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A Dozen Years

A dozen years have passed since I became a mother to a son.  As I’ve said frequently before, having never had brothers, having never seen firsthand what it was like to mother a boy, I didn’t have a good idea of what that would entail. I imagined lots of very smelly dirty socks and climbing on furniture, fewer dress up parties, less concern about hairdos and clothes.

I was totally right and totally wrong about all of it.

Your dirty clothes are numerous and the smelliest I have ever encountered.  You climb and jump and run and throw and fall and catch and just physically bend the world to the will of your body in ways I have never seen anyone do. As though you have to feel what will happen when you (insert physical activity here) to believe it is true.  Smelly socks and non-stop movement, I had those right.

But I was completely wrong about the rest of it.  Dress up parties abound in our house, and although they occasionally feature camouflage and Nerf guns, they also frequently involve blazers and ties and skinny jeans and an attention to what shoes look good with what outfit that is unmatched by any other 12 year old I know, boy or girl.  Your interest in your hair is  boundless to a degree that borders on comical, and certainly outpaces the time and effort spent on hair by the other five people in this house combined.  Your care and concern for your hairdo was so well-known in your school in England, it was worked into the school play as a punchline.  (You DO have really great hair, though, I cannot deny that.)

I had assigned these stupid gender roles to little boys in my head that I soon learned were completely a product of what society had taught me and were in no way representative of what boys are and can be. 

You are a sensitive soul and you wear your emotions — all of them: joy, anger, sadness, fear — right on your sleeve.  Far more than your sister, actually, you are willing and able to say how you feel without embarrassment.  (Boys and girls don’t have to do things the way boys and girls have traditionally been told to do things.  Lesson learned.)

You love sports, yes, and you generally excel in all athletic endeavors, but you also love to dance.  You’re a really, really good dancer.  You dance all the time, and all the ways, including tap dance, which I love love love to see you do and which I need to find an instructor for here in Massachusetts so you can keep doing it.  (There are no activities for boys and for girls.  There are just activities, and any person can do any of them.  For real.)

You really do care and pay attention to fashion and style, unapologetically, and have done so since you were pretty little.  You have good taste and a good eye and you like to dress up, even if it’s just for a random Monday at school.  Given the choice, you’d take a suit and tie over soccer shorts and a hoodie.  (Fashion is not exclusive to girls. Looking good and wanting to look good isn’t girly.)

You defy expectations and you prove that boys are never one thing, just like girls aren’t.

Being a mother to a son has changed me in ways I never anticipated and I sorely needed.  Your very presence in my life, and the presence of your brothers after you, has made me a better, more well-rounded person with a more thorough understanding of boys and girls and the dynamic between them. 

In the last year, we’ve done some amazing things. We traveled of course, and visited a few new countries to add to your list: Austria, Spain (mainland), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Greece, and we visited some repeats that we loved and wanted to see again: France, Germany, Italy.  We have climbed on mountains and sailed across seas and explored cities and tried new foods and through it all you have maintained the same sense of wonder and gratitude that I so appreciate. 

But you also traveled alone on a school trip for eight days, driving across Europe to ski the Dolomites in Italy with your friends.  It was really hard to let you go, but we knew as soon as you got home that it had been so good for you.  You’d matured so much in your week away that it was physically imprinted on you and obvious in your manner from the moment you got off the bus.  It was one of those breath-taking instances of parenting when you literally see your baby grow.

Your dad and I have had multiple conversations about how proud we are of how mature you’ve become.  You easily and comfortably talk to anyone, children and adults alike, and you are thoughtful in what you say and you listen to what others are saying and you’re just enjoyable to be around.  Your siblings may argue that point, because you haven’t quite translated that behavior into your interactions with them all the time, but occasionally we get these glimpses of the grown-up versions of all of you hanging out together and I know we’ll get there in time and I really think it’s going to be fun.  You guys are awesome.

