I’m six weeks late with this important birthday post, but since we’re waiting until it’s a little warmer to have your birthday (pool) party AND your birthday present Red Sox game got rained out and delayed until June, I’m going to include this long-awaited post as part of the extended celebration.
You are nine now, my baby. Tall and skinny, all gangly arms and legs and not a trace of baby-ness about you. Despite that, though, some things remain the same (and I fervently hope always will): freckly cheeks and unruly hair and the widest, purest, happiest smile I’ve ever known.
On your birthday, you woke up early and then paced the upstairs hallway with gleeful impatience, waiting for the rest of us sleepy slow pokes to get up and get moving so you could get downstairs to the tradition: a decorated kitchen and birthday presents on the breakfast table. As is your annual custom, you were the most joyful recipient of each and every gift, grateful and excited and barely able to contain your happiness. I love that you don’t try; that you just let it spill out and bubble over everyone around you. Your happiness and joy always fills me up.
You have adjusted as well as I had known you would to the big changes of the last year: moving BACK to the U.S. to a new house in a place you’d only ever visited and never lived, and making your first foray into the American school system. You approached all this transition with anticipation and excitement and full confidence. And, as you always do, you bloomed where you were planted.
You are thriving in school, overcome with great new friends, loving your new neighborhood full of kids who want to play, and overjoyed with how often you get to hang out with your cousins. Although you do often remark that you miss your English school and friends, you are not sad and broken-hearted, just a bit wistful. It’s hard to believe that this time last year, we were still in England. I know we all miss it, even though we love where we are now. “I wish I could have ALL my friends from ALL the places I’ve lived all together,” you told me. I know that feeling so, so well, my baby. And all I can tell you is that we’re lucky to have so many wonderful people who love us all over the country and around the world and that we’ll just have to stay in touch and make sure we visit.
You had a lovely fall season in soccer, and a pretty impressive winter chock full of skiing. You, at age 8, conquered the mountains with a slightly bow-legged determination, and ended up skiing black diamonds by the end of the season. You more than kept up with your siblings, and you insisted that you be able to do whatever it was that Gabe and Owen were doing — which was terrifying me and your father on the windiest, bumpiest, most-tree-filled glades you could find.
And then, in January, you started a new sport — new to you, new to our family, and yours alone: boxing. I wasn’t sure if you’d like it, because to be perfectly honest, you are the epitome of a lover, not a fighter. But you loved it. You listened and learned and practiced and improved every week. You stepped into a new little place in your life in that ring and I saw a new side of you that I have never, ever seen or even imagined. The first time you really got hit, it shook you up, physically and emotionally. I saw a look in your eyes that I know you’ve never had before — a combination of surprise, anger, fear, determination, and just a touch of wildness. But you managed your emotions, you pulled yourself together, you got through it, and you came back. Although I’m still not sure I like watching you get hit, I love that you love this and that it’s making you stronger, more confident, and more capable of controlling yourself, both body and mind.
You are still struggling a bit though, I think, with straddling the fence between being a little kid and a big kid — you want all the fun parts of growing up without any of the responsibility (don’t we all, kid, don’t we all). The number of times I’ve reminded you in the past year that you aren’t a baby and you can and must do certain things for and by yourself without being reminded is one million, zillion times (like make your bed. put away your clothes and shoes. hang up your wet towel and put your dirty clothes in the laundry after you shower. do your homework without being reminded. put your dishes in the dishwasher, or at the very least in the sink…). I hope we’re getting there. Some days I feel like we are. But not all the days. We’ll keep working on it.
I have a theory, borne out by your siblings before you, that 4th grade is the year when that stuff all comes together if I keep insisting on it often enough and loudly enough, so hopefully this next year will be a watershed for you where all that is concerned. Fingers crossed, because otherwise I think your Dad and I may both lose our minds.
What I have loved is watching you grow into your relationship with your brothers and sister especially over the last year. As the youngest, you were often the odd man out when it came to sports and games — for many years, you couldn’t quite keep up with the older kids. But no more: you’re right there with them now, capable and fast and strong and holding your own with your older siblings. You can run and throw and catch and kick and ski and skate and bike right there next to them. It’s so much fun to watch. All the kids can hang with all the kids. And all the kids can basically do all the things. The dynamics of our family are shifting, and I can see it happening right before my eyes as we’ve really, honestly, truly transitioned to a house of no little kids.
The coming year is going to be, I hope, one of stability and deepening our roots here and just getting fully immersed in home. You do have more items to tick off your to-do list: I’ve been asked to find a barn so you can do riding lessons again (happy to oblige, because I’m missing it too). You want to box again, play soccer, baseball, do more skiing, spend every waking minute this summer in the pool and at the beach, and I know Vermont and Canada are on your travel list. So we’ll look ahead and make our plans, but with the knowledge that we’re here permanently and all the things we want to do don’t have to be jammed into a small span of time.
No matter what though, whether our lives are calm and stable or crazy and full of change, you have always faced everything with a smile. I hope that never changes, and that you carry your optimism and hope and faith that life is good and people are kind and all will be well with you forever and ever. Your goodness and kindness brings out the goodness and kindness in others, and helps everyone around you when things aren’t so great. I’m grateful that I have a person in my life who brings such hope and joy wherever they are, and I love you so much, my little bug. Happy 9th birthday!