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Happy Birthday Baby

As you have for several years now, you started the countdown to your birthday about a month ago.  You’ve kept track every single day and reminded us all frequently exactly how many days were left until you turned eight.  It’s now a running joke for Daddy to say something like “Ten days left until your birthday Quinn!” and you, with a sigh and a roll of your eyes, instantly correct him without looking at a calendar or counting (“Three, Dad.”).

The funniest thing though, is that you apparently haven’t just been monitoring the number of days, but also trying to keep track of any packages arriving in the mail.  You told Daddy the other day that you were actually getting a little concerned that maybe we weren’t really aware of exactly how close your birthday actually WAS because you had not noticed any deliveries in your name.  Daddy assured you we were on top of it, and you had a sudden epiphany – maybe the packages being delivered to DAD AND ME were actually FOR YOU.  You crack me up, kid.

Seven was a great year for you – you proved yourself to be one of the big kids as you moved up to the Upper Prep school and joined your brothers there.  You have absolutely loved the added benefits of being in the big kid end of the school: playing in sports matches against other schools, participating in all the cool after school clubs, having the real-deal sports kit and track suit to wear, and switching classes and teachers for every lesson.  You’ve done a phenomenal job of it.  (All except for the keeping track of your uniform items part.  We’ve definitely got some work to do in that area.)

We went on some really cool trips this past year and you, as always, greeted every new experience with glee and open-hearted enthusiasm.  I think Menorca may have been a favorite, between the pool in the back yard, the beaches a five minute walk away, the kayaking and sailing trips, and the snorkeling with a little tiny octopus.  You were a rock star snorkeler and it just solidified the fact that our family trips no longer revolve around what the littlest can do.  Cause the littlest can do everything! 

Except stay up for a dinner on a Spanish timeline – meals that begin at 9PM aren’t your forte.

You also discovered some new favorite foods and have carried on the family tradition of outgrowing the children’s menu by about age seven.  Weiner schnitzel, paella, and prawns were proven to be two new favorites, and you ate your weight in both while in Germany, Austria, and then Spain. 

Through every year and phase of parenting, I have found things I love and things I don’t love, and that hasn’t changed in the last year.  I have to say, though, that I really think we’re in the parenting sweet spot with the ages of you and your siblings, and the fact that we can do just about anything with you guys has been such a fun realization.  I think eight might be one of my very favorite ages to parent; you’re little enough that I can still hold your hand and snuggle you without you feeling any embarassment, but you’re big enough that we can go skiing and snorkeling all together as a family without having to make any concessions for little ones.  I’m so excited about the year ahead of you!

Another thing I love about eight year olds is that they have the best, most crooked smiles with mouths full of half giant teeth and half little ones.  You have a fantastic little fang coming in well before the baby tooth it should replace seems ready to come out.  I have a feeling we’re looking at a few sets of braces when we move back to the U.S.

We are looking ahead to another year of massive change, though to be honest, that seems like our family M.O. sometimes.  We’ll move back to America this summer, and you’ll be living in another new place where you’ve never lived before (you have frequently visited this one, at least).  But you never, ever doubt that it will be awesome.  You already know what it’s like to move somewhere new and make new friends and learn how things are done in a new place, so you’re confident that you’ll be as successful in this new endeavor as you were in the last.  I am too.  You make friends so easily and joyfully and I love your open-hearted attitude.  And as a bonus, this time you’ll have your cousins nearby to play with on a regular basis, so you’ve already got some built-in friends anyway!

You and your brothers have over the last few years become this hysterical little gang – no longer are you the little one who has to be included or helped out, you are a full-fledged member of the team.  You hold your own across the board and the three of you spend approximately one billion hours a week playing soccer, cricket, hockey, wiffle ball, skateboarding, practicing archery, and playing PlayStation.  Even though you fight (a lot), you are so lucky to have each other around every day to play with.  I love watching you guys. 

I also love watching you play with your sister.  You may be the only person in our family who she never truly gets annoyed with, because you’re pretty hard to get mad at.  Except when you stink up the room.  She doesn’t love that. (None of us do, but you think it’s the funniest thing EVER.)  But she does love you, and you love her, and that makes me happy.

I can’t wait to see what this next year brings, but I know that no matter what, you’ll go through it all with a positive outlook, a happy, goofy smile, and a million hugs for anyone willing to accept them.  You are the most genuinely sweet and happy person I know and I love that age hasn’t changed you.  You make the world a kinder place and I am so grateful that I get to live a life with you in it.  Happy birthday, baby.  Happy 8th!

Truths About Eleven

You know what I love about you, my Gabey-baby? Everything.

