Letter to my son on his 9th birthday

Each year I write a letter to my kids on their birthdays. To see more birthday letters, click here.

Dear Luke,

Happy birthday! Today you are nine and that’s a pretty big deal! These letters get harder to write each year. As I watch you stretch out and morph into the nine-year-old boy you’ve become, I find it more difficult to quantify you, to fit you into words on a page, into birthday platitudes. You are still all the things you ever were – kind, enthusiastic, silly, funny, engaging, in constant motion – and so much more. You are your own person, wholly apart from me; but I can’t help think of you selfishly, in terms of your effect on my life. Your impact on my life has been colossal to the point where words fail. You are a seismic shift, forever changing the landscape of every part of my life and every element of my nature.

You challenge the limits of my character time and again, always revealing the exact measure of my goodness and magnitude of my faults. At the same time, I see glimmers of my best self shine through you, in your words and deeds. And occasionally I have the unique privilege of seeing me as you see me. The heady sense of my role in your life has me wake each day resolved to be better.

Your words and deeds also remind me of just how vexing I found childhood and growing up. Like you are, I was fiercely independent minded. I challenged authority and I spoke out against perceived injustices. Now I often find myself torn between empathy for your feelings as the downtrodden child and frustration at your resistance to comply. What I’m saying is, I get it. I didn’t like being a child. It didn’t suit me at all. I longed to be my own master. I resented my position as subordinate, especially when I disagreed with whoever was in charge. And I disagreed a lot, like you do. It’s my life’s great irony that I find myself in the role of authority over a will as strong as my own, that I am now the flip side of this coin.

I can’t protect you from the adversities that lie ahead as you approach your adulthood. I will sympathize and offer guidance where I am able, but often your conflict will be with me. I understand that you feel my authority is unfair. I so clearly remember the feeling, the certain knowledge that I didn’t need to be governed. But I did, as you do. (In my adult life, I haven’t been as certain of anything as I was of everything when I was a child.)

You will resent my rules, my structure, my decisions that force you to abandon your course. I am not here to break your spirit, my sweet boy, only to see you through your childhood safely, to provide you with the tools you need to be the man you will become. My job requires boundaries that you’ll hate, limits that you’ll push, and rules that you’ll break. I get it, but I can’t give in.

While I see so much of myself in your strong will and limit-pushing ways, you are gifted with some characteristics that are entirely unlike me. Your energy is unequal to anything I’ve ever experienced. The vigor and sheer intensity of your spirit is incredible. You are a gale force wind, torrential rain, a tornado. This thing you have is powerful and you can apply it towards whatever end you desire. Sometimes it proves difficult for you to hold, and you are overcome by the turbulence. But you’re getting stronger, better at managing it. I know that with time you will have a firm handle on it, and then you will be a force to be reckoned with!

This unbridled storminess of yours is paired unexpectedly and wonderfully with an innate tenderness. The combination is breathtaking. You can do great things and will impact the lives you encounter along the way as deeply as you’ve impacted mine. Like meteor-hits-Earth impact. I’m grateful that I have front row seats for it. Your future is so bright. You will be simply amazing.

Tenderness

For now, though, you are nine. All this potential bottled in a small, wiry package. You stand on the cusp of some pretty big changes as you transition from little kid to pre-teen, at once so grown up and still my little boy. I cherish the little boy side even as I welcome this new, surprisingly tall person. Every day I marvel at some new facet, a new moment of maturity. And then you dissolve into my little boy again- giggling uncontrollably at something your sister has done or needing a hug of reassurance.

I know you need extra support and compassion, and it should be me who can always give you those things. I’m sorry that I’m not calmer and more even-tempered. I will try harder to be the mom you need and deserve.

I fought so hard and for so long to finally be in control of my life, and then you. You are entirely not in my control and all my efforts otherwise are absurd. This is the universe laughing at my childhood notion of an adult’s control, laughing at my fight to be in charge. One day, the universe might laugh at you too. And I hope it does, because having you as my child has turned my life upside down in the greatest ways and I am better for it.

 

A boy's energy

Much of this letter is over your head. I don’t expect you to understand. What I hope you do understand is that I love you bigger than I thought possible and more than I can express, and that I am so proud of the person you are. I feel incredibly lucky to be your mom and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My life is immeasurably richer because of you and all you bring.

Happy, happy birthday to my affectionate, exuberant, bustling boy! You’re nine! You’re growing up right before my eyes. Let’s do this together.

I love you.

Love,

Mom

To see more birthday letters, click here.

 

 

Letter to my Daughter on Her 6th Birthday

On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a book of these heartfelt letters, proving to an ornery teenager that I do, in fact, know and love him/her, and that my goals as a mother go beyond ruining his/her social life.

Dear Sally,

Happy Birthday! My vibrant, affectionate, bold, funny, smart girl turns six today and I couldn’t be more proud of the kid you’ve become. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to be your mom, but I’m grateful every day that I am. You are a light and a joy for me and our family, and my world is infinitely better because you’re in it.

I thought long and hard about what to write in this letter. I reread last year’s letter (here) and now I feel like I’ve said it all already. As a five-year-old you transformed from a great little kid into a fantastic (slightly less) little kid. You thrived in kindergarten, as I knew you would, lapping up the new knowledge and experiences with the same cheerful enthusiasm and aplomb that you bring to all you do. I’m so happy to see your confidence and individuality still firmly intact. As you enter first grade, I hope you stay full of humor, curiosity, and pluck.

