A letter to my son on his 7th birthday

Every year I write a letter to my kids on their birthday. I hope to one day give each kid a book of these letters – as way of apology and explanation. 

Dear Luke,

You turn seven today. SEVEN! This seems impossible, nearly as impossible as reconciling that the boy in front of me is the same as the baby I took home from the hospital. You are a million things that I never could have imagined on that day seven years ago when I tried, and failed, to button you into the too-small outfit that I thought to take you home in.

My baby is 7

The most astonishing thing about parenthood is the fact that my children are actual people- people who are different from me and have their own minds. You, my boy, are a person I’m so happy to know; a person unlike any other I’ve ever known; a person who is nothing like I ever expected.

I might have imagined tall towers of blocks. But they’re not you. You are the impetus, the intensity, and the energy it takes to build them. I might have imagined scraped knees and wet sneakers. But they’re not you. You are the racket, the commotion, and the spirit that it takes to fall a thousand and one times, get back up, and run into the wet with your shoes on. (Who am I kidding? You never wear your shoes. You are the boy who is barefoot no matter what.)

My words fall short of painting a full picture of all that you are. You are the chaotic blur between my organized thought and vocabulary.

You are the blur

This special thing you are- it is a plum I hold in my hands. Tender, impossibly sweet, and a complete mess. My job is to usher this plum through childhood unbruised. If you can retain all of your plumminess into adulthood, you will truly be one of the world’s most special people.

Your exceptionally strong will and unwavering moral code will serve you well in life. You stand up to any perceived injustice, especially if done against you or your little sister. I love this about you and I hope that sense of right stays with you and speaks louder than your peers do as you continue down the sometimes perilous course of childhood. The people you care about along the way will be lucky to have you in their corner.

Your innate feeling of protection over your sister is incredible. You will protect her from me, even when I’m coming down on her for something terrible she did to you. Please continue to do this. All evidence points to you being a pretty big guy as you grow up, and, right or wrong, I’d like you to intimidate the heck out of all boys who look at your sister.

Speaking of big guys, I can’t pick you up anymore. At all. This means that I’m left with only verbal options and facial expressions when I want to convince you to do something you might not want to do. The transition from me being able to physically “encourage” you, to you needing to listen to me based on your opinion of my authority has been bumpy at times. What might be defiance in a seven-year-old is something altogether different in a man. My job is to somehow curb the contrariness without crushing the chutzpah. That’s a tricky one- one of the many tricky things I’m charged with as your mother.

So much about you is surprising and special to me, but nothing more so than your capacity to love. Your love is huge and boundless. Staggering. As an object of this affection, it can certainly be overwhelming. How can I teach you to keep some of it to yourself without teaching you that so much love is wrong? Who can endure the number of hugs you want to give? Who can reciprocate with as much enthusiasm? I hope that one day you find someone who can. That’s what I want for you most of all.

Love

Oh, enthusiasm! Wow. I never knew that a person could have so much of it. Whether you are enthusiastically joyful or enthusiastically angry, you are most definitely committed and passionate. More so than anyone I have ever met. I love this about you so incredibly much. As a life-long cynic, I have a lot to learn from your unabashed zeal for life.

Jump in

Happy birthday, my astonishing boy. I love you so much and can’t wait to see what the future holds. So bring it, seven, bring it on!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.

Letting Go

Let go, let them flyParenthood is an endless exercise in letting go. It’s incremental, but steadfast and relentless. The first thing you must let go of is every preconceived notion you ever had. Second to go is your life as you ever knew it. And, finally, comes the remainder of your days when you must let go, little by little, of your very babies, who you’ll want to hold onto more than anything.

There is no better parent in the world than an adult who has no children. He/she knows everything, all of which learned by observing the countless errors of every parent in his/her path. Having a baby of one’s own is to go from knowing everything to slowly realizing you know nothing. This does not happen all at once. Not at all.

I’m not pregnant yet? You mean there’s more to it than just doing it? Small thing. Lesson learned. I now know everything.

Finally, we’re pregnant! There is really no excuse for gaining 60 pounds just to birth a 7 pound baby. 15 pounds is completely attainable with just a little bit of discipline. I’ll just eat right and exercise. Just 300 extra calories for baby.

What sick motherfucker called this morning sickness when it’s actually every-time-I-move-sickness? Ugh. Well, at least now I know everything. Hmm, I seem to barf at the thought of any food other than bagels. OK, so I’ll eat a couple of bagels for the first couple of weeks, and then when my all-freaking-day sickness has passed I’ll return to a healthy diet. Now, back to those parenting books!

