Ten, Baby

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My gorgeous green-eyed boy, you are ten.  Although, to be honest, you’ve been saying you’re ten for at least two months now, so it’s a little bit anti-climactic.  And no matter how many times you said it, only to have your sister immediately correct you, you persisted in calling yourself ten.  Literally since July.  But today, for real, you’re finally ten.  It’s official.

You are now, as you always have been, the most guileless and open person I know.  You are not shy, you are not reserved, and you are not worried about what other people think.  It is so lovely to see you openly excited whenever something good happens.  Like during the first week of school when you dashed out to me as I stood in the middle of a conversation with another mom, and with a flushed face and shining eyes you exclaimed that you’d made the top set in maths and flung your arms around me in a bear hug.  You were so, so proud and so didn’t care if it was cool to be that happy about it.  And my heart could have burst with pride and happiness for you. 

Your school over the past year has been a considerable source of happiness for you, from last autumn when you made the A-team in football (soccer), to the winter when you made the A-team as the goalie in hockey (field hockey), and then into spring when you made the A-team again in cricket (baseball skills translate, apparently).  You made the swim team and the cross country team as well. 

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You told me not too far into the beginning of last school year that you absolutely loved your new school because “you matter there, you make a difference”.  If there’s something better a child can say to his mother, I don’t know it.  Knowing that the place where I send you off for 7+ hours each day makes you feel like you matter is about as much as I can ask for. 

Aside from your successes on the sports field, you also embraced everything else this new school had to offer, as I knew you would.  You joined the choir and loved being part of the school production of Wind in the Willows.  You joined an art club.  You ran for school council.  Your willingness to put yourself out there sets a great example for your siblings, most of whom are slightly less gregarious than you. And you just love being involved.  I love that about you.

On Sports Day in the spring, a day of serious and impressive track and field events, you cemented your mark on the school in a way that I know truly made you proud.  Your only goal that day was to beat the school record for your year in the cricket ball throw and get your name in the school record book.  I was quite proud of you for setting a goal like that.  The distance to beat for your grade was somewhere just under 45 meters. And you got up there and you chucked that ball with everything you had, with that lovely throwing motion your dad has ingrained in you since you could hold a ball, and everyone watching gasped out loud as the ball sailed over all our heads and past the judges, who had to unroll the tape measure to check your distance.  You hit 49.7 meters.  You smashed it.  And you joyfully but quietly celebrated your accomplishment, cheered on and congratulated by your friends, all of whom were truly happy for you.  It was a pleasure to watch.

Although I think the cricket ball record was a highlight for you, my proudest moment came a few weeks earlier at the school awards ceremony when you received the Most Improved Award for your class.  I saw the work you put in last year to catch up in maths, handwriting, English, and all the plethora of subjects that are taught so differently here than they were at home.  Your grades improved every single term.  You put your whole self into it and I was so grateful that your efforts were recognized. 

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We have reached another turning point this year, you and I: we now have the same size feet.  Given that I am a still several–at least 6–inches taller than you and not small-of-feet myself, we’ll just say you have large feet and leave it at that.  I sort of imagine you like a puppy with giant paws and I am just waiting for the day when you grow into them and, therefore, tower over me.  I also discovered a few days ago that a pair of your jeans was neatly folded in my pants drawer because I had assumed, when I picked them out of the laundry basket, that they were mine.  All this is to say that I don’t think it will be too long before I am looking up at you.  I’m already planning to steal your cool new turf shoes as soon as you outgrow them.  So, like, next week probably, at the rate you’re growing.

Although you are getting quite big and quite mature, thankfully you still give me a kiss every morning at school when we say goodbye.  Even if it’s only because you know I’ll make a scene if you refuse, you pause and hug and kiss me, no matter if you’re with your friends.  I love you for that. 

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In this year of adventure, you’ve seen some really cool places, from Edinburgh (where you tried the haggis!), to Stonehenge and Cornwall, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  But my favorite trip with you was to Rome; you had studied Ancient Rome in history not too long before the trip and were so excited to see it in person.  As we took our tour of the Colosseum, you gleefully and correctly answered the tour guides questions and were so proud that you were able to contribute.  At the Vatican museum, you hung on every word as our guide described the images painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and when we got home from our trip your history teacher told me that you’d shared all that information with your class — even pulling up an image of the painting on the smart board in class so you could point out specific details.  I love that you soaked it all up and remembered it and were interested enough to think your classmates would love to know about it too.

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You are full of candor and joy, friendliness and humor, hard work and pride.  You are a leader that people want to follow because you take charge with humility and natural grace.  You are a rock star in every sense of the word.  You are simply awesome.  Never change.

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Now, on your tenth birthday, I celebrate with gratitude a decade of being the mother to a young man I am so proud to call my son.  Happy birthday Gabey-Baby.  I love you to the moon and back!


Also, Gabe’s 9th birthday and his 8th birthday!


