him to smile!” But I know better. The way he stares at people? Without smiling? He’s looking deep inside, into every crevice and dark corner, where the shadows dim the light, deep into their very souls.

Being an old soul? It’s more than just being intelligent, introspective, and oftentimes, a lone wolf.

He was 5 years old the first time he climbed a tree. When his feet were firmly planted back on the ground, he said to me, “Do you know how I climbed that tree? I push myself to be brave, even when I’m scared. I did it afraid.”

Sometimes I worry that I learn more from him than he learns from me. Sometimes I worry that this world will swallow him whole. That the weight of all of his wisdom and feeling will become too much to bear. That he is growing too old, too fast.

Sometimes I get lost in his baby blues, his hands cradling my cheeks, and I forget that he is still just a child. But then he’ll laugh hysterically at silly fart jokes or come running to me when he’s hurt and I remember.

He is so perceptive and intuitive. He just knows things, you know? Like how you’re feeling without saying a word. Those times you try to hide your worry, your fear, your sadness? Yeah, forget it. He knows. Or he’ll tell me some weird, random fact about the Earth, or the universe, and when I ask him, “How do you know that?” He just shrugs his little shoulders, smiles slightly and says, “I just know.”

Raising an old soul can be humbling and daunting.

But when I’m tucking him into bed and he looks me straight in the eye and tells me, “I searched and searched and I’m so happy I found you to be my mommy,” all I can think is, so am I baby.

So am I.

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Heidi Hamm

Heidi Hamm is a writer, wife and mom of 6-year-old twin boys who are nothing alike, and their 8-year-old sister, who won’t admit that she really does like 80s music. She loves bookstores, Starbucks and peanut butter. You can find her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/heidihammwriter/