Sunday, August 19, 2018

Before You Go To School This Year, 2018

I have put this off as long as humanly possible. I can't even really truthfully refer to this as a "before you go to school" letter, since 4/5 of you started back last week...but since the baby hasn't started preschool yet and I have 10.5 hours left until that happens, I'm claiming to have done this on time.

Or waited until the last minute. Either way.

Just so you know, I have been dreading writing this one for the entire summer. Scratch that. Since basically the first day you ever went to school at all, Oldest child.

To the Oldest: It's your last year in high school. You've been receiving letters in the mail from a different school every day it seems. The rest of the world has apparently figured out that you are pretty amazing. This time next year, we'll be moving you in somewhere else. Where that somewhere else will be remains to be seen, but you have lofty goals and ambitions that can only possibly make sense when you are 17 and have the whole wide world in front of you. You've changed what you want to do, or what you think you want to do, more than a few times in these past few years, but it seems like you've landed pretty firmly on teaching. You want to teach music. It makes sense. You've been at this whole music thing for a while now, and though I'm sure it still amuses your middle school music teacher that you have these ambitions now, you do. You weren't always as organized and diligent and focused back then. Or at all, really. You've grown up a lot since those first days in band class. You've spent summers teaching other kids and endless hours at the piano helping a sibling. You've practically begged your sisters to do drumline with you. You were even chosen as drum major for this, your last year in high school, learning before school started that your responsibilities in this leadership position have far more to do with the well-being of the kids you are in charge of than it ever will about the actual music. That's what teaching is. You've got a lot on your plate. A lot. And I know that it is so overwhelming sometimes. Since I wrote the last version of this, you've completed your Eagle Court of Honor, you've traveled to the WGI World Competition with drumline, you totally nailed your SAT and kicked ass in school. Honestly, though, none of that will ever matter to me as much as the rest of it does. The other stuff. The stuff that people don't see. The stuff that can't be objectively measured and added to a resume. The time that you've spent with friends in need. The heaviness of responsibility you've felt laid upon your shoulders, whether it was for family or friends. You've dropped everything to be there for people who needed you most. You've been my eyes and ears and heart far more often than I should be allowed to ask. You've held confidences, you've had your heart broken and instead of feeling anger, you sought to understand. You've struggled to comprehend why things happen the way that they do, and where most adults defiantly refuse to support those when they don't understand why, you've accepted and loved. You didn't need to know why. You just knew they needed you. I could go on and on and on about how proud I am of you, and Thor knows that I'll be writing those letters to you before you leave next year, but I'll stop here. I love you. My wish for you is that you enjoy the hell out of this year. Understand that I'm going to cry a lot. Hopefully not the Toy Story dry heaving sobs too often, though.

To Freckles: Wow, kid. I wouldn't even know where to begin with this past year. We went all the way to hell and back a few times, didn't we? I hope that if you've learned nothing else this year, that you know now that I'm here...always, anywhere, and for as long as you need me. Even if it sucks. Especially when it sucks. School already started for you and I know that you don't love anything about it. I know. But I also know that you love learning, and you understand that school is the necessary evil that gets you that knowledge. You have big plans for the rest of your life. Huge, actually. You scare me a little bit sometimes with your ambition. Studying abroad, learning multiple languages, majoring in biochemistry. Medical school. Medical school?!?! What the??? But, then again, you want to be a medical examiner, and that's the path to get there. To deal with all the dead people, you've going to have to learn to deal with the living ones first, and it's a price you are willing to pay. Since last year, so much in your world has changed. You're so much stronger and braver than you see. When things were the hardest they could have possibly been, you didn't seek the path of least resistance. You decided, at the very last possibly minute, to try out for the soccer team. Which is crazy. I mean, I figured you'd always find your way back to this game you loved so much, but I was not really prepared to have to get everything in order for you to do it within 48 hours. But we did it. And you made the team. And you really did fall back in love with this game. You have become more and more vocal in your advocacy work, already planning ahead for the next year, upping your game with levels of responsibility that come with bus passes and require designing letterhead. Which is also crazy. You're 15. And you already have figured out that you need to fight for yourself and your friends and your community...and you do it. I've said for years that you were going to change the world, and I still believe that with my whole entire heart. Actually, I believe it even more now, because even when you were slaying your own dragons, you were fighting everyone else's too. I wish for you to believe that, to see how strong you are, to understand the power inside your heart and mind. I love you. I'll always be in the stands or in the parking lot or wherever you need me, and yeah...I will have snacks. Go kick ass this year, sweetheart.

