Twelve Years Old


A late December morning, on your new beanbag, which was a Christmas present.  It’s not small.

Dear Whit,

On Friday, you turned twelve.  It’s the oldest cliche in the book, and also one of the great truisms: how is this possible?  You just arrived, in a cold snap and just in advance of a blizzard, shocking me and your father with your boy-ness, your blue eyes, and your blond hair.  All three of those charateristics remain true, twelve years later, and the shock has moderated to a gentle startle, but suffice it to say you can still surprise us.

Mostly you surprise us with how closely you’re paying attention, and with the way you remember things.  Even as a small child, you’d bust out with references to things we’d said or done weeks or months ago, making it very clear that we had better mean everything we said since it was filed away in your steel trap for future use.  You are also able to take my breath away with surprising demonstrations of sensitivity, which I’m already getting a feeling the world doesn’t quite know what to do with in a boy.  For that reason above all, I want to protect your ability to feel deeply, your language about your own feelings, and your willingness to talk about the landscape of emotion.

You don’t always love feeling so much, I know. Over the winter break, we put away our enormous stash of Legos into the basement. I found you sitting quietly in the living room, clearly sad.  When I probed, you started crying and admitted it was really hard to put the Legos away.  They’d meant so much to you for so long.  I meant something was over.  I was reminded of the evening, many years ago, when you wept about wanting to still be a baby.

I saw something that night that was keenly familiar. There’s a deep seam of nostalgia and an orientation towards melancholy buried inside of you (underneath your hilarious exterior, which means it’s unexpected) that I suspect you inherited from me. In a lot of ways, though, you’ve very different from me (though we look more and more alike, in my opinion – sorry about that!) and I watch you move through the world with a mixture of bewilderment (you are mostly unburdened by the desperate need to please that weighs heavily on my shoulders and, also, on those of your sister) and admiration (what a marvelously reasonable and free way to go through life!).

Your bedroom is just down the hall from my office, where I spent the great majority of my time.  That means a little extra exposure to you, and such delights as listening to you sing Do You Hear the People Sing under your breath as you do math homework or hearing your daily check in conversation with your Echo Dot when you get home from school. “Hey, Alexa! How was your day?” You often ask.

You like sports and have played hockey, baseball, and tennis for many years.  You started playing football this year in school, and you and your equal-sized dear friend standing among the giant 8th grade boys was one of my favorite photographs from last fall. You are an excellent team mate and coaches inevitably refer to your attitude and coachability.  You really enjoy being a part of a team and your Dad and I like the way it’s allowed you to meet and bond with friends outside of school.

It’s not sports that really makes your heart beat faster, though.  More than anything, that’s science and robotics.  For a while we went to the MIT lectures on various science topics on Saturday mornings, you eagerly await your monthly Tinker Crate, and the Science Museum is one of your favorite places. You have a periodic table taped to the wall of your bedroom, Randall Munroe’s What If? is one of your most treasured books, and you love Scratch.  A couple of summers ago Dad and I set up a workbench for you in the basement, and you like to retreat down there to tinker and work.  You were disappointed, however, when we decided it wasn’t safe for you to use power tools and work with wood alone in the basement.

Summer camp is your happy place, and the fact that you gamely returned last summer despite a not-great experience in 2015 makes me proud. You learned some important lessons about perseverance and trying things again, and you were amply rewarded with a terrific summer last year.  You are counting minutes until your return this upcoming summer.  You also love the weeks you spend with my parents at their house on the ocean, and wowed both your Dad and I when we saw the series of alarms you’d set on your old itouch to remind you that it was time to go to sailing and tennis.  Your autonomy and independence are growing in leaps and bounds.

You are funny and you are wise and you are generous and you are kind.  Most often, you’re the member of the family who remembers to ask about a doctor’s appointment or big meeting.  You run upstairs when you get home and give me a hug. You aren’t always in a good mood, but when you are you are one of the more charming people I’ve ever met.  You make me laugh every single day. This fall, after watching one debate with us, you would randomly respond to questions by muttering, “Emails!  Benghazi!” More than one person has asked me if we named you a trait we wanted you to have – ie wit – and the answer is no (your name is a family name on my side, and my sister’s middle name) but I understand the question.

You are rapidly shedding any little boy behaviors.  When I looked for a picture to put in this post, I was startled by how grown up you looked in recent photos.  You are still a small guy, but you’re growing up fast.  You still hug me, give me our secret “I love you” sign when I drop you at school in the morning, and eagerly climb into bed next to me to read at night.  Please don’t stop doing those things!  You are getting braces soon, though, and you have expressed your preference that I not cheer loudly for “Whitty!” at the hockey rink.  Fair enough.

When I wrote a post for you on Instagram on Friday, I mentioned one of the things I love best about you.  As is often the case with me, I didn’t really realize I felt something until I wrote it down.  But what I said is true: you have a deep comfort about you, and I know you believe in a benevolent universe.  You’re fine with not knowing it all, with not being totally in control, ad that comfort is foreign and reassuring to me in equal measure.  It’s inspiring, too.  I want to be more like that.  Thank you for teaching me that – and a million other things, like how tall the average giraffe is – every day.

Dear, beloved Whit, my last baby, the person who completed our family, you dazzle me with your intelligence and your humor and mostly indefatigable good attitude. I described you recently as the sparkle in our family, and you are.  I’m grateful every single day that I get to be your mother, and I’ll love you all the days of my life.  Without reservation, without question, without hesitation.

Happy twelfth birthday,



January 20, 2005.  We all loved you from the start (the photographer too).

6 thoughts on “Twelve Years Old”

  1. I read often, but rarely post comments. You are an amazing writer — your words give life to both feelings and moments. These word about your son are beautiful and true. Thank you for sharing.

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