Sunday, September 6, 2015

To Will, on Your 10th Birthday

I wanted to write you a letter because I love through words. In reflecting on your first ten years, I found myself laughing and crying about all that you’ve taught me, and I want to use some of those experiences to give you advice about the next decade of your life.

You see that look on your face? That look says, “Hey, Mom! Did you want me to take a nap? Yeah, I’m probably not going to do that.” As an infant, I could take you anywhere—the grocery store, art museums, restaurants, weddings, funerals—anywhere, and I never worried that you would throw a tantrum or cause a problem. The downside to this was that you were so happy observing your world that YOU NEVER SLEPT. I could have used you as a brownie timer because your naps were 23 minutes exactly. Every time. And at night? I guess you just wanted to hang out with me because I was so cool. Eventually (around 2 1/2), you figured out the sleep thing and never looked back. What hasn’t changed is the way you observe your world. One of the things I love about you most is how you don’t miss a thing—you’re engaged and aware, and you floor me on a regular basis with your commentary on how the world works. Stay engaged. Keep watching carefully and paying attention. Your world is a big, beautiful place, and it’s just going to keep getting bigger and more beautiful. 

You started cruising on furniture when you were eight months old. You would crawl over, pull yourself up, and hold on to the edge of the couch…or the windowsill…or the wall. Whatever you could hold onto. And you did this for SEVEN MONTHS. No matter what we did, you refused to take those first steps away from safety. And then one day, in the middle of a Christmas party, you stood up from my lap and walked across the room like you’d been doing it your whole life. We had no way of knowing, but the way you learned to walk is a lot like the way you do most things—you’re cautious and thoughtful and deliberate. When you make decisions, you’re confident because you’ve given yourself enough time to make sure it’s exactly what you want to do. I love this about you, and I hope it’s the way you continue to be as you get older.

So you know that Dad and I love dressing up for Halloween, and we are committed to dressing up with you as long as you let us. There was a time when we were the ones who picked the costumes, and this was the year we couldn’t help but make you Draco Malfoy. You ran around casting spells and saying “Harry Potter” in a snide British accent because even though you didn’t know about Harry or the wizarding world yet, you knew how to have fun. Since then, you’ve fallen in love with superheroes and cars and video games and book series, and your level of knowledge/obsession/nerdery with these fandoms is proof that you still know how to have fun. I love watching you discover new book characters and movies and TV shows. I love the way you can quote your favorite movies and how you want me to read the books you’re reading. I can promise you this—if you’ve got something you love, some kind of entertainment that brings you immense joy—you will always have me to nerd out with. Always.

I had a little over three years with you before Ben came along. You were infamous in the hospital the day you came to hang out with him as Batman. You loved him immediately and tried to share Skittles with him. You sat for hours on the floor reading board books to him in his bouncy seat or driving Hot Wheels around him while he had tummy time on his blanket. You were a perfect helper, never jealous, and mesmerized by this little built in friend who trailed after you wherever you went. He was equally mesmerized by you—emulating your every move, hanging on your every word, always ready for whatever game or alternate reality you’d created. Not much has changed now that you are older. Do you know the gift you have in Ben as your brother? Do you know how much he loves and looks up to you? As your mom, there are few things that bring me greater joy than the fact that the two of you are best friends. You are a dynamic duo, one that has the power to save the world. I love you individually, but together—you guys are magical.

I didn’t really intend to pick three costume-ish pictures in a row, but it makes sense that that would happen as your preschool years were about three things: imagination, imagination, and imagination. I never knew if I was going to wake up with the Hulk or a train conductor or a dragon. Some weeks, you refused to answer to the name “Will” and preferred to be called “Buzz Lightyear” or “Bruce Banner.” Your ability to stay in character was unrivaled and inspired us to introduce you to theater. I hope you’ll explore the world of acting more as you get older because Will—you are really, really good at it.