You’re happy, thoughtful, responsible, loving, funny, helpful, interesting, curious, earnest, silly, kind, and caring.  You are all those things, and that is the truth.

Lest I be accused of bias, though, and in order to demonstrate that I am not oblivious to your faults, I’ll tell you that you are also not a good listener, you get too easily frustrated, you like to pick on your brothers, and you have real trouble not trying to get the last word in during an argument. 

Those things are all also true, which I assume you know because your dad and I do have to say them to you fairly frequently.  (But just in case, I’m writing them here so you can read them, because…well…look at the first one on the list.)

In the balance, though, you are a pretty amazing person.  I’m so glad I get to be your mom.

You are, as I’ve said before, the person who introduced me to the way boys work.  When you were born I began this weird new journey into the mind of a little boy and I have learned some amazing things — the most important being that little boys are just as multi-faceted and varied and complex as little girls. 

I think that concept gets brushed aside a lot.  Before I had you, my eldest son, I admit that I probably had a less-than-nuanced understanding and set of beliefs about what little boys were like.  I bought the stereotypes and just assumed that little boys are these rough and tumble oblivious mess-makers who stumble through the world without much thought, slamming into things and not really paying attention.

While that can certainly be true and you’ve had your fair share of times when that description sums you up pretty well, the reality is that you are every bit as capable of being a calm, thoughtful, attentive, detail-oriented person as your sister.  The older you get, the more that becomes true.  You aren’t just one thing, you’re not a preconceived notion or a one-dimensional character.

You are sensitive.  You are empathetic and sympathetic.  You are snuggly and loving.  You’re not a risk-taker or a thrill-seeker, you prefer not to be scared.  You pay attention to people and how they feel.  You look for and find beauty and wonder in the world around you and you appreciate it, out loud, without embarrassment or hesitation.  You are expressive and emotional.

You have taught me about boys and girls and stereotypes and expectations and it has made me a better person and better parent.  Because I have you (and your sister and brothers as well) to illustrate daily the similarities and differences between boys and girls, daughters and sons, and individuals in general, I am a more understanding and complete human myself.  Thank you for showing me the truth.

Yet another truth is that you’re simply one of the coolest people I know.  You do what you love and you do it wholeheartedly, regardless of whether that thing is something people would expect from you or not.

Bridget wondered aloud the other evening why everyone always thinks “Gabe is so cool”, when, as you danced around the dining room singing, with your hair in a ponytail on the front of your head like a unicorn, it seemed very, very clear that you are not, in fact, cool at all.

That, I said, is the trick — Gabe knows in his heart that as long as he believes he’s cool, he is.  And whatever he is doing, therefore, becomes cool by default.

Bridget wasn’t thrilled with that answer, but it’s another truth, undeniably. 

You’ve discovered the key to happiness there, too, I think. 

You really do just embrace whatever you find that you love, whether that’s playing ALL THE SPORTS (which might typically be deemed cool), or tap dancing (which might not).

Whether it’s talking about movies you love like Guardians of the Galaxy (typically pretty cool) or the Sound of Music (maybe not as popular with the 11-year old boys).

Or whether it’s spending your free time playing video games and riding your skateboard and playing football (generally regarded as cool pastimes) or reading books about history and singing along to musicals with your mom (possibly not regarded as the coolest hobbies). 

And because you unapologetically do your thing, because you love what you love out loud and with passion, you MAKE IT COOL.  And you enjoy your life so much more, because you’re doing things you love and you’re happy about it.  If you can hang on to that skill, you will have a much easier time of high school and college than your dad or I ever did.  Keep on doing what you’re doing, my boy.

You are now officially a pre-teen, which is 100,000% insane to me.  I can’t quite wrap my head around the concept of a grown-up version of my Gabe.  You’ve matured so much over the course of the last two years though, and I can occasionally see glimpses of the teenager and adult you will become. 

I’m looking forward to meeting that guy; I think he’s going to be fun and funny and I will enjoy his company.  Hopefully he’ll decide that hanging out with his mom is still cool and we can still watch musicals together even when you’re 15, and 18, and all grown up. 

This is our last year in England, and I know you’re both excited and sad about that.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the time we’ve had here has been awesome for you from beginning to end.  I don’t know that you’d have a single negative thing to say about it.  (Maybe that there’s no baseball.  But that might be it.)  You’ve thrived here.

I think though — I hope — that the happiness and positivity and openness and willingness to try new things you have now is something that you would have grown into no matter where we lived, that it’s just part of who you are.  Whether that’s true or not, though, I hope that now you know that no matter where we live, you will make friends, find things you love, and have fun.  Now you’ve just got the added bonus of being able to do those things in either an American OR an English accent.  So cool.