 

Matt’s Birthday

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We’ve got a steady string of birthdays in our house this time of year and sometimes I feel like Matt’s gets lost in the shuffle of the kids’ birthdays surrounding his.  Friday was his birthday, though, and I want to make sure I don’t completely ignore it when he most certainly deserves some attention and celebration!

I got lucky when I married him.  We balance each other out and he’s still, always and forever, the person I want to spend all my time with.  He’s the reason we’re able to go on adventures, both big and small.  He’s the reason my kids are good athletes and fierce competitors.  He sets the bar high, and honestly, he looks good doing it.

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“Reliable” isn’t exactly the most romantic of adjectives, but it should be.  Reliability is hot.  When Matt says he will do something, I know he will.  I know I can count on him.  Other people know they can count on him.  He doesn’t ever, ever let me down.  That’s more important than most other personality traits, and it makes me love him more every day, even if it does sound boring.

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We had a quiet day celebrating him on Friday, and a fun weekend full of friends, sports, and football on Sunday.  Basically all Matt’s favorite things.

So even though I am a few days late, happy birthday to my favorite person.  XOXO


Also, last year was the big one!


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A New School Year

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After a summer well-spent, we’re back to school.  Thank goodness!  We loved our break, we fully relaxed and enjoyed ourselves and we took an amazing 2.5 week trip back to America, but after 10 weeks off, every last one of us was in need of some structure and time apart.

Summer vacation is always lovely and much-needed, but by the end of August the kids have had too much togetherness and they can’t go thirty minutes without bickering.  They’re sick of each other and they need to see their friends.  I’m done with making snacks and lunches and reminding them to clean up after themselves and mediating arguments over stupid things.  I’m tired of spending hundreds of dollars on food every week only to have them all descend like locusts and eat it all in a day, or be told that, despite the full pantry and fridge, there’s nothing to eat. 

We were all ready for school to start.  Clearly.

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The children go into this year in a completely different frame of mind compared to last fall.  No longer the new kids, no longer unsure what to expect, they were all counting down the days in anticipation of getting back.  Unlike years past, they were truly excited to be starting back in school.  They couldn’t wait to see their friends, get started on their sports teams, find out which teachers they have for what subjects, compare holiday adventures, and get back into the swing of it all.

I am also excited, because, like the kids, I’m no longer doing things for the first time, unsure of how it will all go.  It felt lovely to walk into the school yesterday morning and greet so many familiar faces, to chat about the summer holidays and upcoming sports matches, to arrange coffee dates with other moms.  I think I’m looking forward to this year even more than the kids.

With a full year behind us and at least that long ahead of us, we’re in a groove and I like it.  Long may it last!


Also, the first day of school last year when my baby went off and left me, and an ode to Back to School.


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A Very Important Birthday

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Today you are twelve.  For the last 4,380 days, my world has revolved, almost exclusively, around you (although it expanded to include each of your brothers as they made their successive appearances).  For twelve years I have spent each and every minute with my heart and my mind and my soul and often my body focused on mothering you, regardless of whatever else I may have been doing at any given time.  Although I have certainly made mistakes, and will continue to make them, I hope I’ve done enough good in the past dozen years to make up for the bad.  Looking at you, I think I have.  You are wonderful.

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In the past twelve months, your life –all our lives– changed dramatically.  I went into the year with great hopes of what you would and could achieve, but you, my darling dearest, surpassed them all.  You rose to a challenge none of us fully understood when you began this last school year, and you simply excelled.  

Your new school is far, far more similar to what I experienced in college than to any American middle or high school I’ve ever heard of.  From day one you had to navigate across a huge open campus with multiple buildings and fields and roads.  You took 13 different classes and had 17 different teachers.  You had to tackle homework that seemed beyond your years: physics and biology, French and Spanish, chemistry and computer coding.  You learned to manage your time, organize your materials, turn in assignments both in person and online, balance schoolwork with extracurricular activities, and you did it with relatively little assistance.  Next to none, in fact.  You also did it all with a British accent so good that it fooled your doctor into doubting that you were my child and indeed caused him to ask if you had actually been born in England. 

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With bravery and daring, you tried out this past year for one of the lead roles in the school play — one of the witches in MacBeth, no less– and although those main parts went to upperclassmen, you gladly took an ensemble part and reveled in the experience.  You were, in my highly unbiased opinion, an excellent child witch.  You must truly have been though, because you got your dad and all three of your brothers to sit enthralled through a 2.5+ hour Shakespearean production and to actually enjoy it, which was no mean feat. IMG_6275

Although you initially insisted you weren’t interested, with some coercion and convincing on my part you tried horseback riding and found that you actually loved it!  I don’t know if you’ll ever understand how happy I was when you came home from that first “give it a go” lesson and told me you loved it and really wanted to sign up; as a little girl who never outgrew her obsession with horses, watching my daughter learn to ride and love it too has been one of the greatest gifts I think I’ve ever gotten.  Riding with you over the past year has been more fun than I could have imagined, and watching you — tiny as you are — take control over those huge, strong animals with no fear and no hesitation, just a smile on your face and a determined gleam in your eye, makes me so proud. 

