Tonight Adam and I snuck in a run in the very last of the after-work light. About a mile in, my phone rang with an unknown number. It rang again. Then I saw a text. “Mom?” It said. I answered on the third ring. “Mom,” said a no-nonsense voice on the other end. “What oil do I use to grease a cake pan? Is it olive oil? I’m making you a cake for your birthday because I feel bad we didn’t do it earlier.”
I explained the wonders of Pam to him.
Half a mile later, I got a Google video call. “Mom” with the camera pointed to the mixer, “How do I hook up the beater to the mixer?”
When we got home, the batter was mixed (ok – he did use the bread hook instead of the beater). He followed the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook. All by himself. “I’m sorry for the mess. I am still learning how to do all this.” The best birthday gift a mom could ask for cools on the stove.
Tonight marks the last night when my son can answer the question “how old are you” with only his fingers. Of course, being a pre-teen, he’d be highly unlikely to answer that question using his fingers anyway. For us, this milestone birthday finds us starting Middle School. There’s homework (lots of it, and hard). There are after school clubs (Ultimate Frisbee and drama are his top two choices – with a conflict that means he can’t do extra band practice). There’s the independence that comes when your primary mode of transportation is your own two feet, and you’re on your own recognizance to get between all the places you go in a day. (I recently bought him a backpack cover, because he’s expected to walk in all weathers.) There is the beginning of making choices that are different than the ones your parents would make for you (see also: Ultimate Frisbee instead of band). We are entering a new stage of life together.
Grey is still incredibly fun to be a family with. He has a cunning wit, and keen sense of humor and wordplay. He reads comic books over and over compulsively (just like I did – he stole all of mine). He prefers realistic fiction in his reading materials, and is becoming entranced by manga. (I got a giant box of manga for him for his birthday. We might not see much of him this week.) Like so many boys of his generation his favorite things have screens on them (to my dismay). He loves watching these obnoxious Youtube videos, and playing those freemium games that are the bane of the internet. His birthday party includes a very small collection of friends – just enough to match the number of simultaneous Xbox players.
When forced to be away from his computer, Grey loves to be with people. He loves role playing games, both as a player at his father’s table and as a GM with his peers. There are wide-ranging neighborhood adventures, and a pack of children who move around together. He plays soccer (and is vastly improved), although he doesn’t love it. He’s a great lover of variety, in food and entertainment. Grey is a sucker for the cozy. He’s at his happiest curled up over the heating vent in PJs eating sunflower seeds (there are seeds EVERYWHERE in this house), listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song” and reading a comic book while the rain falls outside. Grey adores things that are cute. Like cats. He loves cats. And little kids. He’s really good with the younger set, which is a good thing because as one of the oldest kids in the set, there are lots of little kids.
Of course, Grey’s not perfect. But over the decade plus I’ve known him, I’ve watched his faults diminish and his gifts flourish. I can only hope that trend continues unabated through (gulp) puberty and beyond.
Milestone birthday don’t come much bigger than 10. There are only two times in life you can change the number of digits in your age – and the second is hardly guaranteed. On Tuesday, Grey experienced that first one. He took it well in stride.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my eldest son lately. (As opposed to normally, where I think about my kids all the time…) The who of him is coming through clearer and clearer. At the same time, I’m seeing growth and changes in some of the ways I’ve most deeply hoped. He’s an incredibly complicated kid, with a richness of personality that he will spend a lifetime uncovering and revealing to those he loves.
And therein lies the rub. As I sit in front of the keyboard wanting to tell you, his fan club since the day he was born, who he is I find myself constrained. Because increasingly it is his story to tell, and not mine. A mother is a terrible point of view character in the hero’s story, and he’s becoming ready to be the narrator in his own adventures. So I’ll run all this past him first. Still, here are a few observations on my first-born.