To Mini Me: I know. I know. I KNOW. It is the last year in middle school and you don't want it to be the last year in middle school. I know. But here we are. (Vanna arms). You feel like things are going to be chaotic and busy and that you are going to have even more responsibilities than last year...and you'd be right. You're helping run the GSA this year, dealing with a change in leadership and mentors all at once...and it is a lot. I've found, though, that the most important thing about advocacy work is a simple, but frustrating truth. It is this: the people who really want to help will, and the people who don't really want to help will let you down. I learn this over and over and over again, so you might as well start young. In addition to that, you have NJHS and volunteering at the Humane Society and Science Olympiad and ALL THE SPORTS and ALL THE TRAVEL TEAMS FOR ALL THE SPORTS, and I don't know how we are going to fit it all in the schedule, but we will figure out a way somehow. Don't even make eye contact with me about possibly doing drumline this year. Don't. For real. Give me a couple more months to live in this denial. It will be okay. I promise. I know it seems like a lot, because it is, but you do better when you're busy. You're like me in far too many ways. For this year, my wish is that you'll learn to find balance, that you'll learn to recognize when it is getting to be too much for you, that you'll start learning to say no when you need to, that you don't have to do everything. I say I wish that for you, but I still haven't really learned it, so maybe we can learn this one together. Maybe. Probably not, but we will give it a shot. Probably while I'm driving you home from some school thing you committed to while you beg for secret tacos. And I'll probably be okay with that. I love you. Breathe.

To Chicken: You really started the school year off swimmingly, right? And by swimmingly, you know that I totally mean that sarcastically, right? Which is why your new teacher appreciates already the fact that you get sarcasm. I mean, you are my child. You're welcome. Seriously, though, it's been a rough first week full of appointments we've been anticipating for far too long and other appointments that we didn't see coming at all. Some will help us find answers, while the other ones seem to be asking more questions than anything else right now. Hang in there, buddy. I know that this is hard. I know you'd much rather just get to be like all the kids who go to school every day and don't have to leave early or get up before dawn to drive over an hour for an appointment. I know. Fortunately for both of us, you're still mostly agreeable. You get that this is all a necessary evil. I wish it wasn't, but it is. This time last year, you were heading back into public school after having been out for two years. It was scary and you weren't sure what to expect, but it didn't go anything at all like it did the first time. And when you started school last Wednesday, on the day none of your other siblings had to go at all, you weren't hesitant. You weren't nervous. You weren't scared. You were excited. And after I dropped you off, I cried a little bit. Not for any of the reasons that I did last year, but because you were okay, truly okay. And even if things kind of suck right now in general, school finally isn't one of them. So, let's count this as a huge win. For this year, I wish for you to keep falling in love with reading a little bit more each day. Salutations. And jazz hands. I love you.

To Little Ass Kicker: I should probably change your nickname since you're starting school and all. Maybe I'm engaging in a little too much of a self-fulfilling prophecy by referring to you as a feisty kid. But, hey. You are spicy. You're definitely a kid with a whole bunch of older siblings at home. They've taught you all the things to get into, all the trouble to stir up, sure...but they've also taught you that you don't just have 2 parents that love and adore you've got them. That picture up there of the five of you...that face you're making when you look at your big brother? You look at him like that allllll the time. You don't just look up to him literally, you do it figuratively in every sense of the word. You wanted to wear Wonder Woman pajamas to bed tonight, and I had to oblige of course. You know that tomorrow morning, you will wake up and get dressed in the clothes your sister already laid out for you, put on that pack-pack and go to preschool for the very first time. You've had years of being left behind, staring at my face all day, and it is finally your turn. I know that there is a huge part of me that wishes it wasn't happening already, that wishes you were still a tiny little baby folded up in my arms, but it is time. You are ready, and so because you are ready, I have to be. My wish for you this year is that school is everything you imagine it to be and more - the friends, the snack, the playgrounds, all of it. Go and play and learn. I'll be waiting for you when you are done. I might be standing out there, confused at first, unsure of what I will possibly do with 2 1/2 hours to myself. It will take some getting used to. I love you, turkey man. (and I know, you love this armpit...)

To Mr. Hive: It's your last first day tomorrow too, I suppose. You are starting your last year in the master's program, because it isn't crazy enough for us to have five kids and however many jobs we now are working and volunteering everywhere we had to go to school too on top of it all. I don't know how the hell we are going to manage to do it all this year, but we will. We always do. Someday we will look back on this time, when you were working full time and in school, when we had a high school senior and a preschooler at the same time, and we will wonder what the hell we were thinking. Maybe we will get more sleep then. Maybe. You make me laugh, you drive me insane, you make me proud. Really. I know that I probably don't say that as much as I should, but it is true. You've become a better father, a better husband, a better man, and I love you for doing everything you do for us, for being who you are, for working constantly for more. My wish for you for this year is that you find time for all those hobbies you love, somehow. Put it on the calendar if you have to. We can do this. I know that, because I know what we've survived to get here. We can do anything. I love you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

To the one who was born with jazz hands

Dear Chicken,

I asked you a while back if we were changing your nickname around these parts, and you said no. You wanted to keep Chicken. And I guess that makes sense. For the entire length of time you've been alive, you have nearly always been tucked under my wing. Still. With the tucking under me.

It's okay though.

Your nickname here used to be Little Boy, but you're not so little anymore, not with those puppy feet of yours. Bigger than mine now.