Your natural confidence and warmth are magnetic. You make new friends easily and everywhere – a skill you were born with and one of the many ways you are so different from me. Even your big brother looks to your fortitude and courage to bolster his own, and the two of you brave the world together. Puddle gazing

As a dynamic duo, he relies on your quick thinking and adventurous nature, even as you look up to him for his “good” ideas and knowhow.camping

It’s not surprising that you attract friends to your side effortlessly. You have so many wonderful traits, making it natural for you to fit in with just about anyone. You’re the girl who happily plays with dolls and princess dresses, and who also can keep up with a pack of boys running wildly with secret missions, evil bad guys, and superhero responsibilities. You wield a sword in one hand and pink fairy wand in the other; you pair your cape with a tiara. You are as fierce as you are adorable.

Fierce

You’re the girl who can entertain a room full of adults with a quip or a story, and who can play contentedly by yourself for hours. You’re the girl rocking a 21 speed mountain bike; the one pushing herself to swim to the bottom of the deep end; the one whose first reaction to a new thing is “I’ll try it!” You’re the girl who takes her time to patiently roast the perfect marshmallow, and the girl to step without hesitation off the zipline platform, loving the speed and thrill. You’re all of these things because you inhabit yourself with an admirable easy confidence. God, how I hope you keep it!

Biking

I want to be the mom I see through your eyes. I want to show you how strong and capable you are and help you grow into the phenomenal person you were born to be. Sometimes I feel that I don’t give you enough of my attention; that because you’re so self-reliant and easy-going, I don’t prioritize your needs and don’t play with you enough. I’m sorry if you ever feel that way. I hope you know that I couldn’t possibly love or admire you more. You’re the person whose hand I love to hold. Your cuddles are the best start to my days. When you’re by my side, your little hand in mine, chatting away in your delightful manner, I am the luckiest.

As I said before, you are a light; those near enough to be within the your radiant glow are better off for it.

I hope you have another wonderful year of learning, adventuring, growing, and just being you. I can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish this year, and all the ways you’ll make me laugh. Happy birthday! I love you!

Love,

Mom

He wins every time

“Mommy, can we please use your makeup?”

“No, kids.”

“But please? We asked really nicely. We want to play nicely together.”

“That’s sweet, and you did ask nicely. Thank you. But the answer is still no about my makeup. I’m sure you can find something else to play nicely together with.”

“But we really want to use it and we never get to and we’ll be really careful and we’ll be good for the rest of today and we’ll go to bed really early and not come back downstairs and we’ll be good tomorrow too.”

“I’m sure you’ll do all of that anyway because you’re such great kids. The answer is still no. I’m not going to change my mind.”

“But why, Mommy?”

“This isn’t open for discussion. I said no.”

Luke has a hard time with no. Many kids do, I realize, but every other kid on the planet (I’m pretty sure) will drop it eventually. Not Luke. He will take this to the nth degree. I don’t want to engage. I have a nice evening planned and I don’t want to have to take it away. I want to drop this so we can move on. So I’m staying calm, remaining firm, and not giving him any reasons why. That’s what I’m supposed to do, right? That’s what the books say.

“Please?”

“No. Please stop asking me.”

“But why?”

“This isn’t open for discussion.”

“But just tell me why. Why can’t we?”

“I’m not changing my mind and you’re going to make me angry. It’s time to drop it. Luke, really, stop.”

“But just tell me why?”

I don’t answer. It’s over if I don’t say anything, right?

“Mom? Mom? Mom? You can’t ignore me. What if I got a knife and cut my head off, would you ignore me then? Mom? Why? Why can’t we use your makeup? Why? I don’t get it. You’re so mean. Mom? We’ll be really good. We just want to play together. Isn’t that what you want? That we play nicely together? If you don’t let us use your makeup I’m going to punch Sally in the face and break her things and it will be your fault. Would that make you happy?”

“Luke, this is me warning you. I’m starting to lose my patience. You need to stop yourself. Now.”

“Just tell me why!”

“This is the last warning. I’m getting angry. Do you understand?”

My voice is still calm and even. I am going to diffuse this fucking thing if it’s the last fucking thing I fucking do. He storms away, knocking a book to the floor. I let it slide, not needing to lock horns with him now over picking up that book. I hope this is over. It’s not. He comes back with a note that says: “You are a jerk.”

“Go to your room.”

“No, I’m sorry. Why? I didn’t say anything. I didn’t mean it. It’s not about you. No, please no. Please, please, please no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“I’m angry now like I warned you. Now go to your room please!”

Speaking sternly, but still not yelling. I’m going to fucking win this fucking thing!

“No I’m really really really sorry. Here, I’ll write another note about being sorry.”

“Luke, go to your room!”

“Jerk.”

And there it is, folks. The last straw. He hasn’t budged towards his room. He is staring me down. Calling me a jerk to my face and defying me. I’ve been here before. There is only one way to get him to actually go to his room. The only thing that works. Why did I put it off for so long anyway? I scream at him:

“YOUR ROOM NOW, LUKE! GO! GO! GO! NOW!”

“I hate you! You are such a jerk!”

He stomps off to his room.

And this is how it goes here. I can’t win. No matter my intentions or mood to start, no matter how calm I remain through so much disrespectful behavior, he eventually pushes me over the edge. Every time. If I didn’t blow up then he would have escalated further – hitting his sister and destroying stuff. He will always get the reaction he wants eventually.

He wins again and I lose. Of course his win is a loss for all of us.