1) He’s deepening his ability for hard work
This has always been an area where Grey has had work. Early on, we ran into challenges with things that were hard: guitar, soccer, homework, chores. In the last year or so, I’ve watched a profound change in Grey where he’s started to be able to shoulder his load without complaint. He has played hard at every soccer game and soccer practice. Not once this year has he stomped off the field because he’s too tired or worn out. I think his body is stronger, but his mind is much stronger too. He has taken on trumpet and is fighting the heaviness of the horn, the relentlessness of practice and the hardness of doing something you’re bad at. And he’s embraced it. His homework this year has gotten for real. He has 7 different things he needs to do every school night, and they take over an hour. Understand we don’t get home until 6 pm. Dinner isn’t ready until 7. Bedtime is at 8:30. Have over an hour of homework in that span means he gets very little “downtime” at home. But he is doing what needs to be done, often with grace.
2) He has some great friends
Friends are one of the great protective elements in life. In my life, the friends who surround my days are peace of mind, fun, and a warm sense of belonging all wrapped into one. Grey has some deep and powerful friendships (even if listening to them you become convinced that 90% of the 4th grade brain power is Pokemon-centric). And I must say that the friends he’s picked for himself are exactly the friends I would pick for him. They’re kind, low-drama, fun, cooperative, smart and well behaved. Mostly. I watch them walk together and see how their shoulders just casually bump into each other, and see a group of boys who have each other’s backs. That’s what I would wish for my son.
3) Grey is incredibly emotionally astute
I might spend my time observing him and coming to poetic observations. But the truth is that he does the same to me. The richness of his emotional vocabulary is astounding – and kind of scary. I wonder how someone who feels as deeply and powerfully as he already does at 10 will deal with his first heart break. And he is knocking at the door of the next stage of his life, when we feel most deeply. But at this moment, I am just in awe of his empathetic understanding.
4) I really like my kid
Of course we love our children. But it’s an extra special bonus to like our children. I really enjoy spending time with Grey. He’s funny and thoughtful and kind. He knows things I don’t know. (When does that start?) Sometimes I find it hard to put him to bed because I’m enjoying spending time with him. (Also because bed time is hard right now – he’s having trouble falling asleep which leads to a tired kid and a cranky mom.) He can beat me at board games. Grey is simply good company, and I love spending time with him.
Grey has 7 teeth (seven!) and is doing very well eating solids. His parents are perhaps doing less well in figuring out what solids are kid-friendly, nutritious and easy to make. Grey can now hold his own sippy cup to drink water.
Wait, what’s that you say? My son is not nine months old, but nine years?! Impossible! Irrational! Unbelievable! Why, nine years old is practically a grownup! A real person! I was in Mr. White’s class when I was nine, learning about the Civil War and charting weather patterns based on newspapers. My son can’t be nine, can he?
He can be, and he is.
Writing about Grey has gotten harder. He dislikes it when I’ve posted some cute picture or story on Facebook, and he hears about it Sunday from the wonderful, caring grownups there. He’s asked – fairly – that I get his permission before I post stories or pictures about him. The editing makes perfect sense from his point of view, but I miss getting to tell you everything. He’ll read, and approve, this story before I publish it. (This is my excuse for why it’s late.) Only he and I know which lines got crossed out. He would like me to tell you, though, that he’s got his oft-neglected blog Wacky Wonder Comics.
The most notable difference about Grey is his steadiness. He will always be a person who feels life deeply, with meteoric highs and abysmal lows. First grade, in particular, roiled for us, with far too much time spent in subterranean unhappiness. But second grade, with a beloved teacher, went much better. This summer was profoundly marked by his adventures in Camp Wilmot. He came back a bit more centered, confident, quieter and capable. Since then, there have been small but profound changes. For example, he now does his chores quickly and without delay or whining right when he gets home. He seems to rebound faster from disappointments. He is trying harder – he has picked himself up from the dirt of the soccer field and taken off running. I didn’t see that from him even this spring. His grit is catching up to his smarts.
