Friday, May 19, 2017

I blinked and then you were 16

Dear Oldest,

I started thinking about writing this a few weeks ago. I've been putting it off in a sort of denial that if I don't write your birthday letter, then maybe I can will time to slow down a little bit. Maybe this time I can finally make it stop, push the pause button.

I know I can't, of course, but it was a nice thought.

I won't tell anyone you borrowed this medal for a picture...
I went through and re-read some of the old birthday letters, looked through old pictures of you, and I'm still completely at a loss about how we got here already. How are you going to be 16 already?

I wasn't joking when I told you that time doesn't truly seem linear once you have kids. I know that to you it was some silly philosophical conversation, but it was me really trying to communicate the detachment with time that seems to happen once you become a parent. You don't know because you just don't know, but you probably will someday.


Or maybe you do.

It wasn't so long ago when you woke up one morning with the realization that you were getting older, when you climbed into my bed upset with the knowledge that you weren't going to be a kid forever. I couldn't make it stop then and I can't make it stop now, and even if I could, I suspect you wouldn't really want that anyway. You're already looking forward to the next phase of your life, planning for those last two years of high school, weighing the options for what comes next. 


And you should be. You've got some amazing ideas for who you want to be when you grow up.

You've already grown up so much. These past few months, it seems especially true. There are days that you inexplicably just age before my eyes. It used to be more gradual, your transitions, but now it's as if you wake up dramatically different some mornings. The physical changes have been remarkable, sure, but it isn't just that. It's your demeanor. Your outlook on the world. Your maturity. Your level of responsibility, one that society likes to tell us teenagers simply cannot possess. And yet, here you are, defying the conventional wisdom. 



In this past year, you've accomplished so much. Completed so many goals. Achieved so many things in so many different facets of your life. You've put yourself out there, taken risks, done the things that scared you, not sure how it all would go. You didn't let the fear hold you back. And when things didn't work out the way you'd hoped, you sat with the disappointment, but only for a moment...then shrugged it off, moved on to Plan B, and set about how you could make yourself a more appealing candidate the next time.


You finished your Eagle rank, which would be a huge accomplishment alone if it was all you'd done this year. I told you a story about how I recently got into a heated online argument with someone who insisted that it is impossible to achieve that rank prior to the age of 16. I'll never understand why some people are so committed to the things they believe when the evidence - in this case your very existence - to the contrary is so obvious. I suppose, though, that is a conversation for another day. 

We still haven't had your Court of Honor since you've been so busy with everything else, but we'll get there. Eventually. The hard part is over, the rest is just gravy.



You took on a challenging course load at school and have thrived. Long gone are the days when I'd have to check your grade book online to make sure that you were turning everything in. You, as I knew you someday would, finally figured that out. So much success in life really just comes from showing up, and you've learned that already. I won't go into a lengthy list of your academic successes, but I don't need to anyway - you still insist on hanging all those certificates on the fridge or displaying them on the mantle. Just make sure you scoot over and let your siblings have a chunk of the mantle from time to time.

You have volunteered to help your father and brother with the Cub Scout den, you have volunteered at the hospital, you have volunteered teaching younger kids how to play shiny new instruments in summer band. You help me around the house and with your younger siblings. You help. You were just born to help. Sometimes you need to find a bird statue first, but you always do it. (Inside joke)



You went on your first real trip without us this year to NYC. Band has opened so many doors for you and will continue to do so. You came back home from that trip so much more mature that it defies explanation. You.were.just.older. In four days. Drumline won state this year with you leading the bass line, but what mattered to me more than the medal in the end was the look on your face when you were performing out there during finals. I posted a picture of you in that moment, one that was blurry and so far away, but one that showed the pure joy on your face. I want you to remember how you felt that night and never let it go. Hang on to those moments forever.

Life isn't really about the pursuit of happiness in general, because no one can be happy all the time, even if we tell people that lie in our society all the time. You know me...I'm not going to lie to you. Life isn't always great, but you will find those moments of joy. Oh, those moments. Keep them. Tuck them into your pocket. Pull them out when you need them most. 



You think you know what you want to do after high school, you've been set on a certain school for a while now, but I know that is all subject to change. You've shifted that eventual career path already, currently in love with higher mathematics for reasons that mystify me. You're good at it, damned good at it, and you've started talking about the beauty of math, which to me sounds like a nightmare. But hey...kid...you do you. The world needs nerds that love math, which means the world needs people like you.

When you're messing with my emotions, you like to say things like, "Two more years, and I'll be gone...", but lately, I've started turning it around on you. That oppressive weight of time, the gift that keeps on giving. It'll be hard for you to leave, I know. It'll be hard on me and it will be hard on you, and it will be devastating for your siblings (that's payback for the feelings, kid...), but I'll pack your bags and slow down enough to kick you out the door before I drive away sobbing. Because that's what I do.



It's not my job to keep you little. I couldn't even if I tried. It's my job to get you as ready as I can for that great big world out there, then like the mama bird building her nest out front, it'll be my job to shove you out and teach you to fly. You can't fly if I'm hanging on, so I won't.

I'm teaching and pushing and nudging, reminding you that you can do it every step of the way.

And I'm proud of you. I'm so proud of you. Of who you will one day become, of who you already are. 



The certificates and awards and grades and accomplishments are amazing, sure, but what matters more than any of that every will or could is that you are kind. You are humble. You are considerate. You look around you to see who is watching. You make the choices not because of what the consequences to you might be, but because they are the right choices to make. 

You aren't a kid anymore, you're a young man...even if you still call me mama. 

(Seriously, never stop doing that.)



I don't know what this next year holds, but I can't wait to see what you come up with. 

Keep working hard, keep managing your time, keep finding friends that love the same things you love. Keep setting goals, keep putting yourself out there, keep dusting yourself off and trying again when it doesn't work out the way you had hoped. Keep pushing yourself for bigger and better. Keep balancing all of that work with play. Make sure you take care of yourself in all this. Don't ever lose sight of who you are, because you're pretty spectacular.



While you're at it, stay weird. Stay goofy. Keep laughing at those terrible jokes. Never stop singing and dancing and squatting in front of things. 



I love you, sweetheart. 

Happy birthday.

Love, 
Mama

p.s. the video still lives. Ho Ho Ho.

1 comment:

  1. So heartfelt!! I'm teary-eyed now thinking of my own 13 year old! :)

    ReplyDelete

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