You are still in there.

A letter came home with you — an assignment. I was supposed to write about you.

I set that letter down and I knew I would not do it.  Not because I didn’t have time.  Not because the dates on the letter were mixed up and I was confused about when it was actually due, though I used that as an excuse to delay.

I knew I wouldn’t write about you because I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what I can say anymore.  It used to be that I could write all kinds of sugar-sweet thoughts about you…about your raspy voice, or your feathery blonde hair, or that little brown patch in your eye. Or how I loved to breathe in the scent of your crown, or hold your hand. Back then I could write achingly long pieces about little you, buddy, and how gentle and tender you were.

But you are a young man now, and my writing about those things would embarrass you. And the truth is, while I know that little boy is still in there, I don’t see him much anymore. Little things, little rituals, little reminders of that little boy that I have clung to all these years have almost all disappeared. You have changed so much over the past few months. How do I explain you to strangers, when I am struggling to keep up with you, myself? What can I say, to them, about you?

If I could tell them about you, I would tell them that the other day, I stood in the kitchen looking at you and I realized that you have grown. Again. I don’t look straight into your eyes anymore, I have to look up.  So we measured you. Nearly three inches of growth in the last seven months.  It is hard to keep you fed. It is hard to keep you satisfied.

I would tell them that it is hard to keep you happy.  But that I remind you, keeping you happy is not my job. You want a new phone. You want a PS4. You want new shoes. You want to go places and you want to do things. You want money. You want so much. But I want you to learn how good it feels to work hard and save for something. I want you to understand that you have to make choices. Once in a while I see it in you. But fairly often I am left searching for ways to harness your intensity into something productive. Fairly often, I wonder what I need to do better.

I would tell them that you are often the first one to volunteer when I ask for help. That when I ask you to do something, you rarely complain.  That you are neat and organized. That you thrive on rewards. That you crave independence. I would be sure that they knew that even though sometimes you may appear a bit zesty, you are still just a kid trying to figure out his place.

They should know that you are a determined individual. When you are excited about something, you will work for it. When you have an idea, you will pursue it immediately, unfettered by logistics or any other type of constraint. While I love the intensity, and I totally get it because you get that from me, we are trying to teach you about patience, and planning, and proper execution. Those words are not exactly in your wheelhouse just yet.

I suppose I would also tell them that you don’t spend a heck of a lot of energy worrying about your grades. Every once in a while you seem motivated. But you usually do very well without trying all that hard, and I’m not sure that is a good thing. You remember things easily…statistics and names and how many times we’ve had chicken for dinner in the last week. You sell candy from your locker at school. You love basketball. You spend hours on Sundays tracking your fantasy football teams. Or playing xbox.  Or yelling at the xbox. You cannot stand to lose. You love having your friends come over. You love eating all the chips in the house. You love soda. You love sugar. You love teasing your little sister. And yet every once in a while, you will say something really nice to her. You will help her with something. Yesterday, I heard you and Henry in the bedroom. The valves on his baritone were stuck. I heard you help him. I heard you teach him. Those moments don’t get by me unnoticed. Your teachers should surely know about those moments.

This morning, I watched you fixing your hair.  Now that your hair has grown out, you fix it up with gel and a comb and the whole dealio.  And you don’t dress like a slob.  Your appearance is important to you, usually. I stood and looked at you, the young man in front of me, as you spoke. The things about you that I know by heart were still there…how the sunlight softens your long eyelashes; the way the light bounces off your hair; the perfect bridge of your nose, splashed with freckles. And your beautiful eyes, the blue-grey of them and that brown patch that you hate. I love that brown patch.

And I saw the little you.  You are still in there. Your teachers should know that, too.

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You are still in there.

Ten Year Old Boy

Dear William,

Yes, I know this birthday letter to you is sorely overdue.  Your tenth birthday has come and gone.  The truth is that sometimes, writing about you is hard.  The words don’t flow the way my emotions do, and I struggle to capture their essence.  I struggle to understand them.  I struggle to explain the way my heart is stirred by a ten year old little boy who is trying to grow up.

