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.