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.


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.



To see more birthday letters, click here.



Kids are bad at all the stuff they do

Here’s why I’m a worse mom than you: instead of feeling proud and happy that my son qualified for the A-level swim championships, I’m annoyed that I now have to spend two weekends going to two different championships because my daughter is in B-level.

Here’s why I’m an even worse mom than you now think: instead of sucking it up gracefully, I spent this morning trying to subtly convince my daughter that she didn’t want to swim in her championships at all, (which I’ve taken to calling “optional final meet”). To be completely fair, I did also try to convince my son not to swim in his.

To my dismay, both kids are keen to participate and Sally even irritatingly wisely said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in A or B, or if you win or come in last, it’s that you try hard and have fun.” What the hell? No, what matters is that swim meets are a thousand* hours long and that both championship meets are forty** minutes from home, meaning that on consecutive Sundays we need to drag everyone out of bed at dawn, drive, and then sit around for a thousand hours in order to watch a total of four minutes of my child swimming. And, to make it worse, on each of those Sundays we’ll be dealing with the non-swimming child complaining of boredom.

Parenthood is many things, but above all else, it is doing stuff you don’t want to do.

We sit through performances and recitals where singers can’t sing and dancers can’t dance. We play tea party and Minecraft and feign interest in doll houses and Pokemon. We hang bad art on our refrigerators and read the same stupid book twenty-seven dozen times.

“But the performances and the recitals aren’t about raw talent, it’s our precious children learning to express themselves. Look how adorable,” you say.

“Bad art? There is no bad art! Your child’s drawings are developmentally on point. They are expressions of love and hanging them proudly shows your child that you value their efforts, you fucking monster,” you say.

Sure. All of that is true.

I love my children despite their complete and utter lack of any appreciable talents. I’ll beam with pride, “awww” with parental devotion, and take five hundred photos at the shitty concert just like you. But, did you attend these concerts or stand out in the weather to watch a children’s sporting event before you had kids? Of course not. If these things were at all good, then we would choose to attend them regardless of our status as parent. But they’re not good. They’re crap.

Kids are bad at all the stuff they do. It’s not their fault. They’re born not knowing a damn thing. One could hardly expect a person who takes a year to figure out walking to be a great dancer a few short years later. A person who regularly finds herself outwitted by a bathroom stall lock, or who can’t manage to eat a meal without creating a mile wide radius of food debris, can’t reasonably be expected to produce great things.

Kids suck at art

So I will attend two swim championships. I’ll cheer my daughter and remind her to keep swimming and stop waving at me, all while knowing that she’s the greatest kid out there. I’ll feel proud when Luke comes in first, beating all the other kids who can’t do butterfly for shit, because he can’t do butterfly slightly better than they can’t. And after the meets are over and behind us, we’ll move on to some other thing I don’t want to do.

*All numbers greatly exaggerated for sarcastic effect. It is safe to assume this applies to all numbers I ever say, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

**Example of actual number. If it were an exaggeration it would have more zeros.

Teaching All the Things

I have so little time to teach my children ALL THE THINGS. My days as the source of all that is good, right, and informative are limited. Soon they’ll look to their stupid peers (that would be your kids, (no offense)) more than to me. So, while they’re little, I must impress upon them the most important stuff. The problem is, there is so much stuff! Smoking, sex, driving, bullying, drugs, and general adolescent assholery are all right around the corner.

I shudder to think of some of the decisions I made as a teenager. It feels like dumb luck that I survived myself to make it to adulthood. I’m thankful that the internet and social media were not around back then because my friends and I would have posted all sorts of everlasting idiotic and compromising crap online. Instead, we documented our idiocy with our film cameras; those photos now fill the backs of drawers and closets at our parents’ houses, lying in wait for our kids to find them and discover that we smoked, drank underage, and did other stupid shit that we now tell them not to.

If I’m lucky to have survived my own stupidity, am I lucky enough for my kids to survive theirs too? Does one have a limited amount of luck in a lifetime, and have I spent mine?

I fear the teenage years in a big way. I dread the social pressures that my kids will face to become complete idiots, to take dangerous risks, to disregard themselves in favor of pack mentality and appearance. And the added complications of social media? ACK! I can’t begin to put my worries in order. What’s scarier: the pressure to be cool? the pressure to be thin? the pressure to be sexy? the scary shit they’ll have access to online? the bullying? the drugs and alcohol? the driving? the sex? YES! IT IS ALL SCARIER! I’m terrified of all of it. How can I teach them all.the.things?

I’m certain that I demonstrate the wrong way to do a million and one things. Should my kids grow up to be neat and organized or slow to anger, it will definitely be a reaction to and effort against my terrible and haphazard housekeeping and near constant irritability. But I try my best with the things I care most about. I might not demonstrate perfectly clean language. OK, I definitely don’t. If my kids grow up creatively using the bounty of expletives our language affords us, so be it. I believe there is a time and a place for an effective f-bomb and that language is a tool of self-expression (to be wielded wisely and grammatically correctly). However, if they grow up to use “u” in place of “you” in any context outside of texting with their idiot friends, then I have failed.

In the short time I have them as little kids, how do I possibly manage to:

  • fill my daughter up with body confidence;
  • teach my son the right way to treat a girl, even a very drunk girl;
  • prepare them to scream, kick groins, and gouge eyeballs as needed;
  • instill in them respect for others and for themselves;
  • show them how to stand up to bullies, racists, and bigots;
  • foster in them the confidence to say no, to stay true, to resist peer pressure;
  • convince them that even though their friends seem to know what they’re talking about, they don’t;
  • impress upon them that one doesn’t try heroin just once;
  • teach them personal responsibility;
  • and influence them to never, ever, under any circumstances type “dat” instead of “that”?

It’s a daunting task, especially considering that I also have to teach them all the basics like how to use a knife and fork rather than eating foods off the fork like a lollipop and that showers without soap don’t count.

Excuse me while I panic.