Ethan (6 years old)

Dear Ethan,

Today you turn six years old.

So let’s start there. School. AND SO IT BEGINS. Grade one! I remember the last exam I took in college and the feeling afterwards – like I’d just been let out of a prison I had been in since I was five years old. So welcome to that prison. Except it’s worse! You have to take tests and earn good grades. At least in prison you can write on the walls and hit people!


You know, when your father and I thought about having kids, I never really considered that I was going to have to live through school all over again. But here I am getting up early with you, making sure you’re there on time, worried about whether or not you’re meeting your goals, and preemptively throwing up at the thought of the physics exam you are going to take in eleventh grade.

Maybe because you are a lot like me, you like to perform things well. I remember when you were still learning to write letters, if you accidentally wrote an S backwards you would tear up the piece of paper, pull out a fistful of hair, and declare that you’d never write S again, because S IS BAD! Now if you answer 12 x 5 = 50 instead of 60 because you miss the tenth by mistake, you will break that pencil in half and declare that you’ll never be able to do math ever in the rest of your life. I SO UNDERSTAND. Because I know exactly how you are feeling. It’s called the We Are All Going To Die Homeless And Alone. I am pretty familiar about how it feels.


So you are doing 12 x 5, 365 + 499, 1/5 + 2/5… It’s true. Your math skills are at a level that no one is quite prepared to deal with. You are thriving at math. Sometimes you can’t wait to get up in the morning and start doing your workbooks. You are so focused that when you are thinking how to solve that formula, you will subconsciously scratch your head and touch your nose and eyes until you get the answer. Such a geek! Our little geek loves math! And I say that with all the love and pride a geek mother can muster. Just this week you have been begging, pleading, dropping to the floor and wrapping your arms around your father’s leg, “PLEASE! PLEASE WRITE ME SOME MATH ON THIS PAPER!” There is so much math to solve and those 400 workbooks are not even challenging enough!

Last week at school I came across another mom who was bragging about how good his son was at math. For a moment I thought, “Right, so all the boys are geeks!” Until you came up and announced, “But I can do division and multiplication!”

“Really?” that mom feeling suspicious.

“YES! I know 3 times 2 is…is…….6! And 12 divided by 6 is……2!”

“What about 10 times 4?”

“40! Because 10 times 5 is 50. 10 times 6 is 60. 10 times 7 is 70. EASY!”

“His teacher said maybe he should go to Grade 3.” I said causally yet matter-of-factly, maybe a bit proudly.

I didn’t really care about how that mom had reacted. But it was definitely one of those moments when I sit back and high five the decision to become a parent.


When sometimes you look too smart, your innocence is magical. You are still unweathered by all the crap that life will eventually dump on your head, and that is another thing I never factored in when deciding to have kids. That I would get to see the world through that innocence again, because I don’t really remember what it was like. It’s something I have to remind myself to bask in at times when I am frustrated and seriously, CAN YOU PLEASE JUST GET IN THE DAMN CAR. Because you are not thinking about the crazy traffic behind you or why the gas prices never go down or how come Ebola is killing people. You are thinking, I can’t wait to get to school and show my friends these new Pokemon cards!


Sometimes you don’t stop screaming because I don’t let you have that third piece of candy. Sometimes you are angry that you can’t figure out which Pokemon cards to take to school. And you yell IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! Well, maybe it is because I gave you life, and now you have no choice but to live it. But you know what, Ethan. Turns out you are the one who can do math at a third grade level when you are only five. I guess that’s what they call a trade-off.

Ethan, you’ve grown up so much this year. Your arms are longer, your feet are bigger, there is no baby fat left in your face. You are no longer an infant or a toddler or a preschooler. And even the label First Grader doesn’t quite do you justice. You are a full on kid. A kid who have too many principles in his head. A kid who is never easy.

I realized that whenever I am in an inconsolable state, all I want your father to do is shut up and listen to me. He needs to let me enumerate on every other issues that my frustration is bringing to the surface.

Sometimes my instinct with you is to plug my ears, but I am learning to take your frustrations much more seriously. Your fear of Maya eating your popsicle when you are at school is significant in that it represents something larger, or perhaps the perception that we don’t take care about your popsicle, or maybe you think we pay more attention to Maya than you. Whatever the case, I stopped banging my head against the wall and really listened to what you were saying. As family we owe each other that. I let you wail about how you’d never be able to sleep again because Maya eating your popsicle was making you too tired to sleep (YOU ACTUALLY SAID THAT), and then let you work through your emotions like I try to do, like your father always waits for me to do. And when we got home, you ran over to the freezer to check your popsicle. The blue one that was still sitting there. And you slowly swallowed all the tears that you had loaded up on the way home.

I am right there with you, Ethan. Sometimes the path to victory is paved with a lot of crying. I will be there offering tissues.


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