Today you turn seven years old.
Exactly seven years ago, my first child was born. And you started second grade now. Where in the hell did the seven years go? And when did my baby get so big?
So second grade. I just have to let that sink in for a second because the memories I have of holding you in the earliest days of your life and thinking OH MY GOD, HOT POTATO! are distinct. So are the memories of your first few years where you refused to believe that food was not going to burn your stomach, because every time I brought food to your mouth, you whipped your head around like I was forcing a pair of scissors in to cut your tongue off.
The night before the first school day, I had your backpack and outfits ready in your room. The next morning you woke up and came to my room, and I said, “Hey, just change and get ready for breakfast.”
You shook your head and emphasized several blinks, “JUST change?”
“Yes,” I said. “Just change.”
“But what about brushing my teeth? You’re going to send me to school with dirty teeth?!”
“Wait, what?” I asked.
“You said JUST CHANGE. What about my teeth? Am I supposed to brush my teeth?!”
“When I said JUST CHANGE that meant your teeth and your backpack and everything. It’s a whole package.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN PACKAGE? Like something comes in the mailbox?!”
I held my mouth shut tightly for a second to gain my composure because I suddenly remembered what a nightmare it could be to get you dressed before school every morning. And this wasn’t so much a nightmare as it was DAMN! I feel like I’m having a conversation with a person who has just smoked an entire joint.
I put my hands on your shoulders, kneeled down and said, “Please go put on your shirt, pants and then socks. Then brush your teeth. After that, get your backpack. Finally, go to the kitchen and eat your breakfast.”
This made so much more sense to you NOW THAT YOU WERE SOBER and you said, “OK! I thought I didn’t have to brush my teeth.”
The second morning you told me that you just wanted me to let you out by the front door because you were in second grade and didn’t need someone to walk you to class like a first grader. That morning I kissed you goodbye at the front door before I walked your sister to her classroom. Off you ran like you’re on rocket fuel. And just like that, another major milestone in the view of your giant pack swinging around on your back. I am the mother of a second grader.
One thing about second grade is how it has made you even more serious about doing math. When you knew that you were going to a class with a bunch of third graders, your first reaction was, “So I will start doing grade three math! I hope it’s not about addition and subtraction anymore!”
Your teacher ran to me one day during pick up and told me, “You know, I had to give Ethan more work. He finished his so quickly! It struck me! Such a smart kid!”
I am sure you can easily breeze through math during your school years. The real beast is French. You are doing almost 100% French in school. You can read and understand basic French, which is pretty awesome. And you’ve been doing dictées since grade one with no problem. Every day you come home from school, and you are all ready to practice. Except this year the vocabularies given to you to practice every week are getting more and more complicated. I have never learned French. So when you have a hard time spelling those words correctly, I cannot help you. I have to tell you to reread and memorize those words and then brace for the heavy exhale that will shake the floor and rattle the windows. When you think you are ready but realize you miss one little x in “soixante” after your fifth practice and yell, “IT’S SO UNFAIR!” I can totally comprehend your pain while a loop of your dramatic, irritating sobs serenades you for eternity. And I just want to let you know that I will be doing this with you all along. So you are not alone.
Ethan, I’ve started to see the child inside of you that is sometimes shaded by pre-adolescent anxieties and a somewhat sophisticated repugnance toward parents. You don’t necessarily think you are smarter than I am, although you most definitely are, you just think that a lot of the minutia I have to do as a parent is really stupid. Like why do I have to remind you to sit properly when you eat? Why do you have to clean up? Why does it matter if your runners are wet? None of that is going to help you solve real world math problems, so what is the point?
THE POINT? The point is my mother was pretty harsh on me when I was a kid. And I think I have a heritage to uphold, YOUNG MAN.
As I am writing this letter, I look over next to my computer and see a photo of you that I took when you were not even one year old. I don’t even know how to articulate what I feel when suddenly you became so big and so smart. The magnificent way you taught yourself how to read and how to do math. The brilliant way you get very self-motivational to learn and practice and then learn and practice more.
You are my firstborn child, Ethan, the person who has shaped and informed every last second of the last seven years of my life and thereby transforming the entirety of it.
Parenthood is really hard, the hardest thing you will ever take on if you choose to do so as a human being. And without hesitation I will tell you that never have I entertained the idea that seven years without being a mother could possibly be even half as rewarding. There hasn’t ever been a “what if?” Because that would have to begin with “what if I never had ‘you who is my everything’…”