Wow. So this is embarrassing. While I have made some halfassed effort to journal your sister’s growth in yearly increments, it appears that I have not written your yearly letter in four years. FOUR YEARS. What the hell have I been doing that kept me so busy that I could not sit down once a year and chronicle the amazing kid you have become? The answer is nothing. There is no excuse. I can only say I’m sorry. And that I was distracted. And for a good half of that time either pregnant, hormonal, sleep deprived or all three. And yet, inexcusable. Sorry, O man. I promise to do better. And here I am. Doing better.
The most monumental change in your life has been school. And your hellion of a sister. I guess it’s probably a toss up which has inflicted the most havoc these past few years in your life. You began your academic career in a brilliant blaze of glory, testing right out of kindergarten and into first grade. This was encouraging and devastating all at once. It was a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Sink or swim. I was confident you could swim, but it took you some time to find your rhythm. I had your sister soon after that, which complicated things emotionally for you. You had night terrors, frequent accidents at school and emotional meltdowns at the drop of a hat. And then we sold our house, the only home you had known since you were born, and moved across town into a huge rental home. After living there for about nine months, we transitioned again to a rental closer to Salt Lake City. In order to minimize the chaos of all this change, I made the decision to teach you second grade at home through an online charter school. This was a fabulous fit for you academically and as a natural hermit, I loved the flexibility and privacy. But it was a disaster in pretty much every other way. I spent a lot of time feeling like a drill sergeant with unreasonable expectations, half a foot in the schoolroom and the other in the kitchen, trying to make sure your sister didn’t consume anything poisonous. I remember once you told me tearfully that even if you had a birthday party, you didn’t have any friends to invite. It made my heart stick in my throat, literally sick with grief for you. So the following year, you tested into the gifted program at our local school district and I began transporting you there. You had a teacher that was a perfect cliche- a difficult, crabby older woman with an aversion to technology and a penchant for focusing on ridiculous details. All the kids already knew each other from previous classes. It was a struggle at first. But you stuck with it.
This year you are in fourth grade at the same school, in the same program with some of the same kids. And all that consistency has been like a miracle cure. When I pick you up, you are smiling. You finally have a group of four or five close friends. You started a comic book club and have talked about coding a website to support it. For Christmas, you and your best friend drew each other comic books complete with Play-Doh models of the main characters. It was adorable. Your teacher this year has been more relaxed and all that anxiety I used to see in your body language at the end of the day has simply melted away. Academically, you always excel. It’s rare to see you struggle with anything. And although you sometimes express boredom with the material presented at school, you are excited to study science this year. Your favorite subjects are recess, lunch, science, art and library. You hate group projects because they require you to work with other kids and to perhaps accept work that is not up to your standards. Your handwriting is still sloppy and you are obnoxiously lazy about it, but I’ve given up worrying about it. In the world you will inhabit, I’m pretty confident it’ll be a moot point. The last standardized testing you received placed your reading and comprehension levels at the middle school level.
You consume mysteries and graphic novels at a breathtaking rate. We spent the last year reading Harry Potter aloud and you became obsessed with the intricacies of the story. I still read to you a chapter from a classic novel every night. I’m reluctant to give it up because I enjoy it so much and as long as you’re willing to continue, we’ll keep at it. While you are an avid reader, you are perhaps a more avid gamer. After watching you finish MarioKart on Wii twice before the age of six, I kind of figured this would happen. You’ve moved onto Playstation now and have been playing Gran Turismo with Dad often since Christmas. And while you are still very much interested in playing matchbox cars and racing, you’ve really embraced building with Legos and essentially anything Star Wars in the last year. I am positive the thing you will remember the most about these years is how often we begged you to please stop already with the light saber noises. Enough already with the Star Wars noises. Please, God make the Star Wars noises stop.
In addition to video games, you are still really into board games. To the point that if no one else can be convinced to play, you’ll simply play yourself. I’m not sure where all the competitiveness comes from. It seems mostly innate. You are certainly not above throwing a tantrum if you lose. At anything. That frustration just oozes out of you in the form of moaning, snorting, tearful tantrums that end with you a blubbering puddle of child on the floor. Yep. All that has remained mostly unchanged despite our best efforts in the last few years. You are quick to get frustrated, impatient when challenged and defensive when criticized. I think it’s called being human. You just got an extra large dose of it genetically. You’re welcome.
And yet, you are still a very sweet kid. And very, very articulate and considerate. Goodness knows we don’t deserve it, but most of the time you can be trusted to be kind and polite. Especially to younger kids. When we take you to the park, you often end up watching the preschoolers and toddlers, organizing group games and helping them toddle about. You have a natural instinct as a caregiver that I hope we’ve encouraged. Your sister has certainly benefited from it. It has only been recently in the past year that you have decided her aggressive manipulations are no longer acceptable. Up until that point, that little girl had you wrapped right around her possessive little finger. You are still extremely close, but you bicker over toys and food frequently. Rarely does it devolve into physical altercations, but there sure is a lot of whining. And yelling, And grabbing. I knew this day would come, when I would feel like my primary role as parent was to referee. And I hope it goes. Really, really soon.
You’re in your fourth or fifth year of playing soccer. Just this past season I saw it finally click. All those practices, camps, games and hours coaching tumbled into place and you excelled on the field. Not the star of the team necessarily. But engaged, skilled and enthusiastic. It was a thing of beauty to watch. We’ve dabbled in other things- dance and swimming. But soccer seems to be the thing that has become a passion. And we’ll continue to encourage it as long as you’re interested. This year your coach is very, very serious and has you all doing pushups and laps and drills for an hour and a half twice a week in addition to games. You have never rejoiced about exercised. The mere suggestion of a walk can send you into apoplectic fits of despondency. So I was surprised when you began to look forward to all those vigorous practices, coming back to the car dripping with sweat and bare chested.
This year for your birthday I offered to throw you a party for you and your group of friends. I said you could invite as many people as you wanted. That I would do a Star Wars theme. That I would do anything you wanted. You turned me down flat and insisted all you wanted to do was take a road trip to Vegas to visit Grandma. You and I had done this last year on our way to a surprise trip to Disneyland, so I checked to ensure you understood there was no journey to Anaheim in your future. But you confirmed all you really wanted was to spend an inordinate amount of time in a close confined space with us and then a few days at Grandma’s house, basking in her cookies and penchant for spoiling you with new toys. Dad and I left Saffy with Grandma and took you to the strip one evening and stayed at a hotel, watching the Bellagio water show, eating sushi, and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I think you might be the only nine year old who requested to do Vegas for his ninth birthday. So kudos to you. Although I did not enjoy having to answer your questions about the cards with the naked women on them. Let’s spend less time watching where we’re walking next time. It’ll save us all from embarrassment.
As you’ve grown, I’ve become increasingly aware that I have very few years left if any when you’ll still consent to holding my hand in public. So every morning when Dad gets in the shower for work during the week, I slip next door into your bed and snuggle you for a few minutes. We’re both drowsy and warm and for a few moments, I’m reminded that you’re still my little boy. That you still need my approval and affection and the warm circle of my arms as much as you ever did. I hope that never changes. Happy Birthday, Owen. Here’s to hoping it won’t be another four years before I remember to chronicle the brilliant kid you have become.