Holy crap Cinnamon Toast Crunch is like heaven on Earth! I’ll totally have that spinach salad for dinner.

I actually cannot lift my arms or keep my eyes open. Must have food that requires no waiting or working. Like this sleeve of Girl Scout cookies. Then the gym!

Putting on my gym clothes was exhausting. A little nap and then the gym. Oh, shit. It’s tomorrow.

At least I can be sure of the “9 months on, 9 months off” rule. And, truly, I’m sure I can manage it in 4 months, what with breastfeeding and a bit of exercise and restraint.

We stubbornly hold onto the idea that we still know it all, despite every piece of evidence to the contrary. Incredibly, our faith in our parenting superiority outlasts our ditched birth plans, breastfeeding surprises (nipples can crack?!), babies who didn’t read the sleep manual, and those finally-donated old jeans. Despite all the floundering in those early weeks and months, we still sit in judgement of parents whose 2-year-olds shove, whose 4-year-olds whine, whose 6-year-olds run through the playground at breakneck speeds dangerously close to our precious toddling snowflake.

One day, we parents finally come to the uncomfortable realization that we don’t know a thing. We let go. This tends to happen right around the same time as our children let go of us. They can now stand away from us, and sometimes prefer to. They go to school. They have a life that we are not directly orchestrating or even entirely involved with.

What the hell is this? Haven’t I let go of enough? I let go of my life, my body, my sureness of my own abilities and knowhow. But now I need to let go of my babies? No. No effing way.

But we must. We must let them wander, climb, make friends with people other than our friends’ kids. We must endure their heartache; watch their awkward moments; let them make mistakes; let them take risks. Holy hell- let them go to boy/girl parties; let them go to dances with dates; let them drive! *Author hyperventilates*

There she goesAll I want to do is hold on. As much as I love seeing them grow up, I just want them to freaking stop it already. All these long legs, newfound slang, attitudes, and pop culture can suck it. Just stay here- in my arms- for a moment longer.

I know enough to know that I don’t know much, but I know this: the future holds more and more and more letting go. I’m not ready. Are you?

 

What I Wish He Knew

I wrote this last year as Luke began kindergarten. At that time he was entering a small school that contained only the town’s few kindergarten classes. It still felt big. But now? Now he’s in a school with hundreds of kids, many as old as 10 and 11. I realize that in the grand scheme of things 10 and 11 year olds are still small children. But compared to my wee precious snowflake? They are giant criminals waiting to corrupt. Don’t bother telling me otherwise. I’ve seen them with their trendy haircuts and pop music fashions. In related news: I am now a crotchety old man, so get off my lawn!

Anyway, this felt apropos to share once again.

What I Wish He Knew

Luke is about to start kindergarten. I’m already oscillating between ecstatic excitement and pathetic sobs. OK, so I haven’t actually sobbed yet, but I’m fairly sure I’ll be ugly-crying as the school bus drives away on that first day.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about all the things Luke is about to face. I can see his school career stretched out before him and it’s a virtual minefield of social and emotional traps and pitfalls. I know there’s no way for me to protect him from it. I know he can’t learn through my mistakes. I know he has to navigate this sometimes treacherous journey on his own. But if I could, I’d want him to know this:

  • Befriend the nerds, the geeks, the weirdos. When everyone grows up, these are the people great husbands, wives, and best friends are made of.
  • Don’t be scared of the bullies. Mean people are everywhere and they feed off fear. Be the kid who stands up. Be the kid who protects the little guy.
  • Don’t exchange what you know in your heart for what you think others will find cool.
  • Know who your real friends are.
  • Peer pressure is stupid, and anyone applying it to you is not worth your worry.
  • Whatever it is that is breaking your heart today, I promise that it’s not that important. Let it go and move on.
  • Your life is so long ahead of you, all of this daily drama is small in the big picture.
  • Don’t let yourself be labelled or pigeon-holed. People will try. You can be as many different things as you want to be, and you can always change.
  • It’s OK to be different.
  • It’s OK to be popular. It’s OK not to be.
  • It’s OK to be into sports or theater or music or math.
  • It’s OK to work hard and do well.
  • It’s OK to struggle.
  • It’s OK to be embarrassed once in a while.
  • It’s OK to have friends in different cliques.
  • It’s OK to have a lot of friends. It’s OK to have a few.
  • It’s OK to do and be whatever it is you want.

I can’t put all of this perspective into the head of a boy who has no perspective yet. I can’t wrap him up and shield him from all the stress, angst, and worry that he will need to suffer in order to gain this perspective for himself. All I can do is sit by and watch it happen, and be here to catch him when he falls.