You’ve adapted really well to our big move home and another major transition to a new school and making new friends.  I know you miss England — you tell me, cause you talk about how you feel — but you also know that being here is great too.  You’ll always miss the people you can’t have right near you and it’s the curse of having been lucky enough to have lived there.  I’m grateful for social media that allows you to chat with your England friends pretty consistently and keep those friendships going.  You’ll always, always have a place there. (Not to mention some school records in the Sports Day cricket ball throw that I think could stand a while!)

You’ve thrown yourself into your new life, taking advantage of every opportunity to play with your cousins, to swim in our new pool, to explore our new home.  You are adapting to the new school really well, although that was always going to be the hardest part after the school you were in for the last three years.  You’ve been so helpful with the unpacking and the moving furniture and the painting walls and every last little bit of it. 

We’re looking ahead to a year full of adjustments and new and different adventures and I know you’ll face it all with the same optimism and confidence you bring to everything, and I know that, as I have for the last 12 years, I will be so grateful to view the world through your eyes and so proud to have you as my son.  Happy 12th birthday, Gabey baby.  I love you the most.

Fourteenth

On Sunday, the day before your birthday, your new cousin was born: 7lb 6oz of tiny gorgeous perfect baby. Then on Monday you turned 14, and I sat at the hospital that morning holding the new little girl in our family who can basically fit in the palms of my hands and thinking of you, now nearly as tall as me and about to start high school and I could not begin to wrap my head around where the last fourteen years have gone. 

I looked at your aunt holding her brand new girl, exhausted and in love, and with all those years of parenting stretching out in front of her and I can’t lie, even though I know how all-encompassing and demanding and soul-consuming it is to have a new baby, I was jealous — I want eighteen more years with you before you go off and begin your own adventure, not four. I want every minute of the last fourteen years back to do over again because I have loved being your mother for all of it.  I look at you and I look at your beautiful new little cousin and I can exactly picture the moment you were born and I am just overwhelmed with how much has happened and how much changes and how fast it all seems to have gone by.

From the moment you have children, older parents tell you to enjoy every minute because it happens in a blink.  When you’re up four times a night nursing an infant, when you’re chasing after a wobbly toddler just learning to walk, when you’re buckling car seats and cutting up every bit of food into tiny bite-sized pieces and cleaning up toys for the millionth time a day, it’s easy to take the time for granted.  It’s easy to wish for the next stage, for the end of a long and tedious day. The days drag by, for sure; but it’s also true that the years fly.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really want to redo the baby years.  I love where we are now and who you’ve become and how all my kids are old enough that we can do really, really cool fun things all together.  But man, I want it to last forever, and I know it can’t.

Now you are about to start high school.  HIGH SCHOOL! You’ve grown up into this amazingly bright and intelligent person, with opinions on everything that are generally well-thought out and perceptive.  You’ve got a quick wit, a fantastic sense of humor (as long as you’re not the punchline of the joke), and a goofy side that makes me so happy when it appears.  You’re fun and you’re funny.  You’re organized and meticulous.  You’re smart and analytical.  You’re determined and brave.

You’re about to make yet another big transition to a new school, but I feel like the last move prepared you for this one; you know that even when you go in knowing no one, you’ll make friends and have amazing experiences.  I am so excited to see how you grow and change and thrive in this new place, just like you did in England. 

And as you’ve pointed out to me before, it’s easier here – we DO know people, we’re surrounded by family and friends and that makes it feel like home right away.  I really want to make sure that you feel rooted here as quickly as possible so that when you do head off to college in four short years, you know where home is without a doubt.

My girl, as you get ready to start the next chapter, here’s what I want you to remember:

Every place, every experience is what you make of it.  Go into it all with optimism and hope and make the best of everything even when things aren’t great. Speak your mind.  Try new things.  Be nice to your brothers even when you don’t want to be.  Be kind, be kind, be kind and be mindful of how your actions affect other people.  Remember how lucky we all are, in almost everything.   Use your talents for good.  Get enough sleep and exercise, even when it’s tempting to be a lazy teenager.  Be nice to your parents; remember we’re people too, with feelings and lives and ideas and goals.  Embrace what you love, regardless of what other people think.  

