Clearly this should be a 10.5-year post because that’s when I am actually writing it, but life got in the way this year. And because I didn’t want to end this yearly tradition on an odd number, I figured I better get a 10-year post up so we can end with a nice, round decade of posts. Back-dating is a beautiful thing.
I couldn’t let this momentous occasion pass without comment because WOW has this year been phenomenal. Last summer we spent a month in Europe with you and your sisters and grandparents and it was amazing. We visited France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Montenegro and Greece. We saw ancient ruins, ate our weight in gelato, weathered the worst heat wave in recorded Parisian history, walked hundreds of miles, cruised the Mediterranean on a ship and endured what I can only describe as some of the most hellacious behavior ever. There was plenty of fun, but also plenty of non-fun.
But when we arrived back home and you started fourth grade, it was as if the heavens themselves shone down upon us. You became a different child almost overnight. Personal responsibility? Check. Improved attitude? Check. Empathetic responses to situations? Check. Maturity? Check. I could go on and on. I give mad props to your incredible teacher for this change, but I know in reality that it was you who did the hard work. Everyone told us you would grow up, that you would figure it out. And we waited, sometimes impatiently, for that day to come. And now that it’s here, it’s oh so sweet.
This was also the year you started putting it all together in soccer. In the past, you subscribed to the “power right through them” theory of play, which worked well when you were younger and bigger than the other kids. But now, especially in travel soccer, the kids are good enough to use tricks and footwork to get around you. And suddenly, powering by people wasn’t an option anymore. So you started doing the hard work to get better. And you fell in love with goalkeeping. And that’s when it all clicked for you. People say it takes a special kind of mindset to be a goalie — you need to be able to shake off mistakes, to direct the people in front of you, to trust in your instincts and love being the center of attention. And you’ve harnessed all of those things this season, securing a spot on one of the top teams in your age group for next year. We couldn’t be prouder of you and your efforts — attending up to four practices a week because you want to, not because we make you. It also makes us chuckle that you prefer to be called “Jackson” at sports and we’re the only people who cheer for “Jack” at the fields. We say it’s your sports persona.
Your love of sports doesn’t stop when you step off the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the basketball court or the tennis court. You love to watch the Cardinals or the Bears or the Bulls, constantly checking game highlights and reciting obscure stats to us. But your one true love, the Blackhawks, are the thing you focus on the most. You can tell us stats, scores, averages, injuries and trivia for days. Watching the look on your face when the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in June of 2015, the three of us in the stands at the United Center as the clock wound down, was worth every penny we paid for the tickets. Seeing it through your eyes, how excited and genuinely happy you were, was one of my greatest moments as a parent.
It was a big year for change in school, as I mentioned earlier. You left the comfort of the classroom, teacher and friends you had for three years to move up to the next level. You were nervous — I joke that you looked like a dead man walking on your way to line up on the first day of school — but it was exactly the change you needed. More challenging work, new friends, new expectations. Your math scores are off the charts and your language isn’t far behind. I love watching you work things out in your head, the same look of concentration you had when you were tiny and trying to figure out everything from getting your toes into your mouth to velcroing your own sandals to crossing the monkey bars. There is nothing you can’t do once you set your mind to it.
Your relationship with your sisters has changed as well. You still like to beat the hell out of your middle sister on the regular, but you also can spend hours playing Minecraft or Xbox or LEGOs together. You like to make sure they know who’s boss, to tell them exactly what they’re doing wrong and to make sure we know it as well. But you’re also so good with Maeve, helping her learn things and putting on plays and shows with her.
And then there’s piano, which we truly believe is your Thing, with a capital T. You’ve learned to play real songs this year and killed the school talent show when you played Coldplay’s “Clocks” in front of a hundred people. You practice all the time, to the point where I might be the only mother on earth who yells, “Get away from the piano!” But you love it and it seems to come naturally to you.
This was the year where I saw the first glimpses of the teen-ager you will become. You’re nearly as tall as me now and we wear the same size shoe. You throw down six tacos or half a pizza at a time and can’t get enough fruits and veggies. There are times where it takes my breath away to look at you because I can see exactly the person you will become. I actually had to sit down one afternoon at your baseball game when I spied you from behind, your catcher’s shin guards on, your batting gloves stuffed in your back pocket, your hat on backwards, laughing at something a teammate had said. In that moment, I literally saw the future you and it brought actual tears to my eyes.
But we haven’t lost the little Jack yet. You still hold my hand when we walk places, you still hug me and snuggle up to me on the couch. We still read together at night, that is, when you’re not too busy trying to sneak in some computer time under the guise of “looking something up real quick” before you go to bed. You still watch kid movies and read kid books and like to play outside. You adore your grandparents and love spending time with all of them. You are helpful and thoughtful, silly and sarcastic. You’re learning how far you push it when you’re trying to be funny, which makes for some occasionally tense stand-offs at home. It’s definitely going too far to say, “Listen up, woman” to your mother, believe me.
I’ve always looked forward to the day when I can relax, when I can say my job is done. No more carpools to drive or lunches to make or clothes to wash or soccer bags to pack. But now that it’s on the horizon, I know I will miss it. Which I try to remind myself during the eighth soccer game in 48 hours, during the five-minute standoff over why you have to shower, while the three of you are screaming at each other about who’s job it is to load the dishwasher. But this is truly my favorite age so far, the one where I glimpse who you will be with the memories of the baby you were still fresh in my mind. And while this is the last letter I will write for you, know that I remember everything — your first smile, your first steps, your first day of school, your first goal — just as I will remember your first date, your first car, your graduation, your wedding. You’re forever my baby, forever my little boy, forever my heart.