You woke up this morning double digits. 10 years old.

I distinctly and vividly remember your older brother being exactly the age you are now. I remember that this was the last summer that he was really just "a kid" before adolescence took hold, the angst and drama and challenging my authority and all that. Your sisters were around the same age too when all that happened for them. I have been doing this parenting thing long enough to know that you're all vastly different from one another, which I'm hoping is true in this instance. I hope that you get to stay a kid a little bit longer than they did.

You're pretty good at it, truthfully.

You love to play. Still.

You want to go around in circles and run as fast as you can and climb on everything in sight. You want to play catch and kick the soccer ball around and play H-O-R-S-E in the street. You want to ride your bike and your skateboard and your scooter. You take the paddleboard out alone these days, no longer content to just hang out and ride along with a sibling. You LOVE your friends, and missed them every day all summer. You just love people. You want to do crafts and color and build things.

I mean, you really are pretty good at being a kid. I think mostly because you've always been really good at just enjoying the moment. So many people, often myself included, get lost thinking about the past or worrying about the future, taking the here and now for granted. Not you. You are present and engaged and fully in the moment. And it's pretty amazing, actually. I hope that you get to stay like that for as long as you can, maybe even forever.

It has been a very eventful year to say the least.

You went back to public school this time last year, and though you were hesitant and a little unsure of how it would go, you've thrived. You loved your teacher and have been challenged in ways you desperately need to be challenged in math especially, even if that means you're challenging your teacher a little bit too. Your passion for all the sports stuff is matched by your love of art and music. If ever I produced a well-rounded child, it is you, kid.

You are considerate and kind, usually thinking about other people before worrying about yourself. It has been a very difficult, very emotional year in our house, and though you struggled quite a bit, you didn't hang out there in the bad places for too long. You were able to find your inner strength and pull out of it all. You're resilient. And you're always there for your siblings.

You've had more than your fair share of injuries. That broken arm from last year is still lingering, causing a whole lot more trouble than we thought possible. Hopefully we will begin to get some answers this week about where we go from here. I know all those doctors will tell you to slow down and be careful and stop climbing on things and stop jumping off of things, and I know that the little glimmer in your eye will take that into consideration momentarily before challenging yourself to do the next dangerous thing. You've always been my daredevil. There isn't much you're afraid of, and you're still the bravest person I know. I'd tell you to slow down a little, but I know it wouldn't do any good anyway.

You've had to learn to advocate for yourself at school too, which will serve you well throughout your lifetime. You've learned that just because you might see the world a little differently, that you might learn a little differently, doesn't mean that it is bad or weird or wrong. It's just, well, different. And that different mind of yours is a mysterious and beautiful thing, truly. I can't tell you how many times you've stumped me when you come up with some bizarre way to explain something that I would have never even contemplated, but that absolutely makes sense once you walk me through the reasoning. People like you invent cures for diseases and build skyscrapers and solve the seemingly unsolvable problems of humanity, in large part because you can see the world in a way the rest of us couldn't fathom. Never ever think of it as a negative. Sure, it makes some stuff a little harder, but loooooooooook at all the other things it has made you able to do!

You were born with jazz hands, I know this to be true, and slowly the rest of the world is starting to see it as well. Though you'd already taken musical theater classes, this year you upped your game in so many ways. You joined the choir at school, which makes sense since you are singing all the time anyway. You took dance lessons at one of the local theaters, specifically for musical productions. You nailed your first audition, and when the cast list came out, I totally read it wrong, thinking you'd been cast in a small, inconsequential part. Nope. Your very first audition ended with being cast as Tiny Tim. WHAT?!?! You added Gypsy and an upcoming film credit to your growing resume, and have me constantly checking audition notices for new shows.

Being in the shows, not just as a child actor, but as an actor, has helped you grow and mature in so many ways. You've become fiercely independent, and it took everything in me not to be THAT stage mom who hovers at every rehearsal and show. Then again, you never needed me to be that mom. You didn't need me around. You just needed to make call time, do your thing, and let me know when you were done for the night...sometimes near midnight or even later.

You never complain about long rehearsals. You never whine about being tired the next day. You sweat like crazy in some of those costumes for roles, and it doesn't even phase you. You get on that stage, and I don't know what happens....something inside you was just meant to be up there. You LOVE it. I mean, sure, first night jitters totally are a thing, but that's part of the thrill of the theater, right?

And I'll always be there, whether I'm in the crowd or backstage or waiting in a lobby or a parking lot somewhere, insanely proud of the young man you are becoming.

I hope you never stop living in the moment. I hope you always follow your heart. I hope that you keep doing the things you love. I hope you never ever stop singing and dancing, that your sassy hip never stops wiggling. I hope you keep sharing your joy with your friends. I hope that you keep challenging your teachers.

I hope that this year is a little bit easier on us all, that we get some resolution to the arm injury that hasn't healed.

I hope most of all that you can stay a kid for just a little bit longer, tucked firmly under my wing.

I love you, sweetheart.

Happy Birthday.


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