One afternoon David got off he bus, and as we walked home he asked, “Mommy, what kind of train does a Pokémon have?”
“I don’t know, what kind?” I answered.
I laughed hysterically, twice as long and as loud as the joke warranted on its own merit. But, you see, I’m not used to hearing jokes that actually make sense, that have actual punchlines. This was David’s first real joke. And it was hilarious.
That joke is a window into what this entire year has been like. David is getting big for real now, not like when he was a toddler and we clapped and cheered, “GOOD JOB, BIG BOY!”
He’s getting taller, losing teeth, and most all, he’s gaining interests and abilities apart from his parents.
Perhaps parents of teens and even adults are reading this and thinking, “HA! You have no idea what’s coming if you think THIS is growing up!”
Perhaps they’re right. But the changes I’ve seen in David this year have been huge, and even if this only scratches the surface of what’s to come, the surface is still a pretty big deal.
David turned six right as school started. I was an absolute mess about this milestone, partially because I was very, very pregnant, and partially because I’m a bit of a mess about every milestone. It had nothing to do with me doubting, or even wondering a little bit if he was ready for school. I knew he was ready — socially, and academically.
David’s first year of school was incredible. He had a great teacher, made great friends, and grew so much. He thrived in the structure and energy of school. He was enthusiastic to go to school in the morning, and in the afternoons he’d want to replicate projects and crafts they’d done in the classroom.
Half-way through the year, the school did a running fundraiser. I went to cheer for him, and when he ran into the gym he was smiling. He saw me and threw me a big, bright smile and waved when he ran past. His face was brimming with fun and excitement. I willed myself to memorize the moment, which so perfectly summed up David at this age. Confident, smiling, and even I have to admit — cool.
David also met kids who introduced him to things called Pokémon cards, and these ridiculous toys called Smashers. He made a best friend who taught him math on the bus ride home every day. David started wearing a baseball cap, and whenever I said he looked handsome he corrected me, “Mom. I don’t want to look handsome. I want to look cool.”
Too bad, kid. I can’t help if you’re handsome.
David loves to swim, climb trees, and plays basketball. His best friend is Caleb. He loves to play board games and card games, and he is thoughtful and brave. He’s easygoing and has a surprising sensitive side to him that always comes out at the most unexpected times. Like once when I cut his favorite jeans into shorts and, when I tried to throw away the leftover pants legs he cried out in genuine sadness, “BUT MOMMY! What about all the memories I had with them?”
I would be remiss if I didn’t write at least seventeen paragraphs about what a phenomenal reader David has become this year. I would put this milestone up there with learning to walk, talk, and drink out of a cup without spilling it (or maybe I will once that milestone finally arrives…).
David is a good reader not because Tom and I read books to him or devoted tons of time to helping him. David learned to read because the process was completely fascinating to him and he worked at it. At some point this summer a switch flipped and the world of reading opened to him.
He is a voracious reader. He will read anything — dinosaurs, insects, fairy tales, Pinkalicious — the subject doesn’t matter. There was a time when Tom and I intended to read books before David so that we could talk with him about what he was reading. We abandoned that long ago because we simply can’t keep up.
Plus, I’m scrambling because I had no idea how much I depended on my kids being illiterate. No longer can I label a box “toys to give away” and stash it in the garage. Or scrawl “Halloween candy” on a bag and throw it on top of the fridge. Nope, my code has been cracked. In this small way, and also in much, much bigger ways I’m aware that my tenure as curator of what David knows is over.
David probably doesn’t fully understand why Tom and I are so amazed at who he is as a reader. We are watching him open the door to worlds of mystery, fantasy, and imagination. For him, reading is fun. For us, we know that there is no limit to what he can discover, or how far he will go. We know that he will open books and find beauty, pain, heartbreak, truth, and corners of himself that he could not articulate on his own.
For David’s entire first year of school I was completely unavailable. I didn’t volunteer in the classroom, I didn’t chaperone field trips. I didn’t even send in Popsicle sticks when the teacher needed supplies. Two weeks into the school year I crumpled up a sign-up sheet and decided that I was not going to stress out. This was just not my year, and I wasn’t going to feel guilty about it .
By the end of the school year, it occurred to me what a mercy it was that David had such a wonderful year.
Of course, if he’d truly needed more involvement from us, we would have figured it out. We would have shuffled and made room in our schedule. But in the craziness of the year that we were adjusting to life with four kids, David was our steady, dependable Doodlebug.
When your first baby turns one, you sort of exhale because you made it! You survived a whole year! And not only did you survive, but you managed to wrestle the kid into a cute outfit for a photo!
The same thing happens every year with your oldest child. Your firstborn never stops being your first. Every milestone is uncharted territory, and watching them move out into the world feels just as trepidatious as watching them take their first wobbly steps.
And so with every new phase, Tom and I high-five in the background and celebrate because we made it one more year! And not only did we survive but the kid’s pretty awesome, too!
Except this year, more than any other, it’s clear that David’s growth, development, and maturity has nothing to do with our parenting. Sure, we make sure he says please and thank you, and we encourage him to eat a vegetable on occasion. We know that David is growing into a phenomenal young man because God is at work in his life.
Tom and I still high-five, but when we do we look on in awe of what God is doing.
On the day you turned seven, we celebrated with a surprise party. Your Mimi took you to a pet store to buy a you the fish you’ve been asking for (A Beta! You named him Dave!) and then to visit your great grandmother. When you got back, you were tackled by all of your closest friends, who’d gathered for a pool party.
I spent the week before the party working on an Incredible Hulk piñata and putting the finishing touches on the party. I was so excited that I wanted to spoil the surprise and tell you everything.
Of course, it was all your idea. The Hulk theme, the piñata, the SURPRISE. I was just in charge of execution.
You spent a week away this summer visiting your cousins. Mary mourned you every day of that week. She would start crying at the drop of a hat; she couldn’t talk about you without tearing up.
These are two small examples of who you are, your role in our family. You remind me so much of my sister sometimes. She was the oldest, and was the rudder for our family even when she didn’t realize it. She was the most creative and had the best ideas. Her younger siblings — me and my brother — were annoying and pesty but looked up to her in everything.
Being the oldest child is a lot of work. The leader and trailblazer — roles you didn’t ask for but are expected to thrive in.
I worry about you sometimes because you are not our squeaky wheel, and to get attention in our family you need to make a lot of noise. Your father and I know this happens, and we make a big effort to spend time with you and also affirm you. You make great choices and you are helpful, we are proud of your work at school, and what a good friend and brother you are. We see you, we love you.
And those jokes you’re coming up with? Buddy, anytime you need an audience, Mommy is here.
I love you,