My dear boy,
Years ago, I was hired by a friend to photograph her seven-year-old daughter’s birthday. You were a baby then, maybe as old as Jack is now, and I remember thinking how big, how adult, all of the kids seemed at the party compared to my little guy at home.
Now, here we are. We just finished your seventh birthday party and I’m struck by the significance. Seven seems important. Seven seems serious. Like we’ve bid farewell to all things baby and landed solidly in Kid.
“Who told you that you could grow?” I joke with you when I realize you’re taller than the last time I paused to recognize it. You giggle and can’t tell that my heart is both aching and bursting with pride.
A word I’d use to describe your past year is bravery. You’ve always struggled with anxieties — fears that kept you from experiencing a lot of things kids enjoy. But I got my first glimpse of your budding resolve last summer at the county fair. From a distance you saw the Jumbo Slide and asked to ride on it, but realized the meaning of the word “jumbo” when we walked up.
“Mom, I’m scared,” you said, shakily.
“It’s alright, bud. Let’s try something else.”
“No, I’m going to do it.”
You grabbed the blanket and trudged to the top of the seemingly 20-story-tall slide as my heart felt faint. At any moment I expected you to turn around and head down, but you kept going, waited your turn in line at the top, then climbed aboard the blanket.
Your face was white with fear when you got to the bottom of the slide. “I don’t think I’ll do that again,” you said, affirmatively.
This bravery surfaced again during your first-grade production of “Traveling Through the Rainforest,” in which you proudly played Ant #3 (shout out to Dad, who made your costume). A year ago, getting you onstage was a challenge. This time? You sang and danced and recited lines about nasty developers cutting down trees in front of hundreds of parents.
You’re even more open to watching movies, which you’ve always avoided because of how overwhelmed you feel watching them. It took us four nights to get through “Trolls,” but we did it, even though you desperately wanted to stop the movie at the scariest parts.
And just the other day, at Savy’s birthday party, you nervously asked me to join you on the ferris wheel at Boomers. When they told me I couldn’t go (really, Boomers? I’d have to pay just to sit next to my scared kid?), tears filled your eyes, but you climbed aboard any way — and had a blast.
First grade went much smoother than kindergarten. You were assigned the “strict teacher,” which worried me initially because I was thought she would ignore your emotional needs (I recognize I sound a little helicopter-y here), but she was just what you needed.
It wasn’t all rosy; we encountered some behavioral challenges. Most were benign 6-year-old antics, but a few situations required parental and school intervention. Those were tough times (especially the month when we didn’t allow you to play with your best friend, Allie), but I’m hopeful you’ve learned from them.
I’m also hopeful you absorbed something from another big event this year: the presidential election. I wrote a letter to you and Jack once Trump was elected, so I won’t rehash the specifics of that time, but I was (and still am, honestly) in shock. I began to channel my anger and disbelief into action and brought you along to a few events.
First, we went to a gathering in Balboa Park to write thank-you notes to Hillary Clinton. Then we marched with 60,000 of our neighbors in downtown San Diego during the Women’s March. You were in a sour mood that day because the march kept you from seeing Allie. “I love Trump,” you grumbled as we walked through the streets.
This past year, you discovered your new love: soccer. Though Dad and I liked the structure and philosophy of karate, it never really stuck with you. Once you got on the soccer field, we realized why: no one can win in karate. You scored three goals your first game and never looked back.
Reading has also become a passion (yay!). This began when you realized we’d let you read at the dinner table instead of talking with Dad and I about your day. You’re now reading at a fourth-grade level and just tearing through chapter books. We let you stay up late to read on the weekends and often catch you with a flashlight under the covers on week days.
Other highlights from your sixth year:
- Lost teeth: Three! The first one popped out when you were eating fro-yo with gummy bears.
- Halloween costume: Spaceman Spiff. This was the second year in a row you’ve chosen a Calvin & Hobbes-inspired costume. At the school carnival, you were confused the other kids had no idea who you were, though a dad in line behind us for the Haunted House — who was dressed as Han Solo, natch — thought your costume was cool.
- Favorite dance move: The dab. I can’t take a photo of you without you dabbing.
- Favorite game: Slamwich
- Favorite video game: Trials Fusion
- Favorite TV show: Either “Dinosaur Train” or “Chuggington.” I love that you still like these sweet shows.
- Best friends: Though no one shines as brightly as Allie… Raeden and Cooper.
- Favorite of mom’s and dad’s buttons to push: ALL OF THEM
- Times you’ve forgotten your lunch bag at school: At least 30
- Favorite thing to pick up on the playground and stuff in your pockets: Hair ties
- Favorite fruit or vegetable: Hahahahaha!
My favorite memory from this past year may be our mutual love of “Hamilton.” It’s been so fun learning the words together, watching the videos, and singing songs in the car. Your favorites are “Ten Dual Commandments,” “Guns and Ships, and “The World Turned Upside Down” — basically anything that involves firearms and fighting.
You have such astonishing observations about the music. The other day, while listening to “Right Hand Man,” you told me the song made you feel like you were a hunter in the forest or deep under the ocean in a submarine. How poetic is that!
Charlie, year six really was the best so far. You’re such a smart, inquisitive, creative, interesting kid. Though I miss that you can no longer fit in my lap, I love that you still try at times. On some mornings, you slip your hand into mine as we walk to your classroom, and I try to keep you from hearing my gasp.
Back when you were rehearsing for your breakout role as Ant #3, you asked if you could sing me a song from the play — “Under One Sky” — before bed. I kept it together until this verse:
Under one sky, there’s a baby’s cry
Under one sky, a mother’s lullaby
Under one sky we are all a part of everything
Because I remember a time, not too long ago, when you were that baby, and I was that mother singing you a lullaby. Now, there we were, lying next to each other in the dark, while you sang to me.
Being a parent — being YOUR parent — is a magical experience, Charlie. Age seven may seem important, it may seem serious, but it’s also incredibly joyous.
Happy birthday, my sweet boy.