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Although you’ve always done well in school, this year you took it to a new level.  You worked hard and put your whole self into your lessons and the results speak for themselves: straight As most terms, top grades in effort, high marks on every exam and paper you turned in, and the academic achievement award for your class.  You got the third highest overall exam score in your whole grade and the very top score in several individual subjects.  Although I tried to downplay my pride as you brought home your marks, I am going to take this chance, as your mother, to brag a bit about what you accomplished.  You amaze me.  No one would have faulted you for a mediocre year considering the challenges and the changes you were going through, but never once did you consider letting those things get in your way.  You rose to the challenges, embraced the changes, and thrived in this new school.  Your grades reflect a year of hard work, consistent effort, and a true love of learning new things.  When I dropped you off on the first day of school I watched as you walked away from me — so small in comparison to the upperclassmen surrounding you, and the youngest person in the whole school thanks to your late August birthday — and I just prayed that you would do okay.  You did more than okay, though.  You did exceptionally well on every level and your father and I could not be more proud.  I hope you are proud, too. 

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You’ve become a travel pro in this year of adventure, navigating subways and airports and train stations with ease and comfort.  I have loved watching you and your brothers see new places and taste new foods and learn new words in new languages. I don’t think you take for granted these experiences, either, which is gratifying as a parent.  You aren’t bored or blase about the prospect of yet another trip, you’re excited to continue to see new places.  Curiosity and enthusiasm are great character traits and I hope you never outgrow them.

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This birthday seems like a huge watershed to me, although you’ve already made it clear that NEXT year is the one you’re really waiting for.  To me, though, twelve is a major stepping stone.  I am sure that you haven’t looked at it in this way, but we are now 2/3 of the way through your childhood.  A full 66.6% of my years of parenting you full-time have already passed by — we only have remaining half of what’s behind us.  In just six years, you’ll go to college and the vast majority of my hands-on mothering of you, my only daughter, will be done and gone.  Knowing how quickly a dozen years have passed, I am acutely aware of how fast the next six will fly by.

I’m trying not to cling too hard, trying not to push too many teaching moments your way, but I know my days are numbered and I feel the need to make sure I’ve taught you everything I think you need to know.  I know it’s a silly and futile effort; I will do the best I can and you will do the best you can and the only really important thing I should probably do over the next six years is spend as much time hanging out with you as you’ll allow.  If I make every single second a Teaching Moment with a Moral and a Very Important Message, the time you’re going to want to actually spend with me will be very limited.  So I choke on most of my Very Important Lessons and just try to be normal and silly and spend time with you.  I hope that’s the right choice, but only time will tell.

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While I have the floor, though, I can’t resist throwing out a few tips that I think will be important over the next six years:

Make good friends.  Although I am always here for you and want you to talk to me about anything and everything, good friends in your middle and high school years will hold you up through the times that your old mom just can’t understand because I am viewing life from a different perspective.  Some of the most important people in my life today are still the friends I made when I was 12, 13, 14 years old.  They get me in a way no one else can because they were there through all the hard and awkward years.  Good friends will support you, encourage you, laugh with you, cry with you, tell you the truth (even when you don’t want to hear it), lend you clothes when you need just the right outfit, help you with homework or boys or parents who just don’t understand.  Just know that in order to make good friends, you must BE a good friend.  It’s always, always a two-way street.

Be enthusiastic.  It doesn’t really matter what you’re enthusiastic about, as long as you find something you care about and you care about it unreservedly.  Drama, horseback riding, running, swimming, reading, writing, art, whatever — find something you love to do and do it as often as you can.  Don’t waste precious years not doing something because someone else might think it’s not cool; you will be a happier person if you’re doing something you love, so don’t care what anyone else thinks.

Don’t do what everyone else does just because everyone else is doing it. Do what’s right, and what’s right for you, regardless of what other people do.  Stand up for yourself and for people who need defending.  Think for yourself and use your smart brain to make good choices.  Be kinder than anyone else you know.  Be a voice worth listening to.

Have fun.  Oh my goodness, you are only young once.  And you are still SO young.  Try a new sport or learn to play an instrument (you’re absolutely not too old, you’re literally only twelve)!  Be silly, have fun with your friends, don’t take things too seriously.  And seriously, be nice to your brothers — they’ll all be bigger than you soon and you’ll want them on your side.

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Today, on this Very Important Birthday, I want you to know this: I am your biggest fan.  Always and forever, amen.  I am more proud of the young lady you’ve become than you’ll ever know, and I am so grateful that I get to be your mother.  I have loved every single minute of the last twelve years right down into my soul, even the minutes that were covered in spit-up and poop when you were a baby, the minutes full of stomping feet and hands-on-hips when you were a stubborn little girl, and the minutes full of wailing and drama that we regularly enjoy in your preteen years.  You’re awesome, every little bit of you.  You are my sunshine.

Happy twelfth birthday, baby girl.  I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.


Also, her birthday letters from age 11, and 10.


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