Today my firstborn turns 15 years old. It doesn't seem possible.
I thought the transition from 12 and 13 was a big one, and then I thought the transition from 13 and 14 was a big one. But the transition from 14 and 15...this transformation has undoubtedly been Will's most inwardly significant and outwardly noticeable, and I expect this last year to go down as one of the greatest periods of growth in his young life.
Physical growth, of course. It's no longer questionable whether or not he's taller than me - he is. It's no longer questionable whether or not he's faster and stronger than me - he is. (He's also faster than Tom, but Tom still has him beat on brute strength...though probably only for another couple of months.) But also mental and emotional growth. The process began in March 2020 - related to the pandemic but also related to just existing in the world as a teenage boy - and has continued every day since then.
What a strange year this has been for all of us, but in particular for teenagers. At the point in their lives when they should have been embarking on the long journey toward leaving us, they weren't. And when they should have been spending less and less time at home with their parents, they weren't. Will spent more time at home throughout the last year (at least until the beginning of this school year) than he had in multiple years prior combined; he was with me - and with both Tom and Hallie - all of the time except for athletics workouts, orchestra rehearsals, and club soccer practices/games. It wasn't easy for him, and at times we butted heads about what he should and should not be allowed to do/say/eat/drink/watch/use at home. But he did it, and along the way he made the most of the hand he was dealt and our decision to enroll him as a virtual/hybrid learner for the 2020-2021 school year. It also wasn't easy for him to return to the "real world" at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, in part because of how long he'd been away from learning in a classroom and in part because of how frustrated he was - is - with what is happening in our schools. But he is doing it, and thus far he is making the most of what his high school has to offer academically and extracurricularly. I am proud of his strength and resilience.
With the exception of orchestra and soccer, Will is taking all advanced classes, one of which is typically a 10th grade class and one of which is typically an 11th grade class. He works incredibly hard, frequently putting in four or five hours of homework on weeknights and more than 10 hours of homework on the weekends. He still loves playing the cello, can't believe his good fortune that he now gets to play soccer as part of his school day, and joined the Debate Club, where he's learning an entirely new set of skills which I'm sure he hopes will come in handy as he starts to negotiate with us about things like curfews and driving. Outside of school, you can usually find Will on the soccer field - playing with his club team, volunteering with his club's youth academy, or refereeing city league games. He also tries as often as possible to fit in rounds of disc golf - his passion for the sport was ignited this year - as well as chess, video games, and sports of all kinds with his friends at the park.
A few weeks ago I found myself having a rough night. Tom was out of town, Hallie was sick and we were waiting on her COVID test results, and I was feeling broken and exhausted and frustrated and sad and SO angry. Because Will was playing video games in the playroom and Hallie was quarantined in my bedroom, the living room felt like a "safe" place for me to give in to my many emotions and so I sat, alone on the couch, weeping quietly into my hands. I didn't hear Will emerge from the playroom (sometimes we have to sneak out of that room so as not to wake sleeping kittens) and when I realized he was approaching, I didn't have time to pull myself together before he noticed I wasn't ok. He sat down on the couch, he put his arm around me, and for the first time in our lives, I cried on his shoulder instead of the other way around.
There is still little boy left in him - I see it when he celebrates a soccer victory, plays in the backyard with Hallie, laughs about fart jokes with friends, or snuggles with kittens - but there is now so much man swirling around in there as well. I have watched, in some cases from a distance and in other cases from the front row, as he has navigated difficult situations...with teachers and coaches and friends and even girls...with confidence, humility, poise, and kindness, just as I hope he will continue to do as he nears, enters, and makes his way through adulthood. I know now that the term "man child" was meant for 14 and 15-year-olds boys - there is just no better way to describe this beautifully complicated state of being.
Happy 15th birthday, Will. I love you to the moon and back plus infinity time a million with a cherry on top.