If I said I can’t believe you’re already eight years old, I’d be lying. The truth is, I can hardly believe you’re only eight. Somehow, my blonde-haired boy, your eight years have seemed to stretch out and bend the space-time continuum so that I cannot imagine what our lives were like before you and I cannot imagine a life without your quiet presence in it.
You are the silent type. Except when you’re not, and then you’re the opposite-of-silent-type and you never stop talking. I generally know when you start chitter-chattering that you’re tired and heading into what we call Owen’s “Shark Mode”, wherein you don’t stop moving or talking for even a second because if you do, you’ll fall asleep. Shark Mode is always interesting, and generally exhausting.
Your snaggle-toothed grin has changed a lot in the last year. Looking at the pictures of you from last summer, I’m astounded at how much you’ve grown up. I believe that all our new experiences have played a big part in that; you’re a man of the world now. You travel. You know lots of new things and new places.
You’ve made new friends and picked up a new accent which you don’t even realize you’re using when I pick you up from school, and which you immediately switch off if anyone draws attention to it. You became the first person in our little family to wear glasses, when, after announcing to the doctor in your physical that your left eye “doesn’t really work” (a fact of which I was blissfully unaware), you proved that to be true in two eye exams. You picked out some sweet Clark Kent-esque black frames and you’re looking pretty cool in them. Knock on wood, you’ve had the glasses three weeks and haven’t lost them yet. You’ve grown up a lot.
When we moved, you were the child for whom I harbored the greatest concerns. You don’t tend to talk in a crowd and you’re shy and reserved, especially around adults you don’t know well. You’ve always generally relied on your older brother to be the grease in your social situations, allowing you to slide along in his wake and make friends by default. But moving here, your teachers wouldn’t know you by association as all your previous teachers had. The kids wouldn’t know that eventually you’d talk, and I hoped so hard that you would be okay making friends on your own without your gregarious older brother to assist you at all times. Man, did you prove me wrong. You HAVE made your mark, and you’ve done it on your own. I am so, so proud of you because I know it’s not always the easiest thing for you. You did it, though, and did it well.
At the beginning of the school year, you, who has generally always been somewhat bored and uninterested in school, were faced with challenges wholly unfamiliar and new. Your teachers here required far, far greater attention to detail than ever before. Your handwriting was inspected and found wanting and you were instructed to practice and improve it. I think you were a bit shocked, to be honest. Not because what you were doing wasn’t quite good enough, but because you were expected to make it better. As you always do when challenged to improve something, you (somewhat obsessively) practiced writing your letters. Your handwriting is quite lovely now. I will remain forever grateful to your teachers for establishing a high standard and then making you actually reach for it.
Along the same vein, your father and I were also told in our first parent-teacher conference that although you were obviously quite capable of achieving high marks in school, you were really not putting your best effort out: you rushed through assignments, didn’t always read the directions fully, and often did the bare minimum required. This would not do, your teachers said. You’d have to pay more attention to details, take your time, and hand in your best work on each assignment. Although neither your Dad nor I were surprised, I will admit that I felt a bit at a loss. Getting you to do something well when you’re not super-interested in it has always been a battle.
But, somehow, maybe the new environment in the school or a developmental maturity that you finally reached or the pressure put on you by your siblings attaining high marks, about 2/3 of the way through the school year, something clicked in you. Suddenly you were spending time making sure your assignments were neat and detailed. You colored in pictures with an attention to detail I’d never seen you use. You completed “extension” assignments without being reminded and did them well. You were engaged and interested in school work and it was like the clouds parted and the sun shone and angels sang, so great was my relief and excitement. Your teachers remarked on it, your dad and I noticed it, and your report card certainly reflected it. Whatever happened, you seem to have turned a corner and I am so proud of how hard you worked. Please, please keep it up!
You have thrived in this new school environment in non-academic ways too; in fact, the set-up of the school seems designed with kids like you specifically in mind. There’s so much activity built into your weeks and you have full classes devoted solely to sports! You swim every other week during school AND you have P.E. class AND you have random sporting events like cross-country races and soccer matches popping up in every term! There’s no time to get bored and you rarely have to sit for more than an hour at a time, ever.
As you always have, you did apply yourself fully to being the best athlete you can be. You made the A-team in soccer, were the only kid in your year to make the cross-country team (actually beating your older brother in the tryouts to his absolute dismay) and you also made the A-teams in hockey and cricket, too. You absolutely ROCKED it on school Sports Day, coming in second in the 50-meter race, 4th in the 100-meter race, first in the 800-meter race (by quite a distance, actually), and first in the cricket ball throw, breaking a ten-year old school record by 2 full meters — a considerable margin. Your obvious joy when you compete in athletics is just uplifting. No matter what the sport is, I love watching you play.
The discovery of your love for running has been an interesting development. You literally LOVE running. You will run short or long distances. You run fast, the whole time. Sometimes, as you’re running, you throw in a few skipping steps, but you never seem to tire. You ask me to please go for a run with you, and so I do it, but you are definitely the rabbit and I spend the whole time telling you to keep going as long as you can still see me in your rear view. It’s a great thing for you, my child who is always full to the very brim with energy. And we’d never really have realized how much you enjoy it were it not for the cross country and track programs at your new school. I hope you always keep running; you look, as you go, like you’re at peace with the world.
You, my friend, continue to challenge me as a mother. You can be the most loving and attentive child or the most stubborn and taciturn child, depending on the day. You keep me on my toes, always. But as you’ve gotten older and more mature, the lovey days outnumber the grumpy days. It’s a nice thing. I want you to know, though, that I am grateful for the challenging days too, because they make me work to get better at this parenting gig. And they definitely make me appreciate the lovey days even more.
And so, as we go into this year — the Ocho — I only hope you continue on the path you’re on. May the year of being eight be as amazing as you are. I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. Happy birthday to you, my little blonde baby.