Grey only wanted one thing for his birthday: a Chromebook. He, like his parents, loves video games. Although we have taught him how to live in a world without screens, there’s no denying that given his druthers he be online and connected. His homework has gotten more serious about online work lately, with some great math, typing and science programs. So… for his birthday he got a Chromebook. I loaded the bookmarks with the best of the internet. I set him up with a Khan Academy account. I put algebra games into his app store.
He figured out where to find the best online games, changed the background, and commented on a G+ picture I posted.
For the first time, today, he and I had an email exchange that I had not had to choreograph. The internet has been a wonderful thing for me, but I still have trepidation on seeing his first steps onto the road of the larger digital world, where the best and the worst of humanity and human history lurk mere clicks away from each other.
Grey is growing in every way. He’s watching M*A*S*H with me at night. He’s arguing that he’s too big for his booster seat. He’s three inches away from being right, at four and a half feet. He has a sense of style and a clothing preference. When he draws comics, he includes guidelines so the boxes are square. He loves cats, my chili and comic books. When he and his friends play Minecraft together, every other word is “Dude”. He asked me the other day if he’d always be my baby. I told him that no doubt, he’d always be my baby. But with the quickly passing years, he is also now my boy, quickly growing to be my young man. I love him, and I’m proud of him.
Last night, I kissed my seven year old goodnight. This morning, I wished a cheery good morning to an eight year old. Yes, Grey is now eight. As in, halfway to a driver’s license.
For Grey’s 8th birthday, I took him and two of his friends to Canobie Lake Park – a regional amusement park of reasonable proportions. Together, they added up to one 21 year old. It was actually an awesome age to bring the kids to an amusement park. They were old enough to go on real rides with, and old enough that I wasn’t worried about them bolting/getting lost/needing help in the bathroom… but they were young enough that very often I would find a hand still trustingly holding mine – often not my son’s. Old enough to go, young enough to still want me to be there. I am enjoying every minute of that, I assure you.
I’ve written a lot about Grey, lately. I’ve told you about his art work, his humor, his cats. The changes are very incremental at this age, and hard for even the very close to tell much about. Grey is doing really well these days. He seems very happy. He likes second grade. He (mostly) likes after school. He has enjoyed music lately, focusing on some favorite songs. He loves math, Legos, comic books, Phineas and Ferb and mystery novels. He loves video games, and shows the appalling facility with them so common among boys of a certain age. He has made and kept really good friends, with whom he spends as much time as he can finagle. He vacillates between self-absorbed and considerate, but is making progress towards spending more time in considerate side of the spectrum. He’s playing soccer on Team Greece (which is a very good team!) and likes hanging out on the porch reading – which is what he’s doing at this very moment, listening to music on his new MP3 player (the cheap version).
He’s developing amazing independence. He can do things like change batteries in a device that needs a screwdriver to open (including the finding a screwdriver part). He has been walking by himself to nearby places: the used book store, the library, the post office, the park. He remembers to do things I don’t know about, like wear the right shirt on Red Sox day.
I remember when Grey was three months old, Adam and I lamented he would ever grow since he was ideal at the phase he was and we wanted nothing more than to just pause him in time and keep him there. I am glad I didn’t… eight year old Grey is too good to miss out on!
It has come to my attention that a certain young man of my acquaintance turned seven today. Seven. Do you remember when I announced I was pregnant? (And that brilliant April Fools Day joke when I announced he was a twin – one of my finest moments!) Do you remember that infant? That burbling, drooly baby? That pudgy toddler? That captivating preschooler? That wide-eyed Kindergartner? They have all faded into memory, history, and the pictures I still intend to scrapbook. Maybe. Someday. And in their place stands a shoulder-high, clear-headed, compassionate child: closer to puberty than birth.