So on your 11th birthday, I want to finish up by telling you the biggest truth I know: I am so proud of who you are and who you’re becoming as a person, and I am so, so filled with gratitude on a daily basis that I have the privilege to be your mother. 

Happy birthday to you, my Gabey-baby!

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She’s Thirteen

No other moment in my life has been as significant, as life-altering, as all-encompassing than the moment of your birth.  You came into this world and simultaneously the old me left it; with your entrance into this life, I became a mother.  Nothing, not one other thing, has so defined me.  For the last thirteen years, we’ve been inextricably bound – mother and daughter – figuring it out together as we go along.  But I know that my existence as the center of your world is waning.  You will eventually define your life apart from me, and that’s how it should be.  Always, though, my most important evolution will have begun with you.

You’re a teenager now.  Officially and for real.  You. Are. 13.  I know how much you love that, you big dork.

It’s simply incomprehensible, although it also feels like there’s no way you’ve only been around for thirteen years. 

You are funny and irreverent.  You are incredibly intelligent.  You are dramatic and, truth be told, melodramatic.  You see the truth in a way that often surprises me, and you thankfully are not all drawn in by the pitfalls of teenager-hood.  At least, not yet.  You stay above the fray more often than not, a fact for which I am truly grateful.  Good lord, may that continue over the next few years.

You’re you.  You’re totally and fully finding yourself and it is awesome to watch.  I love you.  But I also really, really like you.  That’s important.

I so vividly remember being your age that it’s hard for me to believe that my baby is thirteen.  I hope that my memories and opinions about what was good and what was bad about my teenage years will help me help you navigate yours.  I know I cannot and should not shield you from the trials and tribulations that come with being a teenager, but I hope that I can be for you the person you need to help you get through it all relatively unscathed.

The next few years will absolutely be a defining time in your life.  You will find your tribe, and although the members may change over the years, I believe that the people who guide you through your teenage years have an impact on your life unlike almost any other people you’ll ever know.  If it’s a good time for you, you’ll meet adulthood well-prepared. 

My most fervent hope is that you will surround yourself with people who GET you, who know what is truly important, and who will help you figure out who you are yourself.

I also know that we are, by nature, coming into years when you might pull away and I might try to cling too close.  I hope that by being cognizant of that, I can minimize any potential disasters.

I also hope you understand that regardless of what you WANT me to do, I will be your mother first and your friend way, way, way down the line.  You’re still a kid.  My kid.  Even if you are a teenager.

I think that our decision to move to England has been really good for you.  You’ve already found people who get you, you’ve experienced a new culture and had to adjust to massive change, and so you’re better prepared for the changes to come.  We’ve had some really amazing adventures that I hope will become a foundation for you to build a life on.

You are, though, even at thirteen, my little girl.  You will probably never not be. I truly enjoy spending time with you, regardless of what we’re doing, and I hope it will always be so.  You’re an excellent and skilled cook, great fun on an adventure, and a fantastic shopping partner.  You are able and willing to talk about books and movies with me that no one else in this house has a real interest in reading or watching, and I truly appreciate that.  Like I said, I like you a lot.

You are the apple of your father’s eye, and such a funny little thorn in his side sometimes.  I love watching your relationship.  You are far more like me than you are your dad, and seeing the two of you square off makes me laugh inside every time.  You challenge him – to be more sensitive, to be more patient, to be more willing to understand the challenges and intricacies of a girl.  And he challenges you – to be stronger than you think you are, to back up your opinions with facts and thoughtful arguments, to not fall victim to your own drama.  It’s lovely.  I love you two.

And your brothers are the exact people you need in your life to bring you back to earth.  My very, very favorite thing is to watch the four of you play together, independent of your dad and I, whether it’s soccer, whiffle ball, poker, or a board game.  I hope that your relationships with each of your brothers remains as strong in the future as they are today.  You guys share a childhood with memories and experiences that no one else will ever understand.  They get you in a way that no one else ever will, and you get them.  Stay friends. 

My god, you are thirteen.  I cannot even believe it. 

Please know that,no matter what ever happens, I am so grateful to be your mother.  You are the thing that changed my life, the person who made me me, and for that I am forever grateful.  And as the person who MADE you, please know that my greatest wish is that you live a life you love and you know that you are adored and appreciated every step of the way.

Happy birthday, baby girl.  Happy thirteenth.

