Ten years. Ten god damn years. And suddenly, you are on the threshold of becoming your own person. Not that you weren’t your own person before. But now, you have your own email address. One you use to incessantly chat with me and your Dad, sending us adorable, obnoxious stickers and chuckling to yourself over your own ingenuity. I don’t want to say this. It’s a stupid cliche. Ugh. Okay. I can’t help it. It has to be said because it’s true. I feel as if I turned around to pay attention to something else, some nagging pressingly urgent matter of irrelevant nonsense. And when I swiveled back to look at you, you were no longer there. In a matter of seconds time had shaped your face into a distant version of the boy I knew. There are moments when you turn your head just right or giggle and I catch him, that five year old whose wide eyed sweetness and dimpled smiles were so wholly appealing. And I long to reach out and hold onto something that I know I can’t catch, sifting through my fingers like sand. It’s inevitable. This growing up thing. And I wouldn’t want to take away your chance to grow up into the person you’re striving to become for anything. But I’ll miss him. That boy. I’m starting to understand how this will be for awhile, standing next to you and holding your hand with all the bittersweet joy of those years between us. And yet feeling as though that warm pressure and presence is that of a familiar stranger, someone I’ll never know quite as well again.
This year, you finally let me throw you one of my insanity induced, ornately themed birthday celebrations. I gotta confess- I was pretty excited. I’ve been practicing on your little sister for a few years and now I have skills. And thank god you picked a theme I could actually appreciate. A Hogwarts celebration. I got to age paper and practice weird fonts and DIY myself a whole shitload of wands. It was fun and magical and really, really stressful. But I invested a solid amount of time in doing it well because I was trying to vanquish my guilt. You’re a really great kid. Seriously smart and kind and mostly trustworthy. And because your sister is a raving maniac, you often get the leftovers of our attention and our patience as parents. It sucks. You handle it as gracefully as could be expected. I hope someday you’ll forgive me. And maybe your sister. She’ll still be a lunatic by then, I’m pretty sure. But maybe it’ll be in a fun way.
Looking back, I think this year has been pretty momentous for you. After your birthday in Vegas last year, we spent about 6 weeks encased in our home with various version of the flu. In desperation, we began loosening the viewing restrictions on several major PG-13 movie franchises, including Indiana Jones. After we read the Hobbit together, you blasted through the Lord of the Rings trilogy and we let you watch the movies. I mostly snored through them. Despite exposure to all sorts of different stories, you remain firmly entrenched in the world of Harry Potter and the epic battles of Star Wars. Your room looks like a version of a galaxy far, far away, complete with glow in the dark star lined walls. While you continue to draw comics and write stories, you spend an inordinate amount of time building Legos. And gradually, less and less time lining up matchbox cars by color or model and racing them down the hall.
Over the summer, we decided to take a 10 day camping trip. To Idaho. It sounds too fantastic an idea to be believed but it’s true. You toured a nuclear waste facility and spent a lot of time not sleeping in a tent. I’m pretty sure when you look back on your childhood, you’ll see those days encrusted with the golden sheen of nostalgia. Just know that all that musty mystique is probably just the grime from a week of pit toilets and questionable hygiene practices. We put you in a speed boat on a lake and watched you grip the rails, white with anxiety and panic while your sister bounced up and down on the bench and screamed for more.
You entered fifth grade this year, assigned to the same class with a gaggle of your best buddies. I have deeply enjoyed watching you forge close friendships with a whole group of boys, as nerdy and unabashedly goofy as yourself. And while the depth of your connection with those friends has grown, you’ve also shown a desire to draw girls into the circle of your attachment. Although you confess to an inexplicable flustered feeling when you first broach conversation, you seem to have zero interest in them as anything more than companions. The girls you’ve included in your esteem share a confident intelligence and a distinct sense of humor. You’ve got good taste, kid.
And finally this school year, you struck gold. A gem of a teacher whose approach warms the cockles of my critical, over demanding heart. She’s created an open classroom environment that makes you feel confident and safe, comfortable in her regard for you as a learner. Your teacher is a wizard at adapting curriculum and bringing it to vibrate life, stirring enthusiasm wherever she goes. Last year, you lost your anxiety about school but this year, you discovered your excitement and passion. I had hoped you would have this experience, a once in a lifetime teacher that changes you in ways you’ll carry into adulthood. I feel grateful it came to you in elementary school, when you were still young enough to be shaped by it in important ways.
You and Dad have really bonded over this whole Star Wars thing. Like seriously- enough with the star wars stuff. It’s probably because the new movie came out over the holidays. And I get it. It’s a story of incredible symbolism, a masterpiece for the ages. I’ll admit it’s been nice to watch the two of you dork out together, fan boying all over the place. And sushi. You guys eat A LOT of sushi. Sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re the same kid who won’t touch anything green with even the tip of his fork. Your tastes are beginning to expand in ways I hadn’t expected, dousing everything in sriracha cream sauce and stuffing tacos in your face without carefully inspecting the inside for hidden vegetables. I guess you two are spending some serious time together as you try to figure out the kind of man you’d like to grow into, sampling the world one forkful at a time.
Just this past week, I had to take you to the hospital. It was really fucking terrible. You’d gotten a sinus infection and it was so advanced the doctor started talking CT scans and brain infections. So you and I went together to the children’s hospital where they stabbed you with needles, drew several vials of your blood and put your head in a terrifyingly loud, spinning machine that looks like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie. You were frightened and overwhelmed. And yes, you completely lost your shit. I stood by your side, holding your hand and feeling helplessly inadequate. When you emerged from the tunnel and sat up, your eyes were naked and vulnerable and I held your face and tried to reach you through the darkness of that fear, staring into vacant eyes and calling for you until you came back to me. And afterwards, what struck me was how quickly you insisted on getting off the gurney, desperately trying to pace and talk and inject some normalcy and distance from the experience that had made you feel so frightened. As we exited the hospital, walking up the long brilliantly white hallway, you held my hand and asked me not to tell anyone that you had cried. When I asked you why, you insisted that your friends wouldn’t have cried and edged around your embarrassment. I found myself shaking my head, wondering how on earth we’d been so careful about avoiding gender stereotypes only to end up here. With a boy who equated emotion with weakness, tears with cowardice. I stopped short in the middle of the lobby and looked down at you and said “It takes real courage to be honest about what you feel. The people who are brave are the ones who cry and are afraid but do it anyway. Cowards hide their emotions because they’re scared.” You seemed genuinely interested in my reply, a challenge to notions you’d gathered from the world around you. But I was aware, even as I felt pride when you repeated it word for word to your Dad later that night, shaping my comments as a revelation you’d experienced at that moment, that my contributions are a drop in the bucket. You are headed for a deluge of ideas about what a man should or can be. For now, I’m glad our words and our example still carries weight with you. I hope you’ll keep your head up against the flood and remember there’s nothing more important than being the person you’d like to be. I hope whoever he is, he’ll still have traces of the sweet, affectionate boy I knew.