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.

 

 

Below Average Soccer Mom

Each stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. As I slowly transition from little kids to mid-sized kids, my job as mom involves more and more administrative challenges, and, thankfully, fewer and fewer bodily functions (non-self) that I need to take part in. While I’m happy to leave much of the little kid mess behind me, I have not yet mastered my new role.

This fall Luke has been part of our town’s travel soccer team. I was warned. This was going to be a Big Commitment. I figured people meant for him. Like, he was going to have to commit to his team, to hard work, to being part of something bigger than himself, to representing our town in a positive way, and all the other wholesome crap that comes with sports. Turns out, if anyone deserves a participation trophy, it’s Sally and me. Our lives have been turned upside down as we spend so much of our time hurrying up only to wait for hours in the cold.

The team practices twice weekly from 5:30 until it’s finally too damn dark. My kids get off the school bus around 4:00. This gives us 1.5 hours to decompress, have a snack, do homework, eat dinner, change for soccer, and get to practice.

Snack and dinner within 90 minutes? Nope. Dinner afterwards? For my early-to-bed kids, that’s a no go. So my solution was to serve dinner instead of an after school snack. The kids walk in the door and instead of cheese and crackers, I dish up chicken and potatoes; in lieu of apples and peanut butter, I serve spaghetti bolognese.

Would you want to eat that at 4:00 in the afternoon? Neither do they. I tried pushing it off until closer to 5:00, but they get home desperately hungry and there’s no way they can face their homework in that state. (Think: Gremlins)

Weeks and weeks of failed attempts to feed my kids passed until this week when I finally nailed it. I successfully fed my kids dinner at 4:00! They ate second helpings and went into the evening happy and with full bellies. I felt at once triumphant and completely mortified. What magical dinner overcame the awkward timing? Fish sticks, corn, and ramen noodles. Are there foods lower on the nutritional totem pole? I’ve come a long way since my homemade baby food days. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Pinterest, please avert your eyes.

So I haven’t quite mastered the job of soccer mom yet. I can’t figure out how to manage dinner and practice on the same night, and I only have one of my kids in a sport. How parents juggle multiple kids in multiple sports and lessons is far beyond my imagination and skill set.

Thankfully, the season is nearly over. The hours spent on the sidelines between the weeknight practices and the two games each weekend have grown unpleasantly cold. While I’m clearly not yet at a varsity level, I have learned a few things:

  • When the coaches stress the commitment that the team entails, they are talking to you, the parent;
  • No matter how much your child loves the sport, the act of putting on cleats is torture and it is YOUR FAULT;
  • Kids don’t want to eat a complete dinner in lieu of a snack;
  • Sometimes, ramen noodles are OK;*
  • The kid on the sidelines patiently waiting through all the boring practices and games is the kid that deserves a (non)participation trophy.

As autumn presses on and each frosty morning foretells the pending winter confinement, I’m looking forward to life slowing down a bit. Soon we’ll have seemingly endless afternoons in which to fit snacks and dinners. I can have conversations with my kids other than me harassing them to get ready faster. I’ll forget how crazed I felt this fall, and will happily sign Luke up for soccer again next year, and will likely believe that I can also handle a sport for Sally. But this time, I’ll bring out the ramen from the start.

*This might be a new mantra of mine.

Soccer 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.