Letters to Charlie: On Turning 8

IMG_20180526_092659Happy birthday, my baby boy.

You always tell me you’re no longer a baby when I call you that, and I always respond with that awfully cliche, but so totally true statement that no matter what your age, you will always be my baby.

These days, it’s hard to believe you were ever a tiny newborn. You’re almost as tall as my shoulders, and now it’s a game to see what you can do with all of your limbs when you try to sit in my lap. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the last time I’m ever going to pick you up may have already happened.

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There’s a certain amount of sorrow in that, but it’s quickly overshadowed by what a completely cool kid you are. Seven was my favorite year by far — and not just because you’re old enough to make your own breakfast most days. You are so interesting to be around, never afraid to ask questions about the universe around you. Sometimes, you make me roar with laughter at your clever jokes. And you’re still deeply into reading, so much that your teacher has caught you several times not listening to lessons because you’re sneaking a glance at the book  from inside your desk.

Speaking of school, it’s gone pretty great this year. You have two weeks left to go, so I’m knocking on wood while typing this, but you haven’t seen the principal once this year! You had a few struggles at after-school care — angrily pouring sand on a kindergartner’s head (in front of his parents) comes to mind — but it’s been pretty quiet for a few months.

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Last week, your teacher emailed us after you blazed through a quarterly reading comprehension assessment in 15 minutes (the school allows two hours for the test). Not surprisingly, you received your lowest score all year. Your teacher thought you were rushing to get back to your book (which would’ve been ironic, and not surprising), but when Dad and I spoke with you about it, it became clear you were trying to “beat” the boy next to you.

Thus ensued a lengthy conversation about how “winning” doesn’t always mean coming in first. You argued that you did win because you scored six points higher than the boy. Au contraire, we explained. If he scored even one point higher than his last test result, he actually beat you.

You didn’t like that very much.

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Age 7 is really when these shades-of-gray conversations about the world begin. Outside of Vons one day, I donated a few dollars to an organization that serves children with special needs. It spurred a deeper conversation about the organizations and causes your Dad and I support, including the ACLU. You asked what they do, and after I explained, you asked me if I knew that “people with our skin color used to hate people with black skin color.”

We talked about the history of why that was. I impressed upon you how these awful feelings still exist in our country and why “people with our skin color” need to be aware of that. To try driving home the ridiculousness of racism, I used the example of one of your friends who wears glasses. What if our society decided that all people who wore glasses were not as “good” as those who didn’t? What if they decided to hate your friend because of it? What if you couldn’t play with him simply because he wore glasses? You thought that reasoning was bonkers.

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These kind of complicated conversations also come with complicated feelings. Driving to Costco one day, I heard you begin to softly cry in the backseat. Turning into the parking lot, you’d seen a man holding a sign that read, “So broke it hurts. Help a homeless family with children.”

It was clear you’d put yourself in their shoes and were experiencing true, overwhelming empathy. As your mother, I felt a mixture of sadness that you were discovering these profound injustices exist in the world, but also pride at the way you reacted. You helped us pick out some food that we purchased for the man and his family.

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Sometimes I wish this kindness translated to your relationship with Jack. At one point this year, I had to escape from the fighting and shrieking before I lost my sanity, so went for a run. Each time I wanted to stop, I thought about having to go back into our shrill house. I RAN NINE MILES THAT DAY. Sheer exhaustion was the only thing that brought me home.

Dad devised a brilliant strategy for tampering this conflict. You’d been asking for a Nintendo Switch for your birthday, so he mastermined a challenge for you to earn that gift: Each time you had a constructive interaction with Jack, you received a point; each time you had a detrimental interaction, you earned a point for that, too. By your birthday, you needed twice as many constructive points in order to earn the Nintendo.

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Shockingly to us, it was easy to you at first. You were as sweet as pie to Jack for several days. Then, drift started to occur as your realized your brother can be a three-year-old asshat who sometimes bites.

Dad’s challenge gave us a framework for pointing out ways that you tend to stir up trouble, and there are more and more instances when it’s clear you’re trying to be nice to him, and he’s just looking for a fight. Suffice it to say, you’re really going to love your birthday present tomorrow.

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Besides Jack, you’ve grown some great friendships this year. At your birthday party this weekend, I was heartened that you had so many kiddos to invite. I don’t intend for that to sound mean, but there were periods over the past few years when I was concerned that your intense competitiveness and deep emotions would make it hard for you to find your tribe.

I think Lego League Jr. helped a lot. You participated in this amazing STEM program over the winter (Dad was team leader) and you really blossomed. You’d decided by early fall that soccer was definitely no longer your jam, and weren’t interested in any other sports. Lego team was the first activity you were excited to do every. single. session. No dragging you to the car, no fighting about all the other things you’d be missing, no crying over not being able to use screens. You developed friendships with several other boys who were just as excited to participate.

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Other highlights from your seventh year:

  • Halloween costume: Iron Man.
  • Protest attended: March for our Lives. “Mom, what’s the NRA?”
  • Ratio of “nice” smiles to silly ones in photos: 1:2056
  • First Broadway musical performance: Hamilton, in LA. Wooooooo!
  • Favorite board game: Marbles. You won your first game of this family tradition during a Christmas gathering, and now you’re hooked. You make all of our adult friends play with you when they come over.

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  • Favorite puzzle: Word Search. I love when we work on these together.
  • Way you wear your hair: Smoothed down straight over your forehead and NO OTHER WAY. I can’t wait until you realize how cute you look with it styled. Dad and I have tried to bargain with you for TV time in exchange for letting us shoosh your hair.
  • Favorite video game: Monster Hunter. A few weeks ago, Dad took you to a friend’s house where the three of you played this game together for several hours. I don’t know whether you or Dad were more excited about that.
  • Favorite TV shows: “Superwings” and “PJ Masks.” You also love watching “Top Gear” with Dad.

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  • Favorite book: Amulet series
  • Favorite song: “TNT” (Minecraft parody of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”)
  • Most despised song: “Breakfast Burrito,” when we curl Jack up in a towel after his bath and chase you around the house singing it.
  • Favorite sport: Bump.
  • Best friends: Raiden, Allie, Jet, Cooper, Everett, Forest…”Everyone who was at my party, mom.”
  • Favorite food: Grandma Barbara’s ice box cake and Grandma Z’s meatballs. You also ate HALF A LARGE PIZZA one day recently. I’m worried about your appetite as a teenager.

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  • Favorite podcast: Wow in the World. This has become our new bedtime story.
  • Favorite movie: You still really dislike movies. I managed to get you to “The Greatest Showman,” but you absolutely refuse to watch it again (even though it’s the best movie EVAH). And we can’t seem to get past  Yoda and Luke on Dagobah in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
  • Knowledge about your family history: Zero. During Heritage Night at your school, I asked if you knew your family heritage. “Duh, mom. Californian.”
  • Favorite language: Pig Latin. Dear Lord, please let me survive this difficult time in our lives.

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Wow, what a full year. I really don’t know how we’re going to top this one, buddy. But, knowing you, you’ll continue to bring magic, wonder and laughter into all of our lives.

I’m so proud of the person you are becoming. Whether you are 8 or 88, you’ll always be my baby boy — and I’ll always be grateful to be your mother.

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This entry was posted in Charlie, Letters to Charlie and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Letters to Charlie: On Turning 8

  1. Gramma Z says:

    So proud of you and thankful that you are in my life. I love you with all my heart

  2. Gramma Z says:

    So proud of you and thankful that you are in my life. I love you with all my heart

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