Some days it seems as though he only just joined our family, that he aged overnight from a fussy infant to a potty-training toddler and then the following night from a kindergartener to a third grader. Other days it feels like he has stood beside me throughout every one of my 36 years, and that together we have conquered a life's worth of challenges.
Either way, nine years old just doesn't make sense. He should be two, maybe three, years old…or he should have reached adulthood, just like I have.
I have trouble remembering what it means to be nine years old. I admit to forgetting - more than once - that Will no longer needs me standing over him while he picks out his clothes and picks up his room. (He does, however, still need to be reminded to put on deodorant and brush his hair.) I also admit to forgetting that just because Will is my older child doesn't mean he should be expected to take on responsibilities appropriate for tweens and teenagers. Every day is a dance, and not a very graceful one, as I teeter back and forth trying to find my - our - balance.
I have recently noticed two significant changes in my boy. First, where at this time last year I saw only movement toward independence, now Will seems to have realized that his time as a child is finite. He still seeks autonomy, especially when his friends are nearby and on the athletic field. But in the privacy of our home or when he thinks no one is watching, he has begun to hold my hand, scoot up next to me on the couch, and ask for that extra hug and kiss once again. It's no wonder I don't always get it quite right when it comes to parenting according to Will's age.
So when I get it wrong - when I squelch his independence or mistakenly ask him to take on something he's not ready for - I own it. I apologize to Will, explain the mistake I made, promise to do better next time, and admit that parenting can be hard at times.
This is where I see the second change: since he turned eight just 366 short days ago, Will has become a more empathetic child. I see it when he leads kindergarteners to their classrooms in the morning before school. I see it when he high fives and encourages his teammates as they sub out of the game after a less-than-stellar turn on the field. And I see it on those nights when I sit on the edge of his bed and apologize. Tears fill his eyes as he hugs me and tells me he doesn't want things - life in general - to be rough for me.
Will is a textbook first-born child: a confident, determined, organized, responsible, high-achieving, leadership-oriented perfectionist. But these exceptional qualities are accompanied, as is often the case in first-born kids, by anxiety over what he can't control or doesn't understand. My hope for this coming year - for Will's 10th year of life - is to help him find the harmony and peace he so desperately craves. To help him understand that it's perfectly acceptable to control the soccer field, walk home from school alone, and "crush" long division during the day but still need an extra hug and kiss from mom at night. To help him maintain his empathy toward others without letting their sadness and anger and frustration break him. To help him stay happy. And to help be as big...and as little...as he wants to be.
My sweet boy… For many years you believed that I felt proudest of you - because you felt proudest of yourself - when you scored goals and broke boards and brought home stellar report cards. Your athletic and academic achievements bring me tremendous joy, but my proudest moments as your mother are those in which you stay true to yourself, are honest with me about what you feel, work hard toward your goals, and let your kindness shine above all else. You make me prouder than I ever thought possible, Will. Every day, in every way.
Happy birthday, sweet boy. I love you to the moon and back plus infinity times a million with a cherry on top.