Ethan (8 years old)

Dear Ethan,

You turn eight years old today.

Eight years ago seemed so far away. But I’ve realized in parenting that nothing is far away and time is an elusive and magical concept. How else do you explain that yesterday I dropped you off to kindergarten, and today you are a full-fledged third grader? I think I need a moment to sink in.

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When you were born other parents told me to relish that time with you because in a blink of an eye you’d be seven or eight or nine like their own children. I asked those parents if their children were sleeping, and when they said yes, I asked, “Wanna swap?”

You’ve never liked to sleep. I remember I had to drag you out of bed to go to Disneyland one early morning when we went to California in summer. That was the first time I had to wait for you to get up in the morning for eight years. I won’t lie, when you rubbed your eyes, looked at the time and said you were too tired to get up, I thought I was going to poop my pants and said, TIRED? REALLY? BECAUSE I HAVE A PRESENT FOR YOU.

Sleeping to you is like eating with utensils, totally unnecessary but because your parents tell you to do so, so you go, “Fine! I will sleep, but only after I’m done reading that stack of 600 books!”

Your love of reading has grown leaps this past year. You set your alarm clock for 6am every day. You wake up before us, turn on the lamp on your desk and read until we come to get you for breakfast. Sometimes I will stand outside your door watching you because it’s such a marvellous sight: my son who devours books like no one’s business. The moment that I just want to take in with as much presence as possible.

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You have been losing teeth at a pace almost as fast as you lose everything else you possess. Oh your ability to misplace things! It’s now a part of the morning rituals before heading out: putting on shoes, wearing jackets, backpacks in the car, and then finally SHOW ME YOU GLASSES. Twice last week you were sitting in the car with your seat belt on, while your sister ran to your room and retrieved them from your desk. This is why when you say you don’t want to have kids I’m like WRONG. YOU HAVE TO LIVE THROUGH RAISING SOMEONE WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE YOU. And maybe one day you will understand why it’s perfectly normal to daydream about dangling that kid over a pool of hungry sharks.

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By the way, you are so lucky to have your sister. Not only because she finds your glasses. She endures your constant naggings but still very generous to you. Remember that. Yes, you fight, epic fights that bring screams and tears. But you both are also thick as thieves – seeking the close-knit company of each other, playing and giggling for hours in self-made forts, singing favorite tunes while jumping on the couch, and weaving these wonderfully imaginative tales that can only be told between you both. And it’s a blessing when I witness how you read to her, how you teach her to play piano, how you create a card game that really opens her eyes…all until when she dips that orange paint into your yellow paint, and that roar of the beast inside you crawling out again…

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The passionate intensity of your earlier years, an intensity that sometimes filled our days with exhausting drama has waned and given way to a much more casual temperament. You dress yourself in the morning, brush your teeth, and clean up after breakfast. There is no more struggle. And Ethan, struggle used to be at the core of your dynamic with everything in your world. You loved to struggle.

We still see hints of that intensity, but now I would call it perfectionism. Hello, son of mine.

When you attempt something, you don’t want to be good at it. You want to be the best. This personality trait bares its fangs most noticeably when you practice piano. As a crazed fanatical overachiever like you seem to be, I totally understand your frustration when you hit a wrong note or can’t hear a rhythm. You think you are going to end up homeless! And I have to control my emotion when I help you practice. Because if I raise my voice when you are in that spiral, not only will you end up homeless, you’ll end up homeless and then someone will steal your cardboard box.

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It’s been over a year of piano lessons, the one extracurricular activity that I really hope you will stick to. It hasn’t been easy as your skill level has far surpassed everything I know about reading music. It is then even harder to stop playing to sit down at the piano to spend valuable afternoon hours practising a song written in the 17th century. WHY CAN’T YOU JUST PLAY THE THEME SONG TO STAR WARS?

New songs for you can be frustrating and every time you bring one home there is the eventual meltdown wherein you slam your hands on the keys and proclaims you will never be able to play it. It was rough at first. There were days when you’d sit on that bench and teeter on the brink of tears because you were convinced that you’d never learn how to play it.

And every time I said back, “But I know how you will.”

The thing is that you are good. You are really good. I know that it would be a tragedy to let you stop. I am fortunate enough to have the resources and time to help you. I feel a duty to your talent as your mother, and I know that if I don’t work as hard as you do toward feeding it then I will deeply regret it. Eventually you are the one who does all of that yourself. You just need me to acknowledge what you are feeling to make space for the momentum to do so. And I will always be here. Helping the piano player that is in his fully develop is one of the greatest gifts I can give to you.

Then few days later you have that new song memorized and can play it upside-down while eating a slice of pepperoni pizza. You are so proud of yourself, yes, but it says so much that the way you told your teacher was this: “I have been practising on this one for so many times and I am able to play it without one mistake.”

You recognize the work. You understand that it requires work.

Which is why I will not let you quit. You need to understand that even though things will be handed to you so much more easily and readily than to others, that in no way means you shouldn’t work your ass off to have earned it in the first place. I am so happy to see you feeling what it’s like to work so hard for something and reap success, to experience win. Your life will be filled with so much more of this, and those songs will probably end up being a speck in your memory. Which is why I wanted to write it down. So that later I can show it to you and tell you that I was there. I witnessed it: my oldest child growing up.

Love,
Mama

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