A Love Letter To The 9-year-old

Yesterday, I accidentally slipped my feet into my 9-year-old son’s shoes. And they fit well enough that I took a few steps in them before realizing my mistake. This first-born baby of mine, seven pounds eleven ounces nine years ago―the size of a grain of rice ten years ago, just part of cosmic dust before then―is now so long, so tall, so strong. Stronger than me. No longer in a sling, no longer kept safe and satisfied only in my arms―the journey has been gradual, but this year, this day, this moment, it strikes me, smacks me in the face.

I love him. When he was that babe in arms and I looked at him and fell in love with him for the first time―and then every day, every hour, all over again―I didn’t think it was possible to love anything, any creature, any person this much. And then I loved him more and more every single day, and today, when I look at his tousled, tangled head, his lanky, long legs, the eyelashes that half-cover those sometimes mischievous, sometimes sad eyes, I fall in love all over again and again, and I can’t believe it is possible to love anything, any person this much. But now I know that tomorrow, and the day after and the year after, I will love him even more.

He isn’t bliss everyday. Being a nine year old boy in 2011’s North America isn’t easy. Sure, you can dismiss this as a First World Whine―hey, he isn’t toting guns in Sierra Leone, living in a shanty town in Rio de Janeiro, starving in East Africa. Over-privileged middle class white boy of over-educated parents, what are your woes? Lusting after an X-box game, having to eat roast asparagus for dinner again? Our world dismisses his … heck, call it was it is, existential angst. But it’s there, and it’s real.

My nine year old boy, my love, is searching for his purpose in life. A little child no longer, yet a long way from man, he is on a journey. He wants to be useful. He wants to work. To grow. To contribute. And it is so hard, in 2011. Were he growing up in any other historical era―1000 years ago, 500, even 50 years ago―this angst would not exist. He would help on the farm, in the fields. Chop wood. Practice hunting. Fighting.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t romanticize. We live longer, healthier, safer now than ever before in human history, for all our fears and complaints. But with this life comes the existential angst of our children. Especially such children as my son. See, he is the boy that you’d take on the hunt with you as soon as he could keep up with the men, because he’s got a strong arm and a good eye, and never gets tired. He’s the son who’d chop a cord of wood for you, then tame a colt or two, all before breakfast. He’d see the enemy coming before anyone else because he’d be up in the highest tree. You’d never lack for food―or protection―with him in your tribe.

What do you expect of this boy wonder in 2011? Well, you’d like him to sit quietly at a table and colour a pretty picture. Then cut up some cardboard and glue it, and maybe some dried up pasta too―look, we’ve got googly eyes, isn’t that cool?―to a piece of paper. Sit and listen to a story. Sit and read a book. Walk, don’t run. Write about this. Tell us about your feelings. Don’t be too noisy, don’t be too active, don’t be too disruptive.

But for goodness’ sake, don’t play too many video games, because that’s just not good for your brain. (Stop. I must digress. Video games invade my love letter, but ever wonder why today’s eight year old, nine year old, 12 year old boys love video games so much? Can you see it? Can you see the hunt, the fight, the chase? Those little buttons, those dudes on the screen―they’re speaking to their genes. They’re channeling the Caveman inside. Come full circle, video games back to love letter. I love my son. My son loves video games. I know why.)

My little love, growing so tall, so lanky, so strong. Searching. He wants to become a man, a useful, productive, important part of his tribe. What tribe? Where is it? When he was four, he decided he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: the man who starts the fire at his community’s firepit. That’s who he’s going to be. But the path is long, and it’s tough, and not very obvious. So he’s struggling, searching, misstepping. And there I am, watching―he is my heart outside of me, exposed, and I want to protect him, help him, ease things for him, but there is so little I can do. So much of this he must struggle through alone, my love, and all I can do is be there―present, supportive, unconditional. There when he needs me, in the background when he thinks he doesn’t. Loving him, celebrating him, feeling blessed and grateful that he is my son… making sure he knows that I love him, celebrate him, and feel blessed and grateful that I am his mother.

It is another day, another night, and he is silent, falling asleep. He talked a lot today, about his game, the smell of rain, the trajectory of a roundhouse kick, the peskiness of little sisters. Then silent, perturbed. The eyes close, I see the brain, spirit, soul still working. Searching. What will he be? Fully himself, fully wonderful.

I write this to remind myself―to hold myself steady during the moments when he is not bliss. To remind myself of what matters and what doesn’t. To remind myself that the work we started, the bonds we weaved when he was a babe at breast, a toddler on hip, that work isn’t over. It continues, every day. Every choice, every word, said and unsaid, builds that bond and builds that relationship. Or harms it.

I don’t like to think of parenthood, motherhood as work. It’s not. It’s life, part of life, a definition of my life, as much a part of it as eating, sleeping, breathing. But the work metaphor creeps in, because in 2011 North America, everything that requires any effort at all is work. So―this love letter is my work. Put explicit into words, to exist outside of me as affirmation and expression and reminder. I love you, my beautiful son, unconditionally, perfectly, fully, in all your moods and moments. What will you be? What you are. Fully yourself, fully full of wonder. Cosmic dust transformed into a gift, to me, to the world.

Made you think? Made you laugh? Made you scream? Tell me.

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