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Nine Years Old

Whenever I sit down to write my birthday posts to you, I always go back and read the last few years’ posts to see what I said and what I think has changed.  What strikes me when I read the words I wrote about you at six, seven, and eight is how little has changed – you are, as ever, persistent, determined, mischievous, quiet in public and the opposite of quiet at home, and the child who challenges me in ways I never imagined (most of them good). 

But this, I think is what makes you so amazing: your personality arrived fully-formed practically from birth and you are now and always have been exactly who you will be.  You are my Owen, and I know you ever shall be.  Fierce and adventurous, unexpectedly loving and consistently active, capable of amazing things and a little bit uninterested in proving that to anyone but yourself.  You set your own very high standards for the things that matter to you and you reach them always.  The things that don’t matter as much to you? It’s still a challenge to get you to fully engage on those.  I won’t quit though.  Your potential is boundless and it’s my mission in life to get you to realize it.

This past year I saw you find your stride in so many things.  You came out of your shell to perform in the school play, where your monologue as Colonel Sparkington was brilliantly done and so out of character for you, my little introvert.  You nailed it though, and I had tears in my eyes watching you stand on stage in front of all your classmates and all their parents and your teachers and the headmaster and deliver your lines clearly and with feeling.  I don’t think you hated it either, despite your general reluctance to speak in public most of the time.  In fact, I think you kind of loved it.  I know I did.

You’ve solidified some really good friendships this year, and that makes me so happy.  In your younger years, you tended to rely on your older brother to pave your social path and you just befriended the people he was already friends with.  Now, though, you have your own little group of friends, completely independent of your brother – a great group of funny, smart, good boys – and you are so happy.  That makes me so happy. 

You are also still a part of this insane gang of three that makes my house loud and smelly and full of sports equipment.  I love this gang a lot.

You have, as you always, always do, continued to excel in sports.  It’s just fun to watch you play, no matter what sport it is.  But my favorite now is watching you run.  You are just good at it, and while you’re running you look like you’re in your comfort zone.  A comfort zone that includes a sub-7 minute mile.  I will be forever grateful that we moved to England if only because of the cross country program at your school that revealed to us what a good runner you are and how very much you enjoy it. 

Your love of travel hasn’t dimmed, even though I worried that at some point you (and your siblings) might grow weary of it and blase about yet another castle tour or museum.  You have embraced the travel with joy and excitement, though, and there is very little I love more than hearing you compare your trips to Italy and Ireland and Germany and France, debating what was better where and how those places are similar or different. 

One of my favorite things about traveling with you is your appetite for trying new foods.  You have absolutely graduated from the children’s menu; we don’t even pretend anymore that you would be satisfied with chicken tenders or a hamburger.  You particularly liked the curry wurst in Germany.  And the cheese fondue in Chamonix.  And the fish croquettes in Ireland.  And the giant pots of mussels in Normandy.  Seafood seems to be your most favorite, in fact.  Watching you inhale plates of octopus, grilled and fried squid, clams, swordfish, tuna, and whole prawns with the heads and legs still on is almost comical.  More than one waiter or waitress has double checked to be sure they heard your order correctly.  I love your appetite for adventure of every type.

At nine years old, you’ve had more adventures than most people have in a lifetime.  You have skied in the French Alps and ridden a gondola to the top of the highest mountain in Europe and stood in a glass box 1000 meters above the ground.  You’ve toured the Guinness Factory and visited the home in Galway where your great grandfather, and his father – your namesake – lived.  You have climbed the Eiffel Tower and toured the Vatican.  You have gone swimming in Capri and snorkeling in Menorca where you found an octopus as it slid around on the rocks below you and without fear, you followed him and watched him.  You’ve toured more castles than I can name, and thankfully you’ve been excited about at least something you’ve seen at every single one.

I am grateful too that you and your brothers and sister have had all these adventures together and will share the memories forever.  You are close and love each other and get along well – at least most of the time.  It is the single greatest joy of my life to see you all happy and laughing and exploring and learning about new places. You share something unique with each of your siblings, and that is something I hope holds true forever.  You and your sister seem to have a mutual love of the daring and scary and a willingness to try absolutely anything; you and your older brother have an obsession and adoration of sports of every single kind and will spend countless hours together playing football, baseball, cricket, or any other sport you can think of; and you and your younger brother – with whom you share a room and, most nights, a bed – have a relationship built on nighttime chats and early morning Legos and games of cards.  When you’re all grown up with families of your own I hope you still hang out and do the things you love together.  I will consider myself a successful mother if my children all wind up not just family members but lifelong friends.

On your birthday this year I want you to know that your father and I are more proud of you than we could ever describe, that we love every single thing about you, and that we are so glad to be your parents.  Thank you for being you – always.  Happy 9th birthday my blondie baby! I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.

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