And more than any other thing, know how very much you are loved, right down to the core of who you are, right from the moment when you were that tiny baby I could hold in the palms of my hands, and always know how very, very grateful your dad and I are to be your parents.

Happy birthday baby girl.  I love you a bushel and a peck.

Double Digits, Eleven Days Late

Eleven days ago, on July 15th, I missed posting about your birthday. I’d like to blame technical difficulties (I did forget to bring my laptop to Nana & Pappy’s cottage), but the truth is that four days after arriving in the U.S. I was just too overwhelmed to write a coherent sentence.  A lot happened this month.  That does not, however, mean we didn’t celebrate your birthday as hard as ever, and it does not mean you don’t get a birthday post (I haven’t missed one in years!), but it DOES mean that, like a lot of things right now, we had to adjust our schedules and expectations a bit. 

So, eleven days later, let me wish you the happiest of 10th birthdays.  I know it was a good one because at one point in the late afternoon, in between you opening presents, spending most of the day swimming and kayaking in the pond, playing wiffle ball with your cousins, and eating a cupcake the size of your head, I leaned over and hugged you and said I hoped your birthday was fun and you gasped and said, “I forgot it WAS my birthday! I was too busy to think about it!”.  Pretty much that’s how birthdays should always be.

This past year was a strange one for you and for all of us.  We knew it was the end of an era – the final year in the grand adventure – so we talked a lot about what we’d done during our time in Europe, what we’d miss when we left, what we were looking forward to when we got back to America, and how it was the “last time” we’d do X, Y, and Z.  Although our focus was often on the past and the future, you managed to concentrate on the present and you made your last year in England your best year yet.  You absolutely killed it.

You got the best grades you’ve ever gotten, hands down, and made a concerted effort to overcome your reserved tendencies and speak up more in school.  I know that’s difficult for you and it makes you uncomfortable, but you did it anyway and your effort marks reflected that; I’m so proud of you for reaching beyond your comfort zone. You worked harder and more diligently than I have ever seen you work, and your attention to detail was better than it’s ever been before.  I know your teacher made a huge difference – he helped your Dad and I understand the you that we don’t see in school all day and he helped you be the best possible version of that kid and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that.

You absolutely thrived on the football pitch/soccer field where you played up a level alongside kids that were often two years older (and bigger) than you.  You were never intimidated at all, and your natural speed and athleticism and inherent understanding of sports strategy made up for your lack of size.  You made it clear that you belonged on that team of older boys and your dad and I were so proud to watch you play and grow as an athlete. 

You did the same on the cross-country trail, running with older kids and making it clear that you belonged right there with them.  I was as excited as I’ve ever been watching a sporting event at your cross-country relay this past spring when you came first in your leg — I screamed and jumped up and down and generally acted like a crazy person as you helped your team win a medal.  Who knew cross-country could be so much fun?!?!

You continued to make us all laugh with your sophisticated palate and ability to eat like a grown man on pretty much every trip we took – from consuming your weight in wiener schnitzel in Austria and Germany to inhaling half the seafood in Spain on our Barcelona trip.  We’ve come to accept that you’re never, ever ordering off the kids’ menu again.  I don’t understand how you’re as skinny as you are when you eat more calories in a given day than I do, but man you are skin and bones and ridiculously strong little muscles and that’s it.

You made such great friends in England and I was so glad to see you have your OWN little group instead of tagging along with Gabe’s friend like you mostly had in Virginia.  I really hope you keep in touch with them all (I think you will) and I hope that you make as good a group of friends here in Massachusetts when school starts this fall.

And, as you always have, you continued to impress me this year with your willingness and openness to try new things, see new places, and really think about how those experiences fit into your life and the world you know.  You make great observations on our trips: comparing and contrasting the canals in Venice to those in Bruges and Amsterdam, pointing out the similarities and differences between Menorca and Greece, and proving to your dad and I that you really were taking it all in on these million trips and that it was changing you in such a positive way.  We love hearing you talk about what you’ve seen and what you hope to see in the future.