Oh, my son Grey. My brilliant and beloved child. How to capture at this point in time who you are? You can play complex games using strategy. You go totally emo whenever you’re tired or thwarted. Today you did not blow out all the candles on your birthday cake. You left one for each other child who came to the party – so they could blow some out too. You let your brother open your birthday presents because he is three. Every day when we pick you up, you say in a sing-song voice, “What’s for DIN-er?” And, tired from a hard day and hard learning, you will melt down into complete grumpitude if the answer is not to your liking. You listen to Kiss 108 whenever you can, and know all the words to all the top 20 hits. At night, when I ask you what you want to ask God for, you answer, “Peace, no war, kindness, compassion, responsibility, respect and citizenship.” You eat all the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms and eat none of the charms. You love to read Order of the Stick and Calvin and Hobbes. You try to do your homework fast instead of well. You wept bitter, wracking tears when your cat died. You always try to talk me into staying in your room and snuggling you when I put you to bed. Often you are successful by opening up the black box of your day and telling me about the rich, complex life you live at school and afterschool. You label anyone who wrongs you a bully. You love your brother and help and tolerate him far more than an older sibling should be expected to – even when he steps on your toys and bothers the bejeesus out of you.
And man, do you love Legos. Screens are losing their hold on you (kind of) as Legos and books take more of your mindshare. All you wanted for this birthday, with your allowance, in general was Legos and more Legos. You are – without a doubt – better at assembling Legos than I am. One of the key ways you’ve been getting in trouble lately is by bringing Legos to school because you are desperate to share with your fellow afficionados. Today, you made one small Lego set in twenty minutes. Right now you are in your room doing a massive set intended for kids twice your age. It was the set you picked out. After long and careful thought, you did not choose Lego Monster, or Lego Star Wars, or Lego Castle, or Lego Super Heroes (which your brother did pick), or Lego Ninjago (which I thought you would), or even Lego City. You picked
You said it was because it had girl mini-figs and you didn’t have any girl mini-figs. It’s hard to tell a story without girls in it. I never, in all the things in the store, never would have guessed that you wanted this one.
Oh, my Grey. You are full of surprises. You’re no perfect child – by any means. But the goodness and kindness of your heart make me the proudest parent I could be. The keenness of your mind and your surprising emotional insights make you an interesting person to be around, even at seven. I love you. I can’t wait to see who you grow to be, my Grey.
Part of me thinks that I should “hold on” to good, milestone posts about my kids until they hit a good milestone. I mean, Grey is only a month away from his fifth birthday! He’s not going to change so much in the intervening month, so I’ll either miss a milestone update, repeat myself, or have to make stuff up. But the part of me that is a middle-aged and more experienced writer whispers “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a’flyin.” Which translates as “Write your blog posts when you’re thinking about them, idiot.”
So, Grey. Grey is almost five. If you ask him when his birthday is, he can tell you the date. He knows what day of the week it is every day, and what that means. He knows what month of the year it is, and what that means. He knows his brother’s birthday, and how old Thane will be, and will likely volunteer the information that when Grey is seven, Thane will be four. This is important because seven is the epitome of “grown up” and four, well, Grey is four so four is awesome!
Grey will not being going to Kindergarten this week. I’ve been wrestling with this for over a year. There’s lots of “one the one hand” and “on the other hand” going on. (The one hand is: he’s reading well, can count to 100 and is making light of his preschool curriculum. The other hand is: children tend to do well with an extra year’s emotional maturity before going to school, and Grey will be no exception. Also, he will spend the rest of his life as a big person… why rush it?) The third and final hand, though, is that there is no mechanism for testing in early and I don’t want to start him off in private school, so wait a year it is. I don’t think this will do him any harm.
The reading. Oh, the reading! So Grey first read a book all by himself nearly a year ago, at his 4 year checkup (to the surprise of his doctor and I). He spent several months with the ability to read a word or two. It’s hard work, though, and he preferred to let us do the reading. Since he’s four, and he deserves to still have his mommy and daddy read to him, we praised his reading efforts, cursed when he read something inconvenient to us, and continued to read to him.
