Jack: Eight years
Well, that’s it. You’re officially a big kid now. You stand level with my collarbone, weigh just shy of 70 pounds, eat us out of house and home on a daily basis, play Skylander on the Xbox all night and you’ve started sleeping in. That last one is so epic that I can’t even believe it. If you had told me my first-born, the child who didn’t sleep through the night until he was almost a year old and woke up at 5:15 in the morning for three years straight would sleep until after 7:30 a.m., I would have laughed until I choked. But here we are, dragging you out of bed at 7:45 on school mornings, begging you to hurry up and eat and get ready for the day. Could you please teach Maeve this skill, because she still gets up at 6 every morning and it’s killing me.
You love soccer, baseball, basketball and tennis. You swim like a fish, diving off diving boards and the sides of pools and the boat in the middle of the lake. You’re an accomplished little pianist, as well, able to read music and quickly perfect the pieces you practice. You tried out for the school talent show and won a slot, which made you ridiculously proud of yourself. I heard the try-out through the closed door and held my breath as you played “Ode to Joy” flawlessly — exhaling and pumping my fist in the empty hall when you hit the last note. You were so excited to tell your class you made the cut and said they “went wild” when you shared. The funny part is I never pictured myself as a mom who would be as proud of my kids when they played at a piano recital as I would be when they scored a goal in soccer or sank a shot at basketball. But that’s the thing about motherhood — you learn something new every day. And I hold my breath when you play at a recital just as easily as when you’re defending the goal in soccer or launch a jump-shot on the basketball court. And the excitement I feel when you accomplish those things — and the defeat I feel when you fall short — is more than I ever felt for myself when I did those things. The one thing that has surprised me more than anything in this mom gig is that I feel things so strongly on your behalf. I want every shot to fall, every goal to hit the back of the net, every at-bat to be a home run, every song to be error-free.
You, however, are still a happy-go-lucky kid who cares about others. You told me about someone being bullied at school and were mature enough to go to your teacher and tell her what happened, which made me so proud of you. You’ve learned the power of apology, but that doesn’t mean it always changes your behavior. You know when you’ve done wrong and you are able to man up to it, which is nice, but as I tell you all the time, being truly sorry means you change your behavior so it doesn’t happen again. However, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to change your instinct to be rough with your sisters. Oh, you all love each other and have a grand time playing together — for the most part — but at least once a day Emmie gets some sort of beat-down or Maeve gets accidentally thrown off the couch and the house is filled with wailing and crying.
You read voraciously and even got a Kindle for Christmas, which your father resisted and I insisted upon. You love it and actually asked to stop playing a game with us yesterday so you could go read Wonder, the current book you’re obsessing over. I will never say no to reading, which you’ve learned as you try to push bedtime later and later with promises of “just one more page.” If you’re not reading, you’re constructing LEGO sets. No set is too large or small and we have to ration the sets you get for gifts so you don’t do them all in one weekend. My future engineer, hard at work.
I write these letters so we can look back someday and see how you acted, who you were, what you did. But it’s getting harder and harder to capture that. It was easy when you were a baby and you did things like took your first steps and said your first words, got your first tooth, slept through the night. Now, so many of the things you master are done away from my presence. You mastered dynamic multiplication and started dynamic division — things you love and are good at, but that I only know about because you bring them home in your folder and proudly tell me about getting math presentations with the third-graders. That sounds like a humble-brag, but we are so proud of the hard work you do in school and that you’re usually striving to go above and beyond. But just because things come easy to you doesn’t mean it’s OK to cut corners or rush through things. We’ve had countless conversations about it not mattering what the letter-grade is but that you always need to do your best work. I hope you internalize that because it’s really what Montessori is all about and one of the reasons we think it works so well for you. I love that I can walk into your classroom and find you sprawled out on the floor, writing on a clipboard, totally in your element and not confined to someone else’s expectations of what “learning” looks like.
I also love that you’ve become such a conversationalist. Like your mother, I don’t think you stop talking from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. You like nothing more than to make people laugh, goofing around and telling funny stories and jokes. The boys in your class are a tight-knit group, genuinely nice kids, and you all play together with very little drama. The girls in your orbit always tell me, “We like Jack. He’s so silly!” Yes, yes we know. Oh, the teen-age years should be interesting. I really hope for all our sakes you keep getting teachers who understand you and work with your personality.
It’s that personality that makes me smile. You feel things so passionately, and you’re still working on handling disappointment and embarrassment without lashing out, but you’re getting there. Last weekend your basketball team was eliminated 10-8 in the semi-finals and I cringed, thinking you would not handle it very well, but you surprised me by smiling and accepting your trophy without incident. Last year this same situation would have sent you stomping off, yelling that you didn’t care anyway, so this is good progress. It’s OK to be disappointed, to feel hurt and sad, and I try to tell you that and set a good example, but it’s not OK to make a huge scene when you feel those big emotions. Even mommy is working on that at the ripe old age of 40!
As always, you earned your frequent-flyer miles this last year. Disneyland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eagle River, Disneyworld, Wisconsin Dells, Beaver Creek and many trips to the lake house kept you entertained and living out of suitcases. You love to travel and have already requested a trip to Costa Rica, which we will most definitely do in a few years when Maeve is old enough to appreciate it.
Seven was by far my favorite age so far, but I suspect eight will be great. You’re still willing to hold my hand, to hug and kiss me. Your face still lights up when you see me and I’m still the center of your universe because I’m primarily still the chief meeter-of-needs. But that time is spinning away from me faster and faster with each month and soon I’ll look up and you’ll be going out at night, sleeping in all day and making your own meals. Well, let’s be realistic, I’ll still be making your meals and doing your laundry for years to come. But you won’t be lighting up when you see me or giving me hugs on the playground. But for now, you are and you do and I am and I do.
I love you, Jackie. I can’t wait for all that eight brings us.