So now, as you hit double digits, I just want you to know how very, very proud I am of the hard work you’ve put in over the last year, how much I’ve enjoyed watching you grow and change and mature, and how very much I love the boy you are and the person I see you becoming.  You’re a complex guy, and it’s so much fun to see all the different little sides of you in different situations.  Happy birthday, my bug (eleven days late). I love you to the moon and back.

New Beginnings

A year in time is both vast and tiny. I can’t say the past twelve months were entirely good, but neither were they fully bad.  No year is ever all one thing, so to try to sum one up with weak generalities is futile.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try, though.

Truth be told, I love any excuse to analyze what we’ve done and plan ahead for what we’ll do.  And there’s nothing quite as effective at making you reflect on the past than the future looming ahead with blinking neon lights to mark the passage of time. 

I’ve been angrier in 2017 than I remember being at any other time in my life.  I’ve been filled to the brim with rage at the state of the world and the state of my country and the willingness of everyday people to let bad things happen.  But I’ve also been engaged and excited and hopeful and it’s made me remember that it’s important to look at the world outside my own home and interact with it and that it’s my job as a human to be involved in humanity.  I’m grateful for the lesson even if I don’t love the way it was delivered.

It was a year in which I found an old version of myself buried inside and let her out.  She argues more and is less likely to be quiet just to keep the peace than the me that developed over the last decade of contentment and motherhood, but she’s more authentic. 

It was a year in which I remembered priorities I had forgotten.

I’ve watched my children grow and change too.  They also have a new perspective on the larger world and politics and their role in it all.  I don’t regret that for a minute. In fact, I’m grateful for it, because their future involvement in the world around them is being shaped right now and I doubt this is a lesson they’ll forget.  We’ll all move into 2018 with a newfound sense of the importance of being a participant. 

So, while in many ways 2017 was just an awful, terrible, horrible year (politically, globally), it was also a year with beauty and happiness and adventure and love (personally). 

We spent another year in England – our last full calendar year here.  We settled ever more into our lives here, but, strangely, always with an eye on the fact that it couldn’t be permanent.  As we’ve made more and more friends and connections within England, we’ve also said goodbye to American friends we made here who have gone back to different corners of the U.S., their own English adventures over.  Those goodbyes only served to highlight the truth that this is some sort of crazy three year vacation we’re on and that the end is, sadly, nigh.

As ever though, we’ve worked to ensure that our grand adventure is not wasted, although I think the pace of our travels has slowed as our involvement in our local life has increased.  We skied in the French Alps, trekked across Ireland with my parents and Austria & Germany with Matt’s, explored Normandy, and lounged on the beaches of Menorca.  We traveled back to the U.S. twice in six weeks in August/September and visited friends and family that we miss and saw my baby sister get married.

We’re looking ahead to a year of even bigger changes.  We’ll move back to America in the summer, but not to the house my kids all know as home.  Not even to the same state. Instead we’re heading to Massachusetts, to where I grew up.  We’re starting anew again as a family, but for me, I’m heading well and truly home.  No matter how sad I feel at the thought of saying goodbye to the adventures we had in England and to the life we built from scratch in Virginia, none of that overrides the joy I feel when I think about going home. 

My biggest challenge in 2018, I think will be to give the first six months it’s fair share of attention.  My tendency to live in the future is one I’m already trying to overcome; I want to be present and enjoy our last few months in England, but my brain keeps skipping ahead. The football and hockey and cricket matches and the school play and the day-to-day will help me, I’m sure.  The kids see six months as a lifetime away, so I’m trying to look at the days from their point of view.

My resolution then for 2018 is to try to enjoy each day and week as it comes instead of looking too far ahead. 

The new year is, as always, just a symbol – there’s no real difference in the turning over of the clock on December 31st than there is any other day of the year.  But symbolism is important.  I need that kick in the pants to wake me up, to force me to examine what is important and to help me determine where I should focus my attention.

I hope you’re saying goodbye to 2017 with some sense of peace and happiness and looking ahead to 2018 with more of the same.

Happy New Year!

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