But last night! My mother-in-law is here, so I have a few moments of this weird thing called “leisure”. Go ahead and look it up in the dictionary. I was using this precious commodity to read a book for work (hey, at least it was an interesting one). I asked Grey to read with me on the couch. First he read me the book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket”. (Which, um, seriously. That’s not exactly easy. Do you know how many made-up words there are? He must have a decent grasp of phonics to do it, although he definitely uses rhymes to figure out the pronunciation of the nonce-words.) After that, I told him he had to read to himself. And so he got out a treasury of Little Critter stories and read THREE of them to himself. All by himself.
His reading is sophisticated. He uses funny voices, when appropriate. There’s rhythm and cadence. He sometimes corrects my interpretations when I read aloud to him. He stops at punctuation. He misses words because he is reading for content. It took me a while to figure out that’s a sign he’s reading better, not worse. But a word might say “that” and he’ll read it “the” because he’s taking a holistic view of the sentence. It makes sense. It still flows. But it means that he’s reading sentences instead of words. (And hey, my mom still does that sometimes!) But reading for entertainment!!! Squee!!!!
I bought him some new books to read this weekend while we’re camping. I hope we get him good and hooked.
He’s starting to get a better grasp on his temper. Obviously one of the big components of that is getting more sleep. I need to keep reminding myself how much easier his life is when he gets to bed early, because I get lazy and enjoy his company and don’t always get him to bed with alacrity. But if you take away his toy unfairly, he might yell at you, “I don’t like that!” This may not seem huge, but it is. He’s using his words to work through very hot and present emotions. He’s making huge strides in mastering control of himself.
We watched “Drunken Master” the other night. (What? Jackie Chan is totally kid-appropriate, and I won’t hear otherwise. I just tell him the wine is a magic potion!) He didn’t mind the Kung Fu, which is pretty ballet-like in truth, but he got very concerned when Jackie was really hungry and tried to steal a dinner. He shows empathy in very appropriate ways, I think. (He also loved Drunken Master. “I want to watch it EVERY home day!”)
Grey intellectually understands that effort and practice are the keys to becoming proficient. We were playing Mario Kart Wii and I’m bad enough that I wouldn’t throw the game to protect his ego. (I actually think we’re pretty evenly matched. I’m not a great video gamer.) He stormed off. Afterwards, tearfully, he told me, “I forgot that if I keep trying I’ll get better!”
There are still some challenges, of course, in Grey’s life. He’s a very picky eater, often turning up his nose at the delicious and laborious dinners I place in front of him. I find that hard to deal with. He has a tendency to be a bit emo… there are times when some black eyeliner and vampire-themed-clothing would not be out of place. He hates it when things don’t go perfectly his way. (Don’t we all?) We’re working on cutting out a nail-biting habit before it gets too ingrained. But if he was totally perfect, that would be annoying.
Emotionally, Grey is getting very complex. We were in the car the other day, driving home from aikido, and he told me, “Mom, did you know some old people are sad because they didn’t have any children?” Whoof. Complicated social concepts to explain on no notice … GO! So we talked about how for some people that’s true, how some people don’t have kids and aren’t sad about it, and how other people choose to find other ways of having children, like adopting. I finally figured out he’d watched “UP” and really taken to heart that wrenching first 20 minutes. We talked about how that couple was both very happy and a little sad.
Despite being a non-cuddly baby/toddler, Grey has turned into the world’s snuggliest preschooler. He often comes to hug me, give me kisses and snuggle me. He is very solicitous of my well-being, although he is also a big rough-houser. He’s getting big enough that we’re teaching him how to safely rough-house with us. But he is so gentle and kind, to me and to his little brother. And most especially to his two favorite animals du jour: Tigry and Puppy. They are his children. He’ll give you the complete family tree of all his stuffed animals, but they’re his favorites.
He tells me, without provocation or priming, that he loves me very much and that I am his “Sweet mommy”.