This is one of my favorite memories of you from the last ten years. We were living in Charleston, and one night, we had a freakish snowfall. You had been in bed for hours, and I was up reading in the living room. I got up to get more tea and realized there was snow actually accumulating in the yard. Knowing full well that it would be gone quickly in the morning, I woke you up at 11:00 at night, threw on the warmest clothes we had, and took you out in the backyard to make snow angels. We made a snowman and had Tang snow cones and threw snowballs, and you didn’t get back to bed until one in the morning. It was spontaneous and nonsensical. I love how serious you are about life, but I want you to remember that’s it’s okay to do things that don’t make sense sometimes—run outside when it’s raining, eat ice cream for dinner, wake up on Saturday morning and start driving. Some of your best memories will come from the days you don’t plan.

The world will tell you that the way to get ahead, the way to keep up, the way to find success will be to do more more more, to stay busy busy busy, but let me clear about this: busy does not mean happy. Busy does not mean successful. Busy does not mean better. One of the biggest lessons you have taught me is to slow down and relax. You have an innate sense of capacity—those are just big words that mean you know when enough is enough. You crave days at home and quiet reading and alone time. I do, too—it is what you always say: #genesfrommom. In this picture, you’re fishing, something other kids your age then wouldn’t have wanted to do because it’s a lot of sitting around. (This summer, you reminded me it’s called “fishing” not catching for a reason.) You taught me that rest is restoration. And I hope you always strike the right balance when it comes to busyness and rest.

I have had the privilege of homeschooling you for two years of your formal education so far, and it was the greatest lesson in how plan B can be the best plan sometimes. I love watching you learn. I love seeing lightbulbs go off in your head. I love seeing you find creative solutions. I love hearing you ask questions. You aren’t just a student—you’re a lover of learning (I’d say #genesfrommom here again, but I think it’s equal parts #genesfromdad). Whether it’s a new math skill or a new novel, you jump in head first, devouring information like a life source—and let me tell you, it is. Your life will be infinitely more satisfying if you stay open. I’ll be 35 in a couple of weeks, and I’m still learning every single day things I didn’t know before—about myself, about the people I love, and about my world. NEVER. STOP. LEARNING.

When you were in 1st grade, you received a character award at school for being responsible. I know it drives you crazy when we say you are like an eighty year old man, but you need to know we say it because you are wise and responsible beyond your years. We opened a bank account for you when you were seven. SEVEN! Because you understood the value of money and had goals. You take life seriously. Be proud of that. Those of us who have witnessed you growing up are amazed at how steady and dependable and solid you are. We can count on you, which makes you a great brother, a great son, and a great friend.

I took this picture on your ninth birthday when we had hot chocolate at IHOP (your pick on a day I said we would do anything you wanted). After that, you spent a little birthday money at GameStop, we had a meal at Longhorn (where the manager gave you free dessert because she was so impressed you ate an 11 oz. ribeye by yourself), and then we went home to watch movies and play video games together. I love that you are happy with simple things. Hot chocolate at IHOP. A good steak. Family time. Here’s a secret, Will, maybe the only thing you need to know to love your life: you don’t need much more than those things to be happy.

We snapped this shot half an hour before your first piano performance. Remember when you started piano, and you weren’t even sure you wanted to try it? Doesn’t that seem crazy now that you are so good at it? Proof positive of the power of trying something new. Can I tell you something, and you promise not to make fun of me? I cry sometimes when I hear you practicing. Your motivation and dedication makes me so proud. The fact that you take care of things like homework and making snacks when you’re hungry and practicing the piano makes me forget sometimes that you’re a kid. You are just so grown up, and while I miss the yesterday you, I am even more excited to see the tomorrow you. Because, Will, I don’t know how it’s possible, but you just keep getting more and more awesome every day.

Happy double digits birthday, firstborn. If you don’t mind, I’ll steal a quote from you—“when I say I love you, I mean it. Like I really, really mean it, not like something people just say sometimes because it’s something to say, but like real love.”



P. S. I tried to make a four-minute video of your life and realized with a quickness that condensing ten years into four minutes was impossible, so I made this ridiculous 17-minute video. It's all for you. Well, and for the grandmas because they like that sort of thing, too. Enjoy!

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