I remember once, one spring four or five years ago, you and I took a walk and picked spring beauties and buttercups and other little wild flowers.  We held hands.  I can still remember the way your blonde hair bobbed up in the back when you walked, and how it caught the sun.  I can still remember the blue shirt you wore, and the little grey cargo shorts.  And the way you smiled…you still had all of your baby teeth.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember those times.  Now and then I look at you and I remember that little boy, but you want so much to project something different.  You are changing, William.  There are days that I feel you pushing.  Pushing me, pushing us, just pushing in your desire to become something.  Your desire to grow up.  Your desire to be big, or cool, or whatever it is.  You push me.  You push me to be better, William.  To be more kind, more patient, more gentle to my little boy, whose spirit is struggling with how to be. 

I love you, William, and that will always be.  Yes, even on those days that you make life difficult, I still love you.  Even when you tell me I should be fired as a mom, or that I’m the meanest mother in the world, or that my rules are lame, I love you.  Because there are better days, and I love those days with you.

I love the notes you write, especially when you write in your best cursive.  I love how there is a buzzy energy about you, always.  I love how exhausted you are at night, and how you still want to be tucked in.  I love your raspy quiet voice when you read to me.  I love to hear you laugh at something you find funny. 

I even like the sarcastic way you say “wow, Mom.”  And I like how you’ve been telling me how happy you are in terms of percentages.  Yesterday, you waffled between 29% and 32% happiness, because I would not give you a snack 30 minutes before supper. 

I love your enthusiasm for food.  I am totally beginning to understand why they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. 

And your enthusiasm for sports.  You know that you want to be an NFL player, and if that doesn’t pan out, you’ll just head to the NBA.  One thing is for sure, you do NOT want to be a cashier. 

I love how you build sandcastles.  You are very intense with your sandcastles.

I love it when you wrinkle your nose when you smile.

I love how your hair is bleached by the sun, and your freckles emerge and your cheeks are pinked in the summer.

I love the patch of brown in your blue-grey eyes, and how the sunlight catches on your long, long lashes. 

And the curl of hair on your back…I love that, too.

And the way, deep inside, you are so sensitive.

I love your determination, your perseverence and your desire to please us, when it shows. 

I love that you make me want to be better.

Yes, William, my love for you will always be.  Happy birthday, my little boy.

Mom

Ten Year Old Boy

Last Night

Last night I took William to basketball practice.  It was like watching little boys at the playground.  They have fun.  They all want to win.  They push each other around, tease and taunt and laugh at bad shots and holler when they hit a good one.  William wears purple laces in his shoes now…it is his favorite color.  He comes off the court, cheeks pinkened and hair tousled, and I want to grab him and hug him and press my nose to his crown to breathe in his little boy smell…he still has that little boy smell.  But I know better.  I wait until we’re outside, and he doesn’t mind then.  On the drive home we talk about practice, and knockout…last night he won knockout. 

He asked me to tuck him in.  In just a couple weeks he’ll be ten years old.  I am in no hurry for the tuck-ins to stop.  I walked into his room and he was nearly asleep.  His eyes closed, and he smiled and whispered goodnight, and I love you Mom, and I think he was probably asleep before I left the room.

Later that night I sat on the couch, under the blanket and listened to the rain falling.  It seemed like it had been a long time since it had rained, but maybe not.  Poppy was nearly on top of me.  She likes to sit as close to me as possible.  In fact she would be right in my lap if I allowed it.  Which I sometimes do.  I like that about her–her closeness.  She heard the clicking of the phony ipad keyboard and pricked up her head.  She gave me a look as if asking “how long is that clicking going to go on lady?”  I smiled at her and she put her head back down.  Then she resumed the snoring.  I love her.

Before I went to bed, I went to check on them all.  Henry lay curled in a ball, uncovered.  Every night he appears this way.  Either that, or he’s hanging halfway off the bed.  I thought he must be freezing, so I covered him up.  William was awake, and he commented on Henry’s grunting.  So I told William the story of the first few days of his life, and how I slept next to him each night, and how loud and grunty he was.  So loud and grunty in fact, that I had to move him into his own room so I could sleep.  He smiled and closed his eyes.  He likes to hear stories of when he was littler.  He said “night night Mom” and as I walked out of their room, I looked back at those boys.  In the soft glow of a night light, they can look just like angels.

Last Night

Little Bill

I never realized how you would thrill me. 

How watching you run would captivate me. 

How the sight of you drinking from a hose could make my knees weak with happiness.

I never knew that sweat could smell so incredibly sweet. 

