A letter to Young J


Manu Script, by Kevin Walsh on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Dear Young J,

You’re awake now. You’re awake and you’re eight years old today. We carefully hung the birthday banner we bought for your first birthday (never imagining it would last this long) and left your gift and several cards on the table for you last night. You and Young A woke up and apparently did not see them, because you headed back to your room and are reading a book aloud in your expressive way, voice rising and falling depending on what’s required. (Later, you explained you did see them, but you really wanted to read a book to Young A first.)

You’re eight. I can remember being eight, I think. Or is it that I can remember being not-four, not a baby, not impeded in my discoveries by the lack of certain needed faculties?

In a child development book I got from the library, the notion of eight year olds being able to walk home from places by themselves is breezily mentioned. I wish that were our reality, because I would love for you to be that free to explore. And – I can’t help it – I wish I could be a fly on the wall as you walk down the street alone and encounter the world without any of my filters affecting you. Where would you go first? Who and what would you notice?

I’ve decided you can handle a bit more reality lately. I told you about the Eric Garner protests and the reason behind them. You are researching the Burj Khalifa so I told you that it (like the pyramids in Egypt) was probably built by laborers who are treated like slaves, because that’s how things are done in Dubai. J disagrees with these doses of reality, but I’m not exactly laying the full trip on you. You don’t know yet about the Shoah. I haven’t told you about Newtown. Or a million other things.

You recently defended something you did wrong by saying you have ADHD and couldn’t help it. That worried me a lot. The inattentiveness wearies me a lot. I wish I could spend a day inside your skin and feel how hard you have to work at getting through things like a school day. It must be exhausting. Perhaps if I could have that experience, I would have the patience with you that your teachers and therapists do. (But they don’t have to get you out of the house on time, or pull you out of a deep, deep reading stupor, night after night, to get you to come to the dinner table.)

It’s so hard to extrapolate and envision the person you’ll be at 18. You seem excited about being an adult. You have a career mapped out (Staten Island Ferry pilot) and when given a chance you like constructing things that adults have. At a friend’s birthday last weekend, when the other kids were building sea creatures and princesses out of clay, you made a small man and some of his apartment’s furnishings – a bed, nightstand, lamp, easy chair, all in microscale. That whole world fit in the palm of my hand. It was fragile (the man was already missing an arm when we came to pick you up), but beautiful.

I’m so sorry I got sick last month. I know it was hard on you, and I know I was hard on you, on the rare occasions I engaged with you. Luckily you prove to me every day that you are resilient, that you are capable of empathy (perhaps not yet at the drop of a hat, but eventually), and that your memory preserves happy moments and (hopefully) discards the rest.

The other night, while Young A was in the bath, you proposed a game. You said we would reach in the giant box of Playmobil stuff and choose ten objects at random and make a story about them. “And the point of the game is to laugh really hard,” you added. I was tired, but it was hard not to get on board with that. So a woman sat in the speedboat talking on the phone, and a man crowned himself the king of cabbage and his son was the prince of apple juice, and I can’t remember what happened next but we laughed. You laughed. The sweetest music.

Happy birthday! Thank you for teaching me everything I know about being a mom.


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