That “dirty” could be so absolutely lovely.

Your tanned back is turned to the sun, and I can trace with my eyes the swirl of sunbleached hair right in the middle of your back.  And I am amazed at such a creature.

I never knew how magical little boys were.

And then you came along, Little Bill. 

I love you.

(P.S.  I promise to stop calling you Little Bill sometime soon.  Except I’ll probably still call you that when you are sleeping.  Because you will never know.)

Little Bill

My Boys

I love you. 

I.  Love.  You.

I love to hear your little feet padding through the house–even though I am quite certain they are filthy. 

I love that you get sweaty, and then you stink like little dogs. 

I just love you to pieces, my little boys.

My cup overflows, with you.

And with you. 

My God, I am blessed.

My Boys

First Communion

William’s first communion.

This day, I see again.

What a beautiful and perfect gift he is. 

And with what an awesome responsibility I am tasked, raising this child. 

He can be loud.  He can complain, and make a fuss, and be kind of a pain.

But he can be the sweetest, most fragile little boy, too.

Sometimes I forget that.

In those moments that he is loud, and complaining, and fussing, I forget. 

I need, in those moments that he is wounded and he is the hardest to love, to wrap my arms around him and be a salve. 

I need to remember how fragile he is.  I need to remember how precious he is.

I watched him while he slept.  In only a brief moment, a thousand memories flooded through me.  Memories of what he has struggled with.  Proud memories.  Beautiful, precious memories of a boy that is still little.  A boy that still needs softness. 

I whispered my love for him.

And I promised him I would remember.

First Communion

Fierce

William, come over here so I can take your picture.

Okay Mom.  Do you want me to look fierce?

Yes.  Look fierce.

I had to put my camera down to look at this little boy, just eight years old, trying to look fierce.  And I smiled.

William looking fierce-2

 

He looks so little.

Fuzzy hair glowing in the sun.

Freckles dancing across his face.

Little belly still sticking out farther than his chest.

Often now, I see unmistakable signs that he is growing up.  Soon he will be a young man, and not my little boy.

But the little boy is still here.  If only for a short time, he is still here.

Fierce

4 1/2

Today, he graduates.  He is done…for now.  What does that mean?  In a nutshell, it means that his language (both comprehension and expression) is age-appropriate.  In two years’ time, he has made 4+ years progress.  He is done with the catching-up part of things.  We focus, now, on the not-falling-behind part of things. 

Tonight we went to Coldstone to celebrate.  I marveled at him, and the funny things he has said, the sweet things he has said.  And yes, he sometimes speaks too loudly.  He sometimes leaves out words like ‘the’ and ‘and’.  And often, he misunderstands or asks us to repeat ourselves.  And I worry.  But then I remember that he is 4 1/2.  He is only 4 1/2. 

Tomorrow, there will be new challenges.  For Henry, there will be new challenges his entire life.  And he will always need a little more focus, a little more determination than the next guy needs just to keep up.  But Henry is smart.  He is smart and likeable.  (And have I ever mentioned that he is stinkin’ cute?)  This is a kid that is going to go places. 

But for now, he is my little boy.  For now, we will celebrate today’s success.  

And we will let him be 4 1/2.  We will let him collect rocks, and make piles of walnuts in the back yard, and climb trees.  We will build train tracks for him to play with, while he still wants to.  We will let him run through the sprinkler and catch bugs and toads.  We will walk with him to the river, where he’ll gather snails in his pail.  And we will put his buttercups and dandelions in a pretty vase so that we can enjoy them for a while.  And for now, we will just let him enjoy being a little boy.  After all, 4 1/2 is a good age to be a little boy.

4 1/2

Smelling

I confess, I am a sniffer.  I have known this for some time, but didn’t realize until recently how much the sense of smell can influence my mood.  Well, this weekend marked the beginning of one of my favorite times of the year:  the outside-sweaty-little-boy-smell season.  How can something smell both stinky and delightful all at the same time?

This weekend we spent a good deal of time outside, enjoying the first real mild weekend days of the spring.  When William came inside, I gave that boy a good sniff, and drank in the most wonderful smell of my little boy, warm weather, popsicles, sprinklers, bike-riding and dirt.  What a rush of joy-something only mommies of dirty, sweaty, little boys can understand. 

Smelling