This weekend you turned thirteen. A teenager! My second teenager, my first teenage boy. The door has definitely closed on your young childhood, and with it a chapter of my life I have truly adored. And you are, of course, a huge part of that.
I love the young man you are becoming, but maybe more notably, I like you so much. I’ve had the same observation about your sister, but today’s about you. You are funny, and thoughtful, and empathetic. You don’t miss anything, and you don’t forget anything, either. Lately you do a lot of accents, notably Indian and Russian, and it’s a rare family dinner when Dad and I don’t laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. I can feel you stretching, trying on different aspects of the man you are going to be. Will you be funny? Sincere? Smart? Dedicated? I know you’re one and three. Hoping two and four stick, also.
This has been a difficult fall. You bid goodbye to your sister when she went to boarding school in early September, and then, in the space of two months, you lost both of your grandfathers. The fact that you are still at home gave you a front-row seat to Dad’s and my grieving which I’m sorry you always had to see. I am confident that you have excellent male role models in your life, but given this autumn’s feast of losses, I’m even more grateful that you are at an all-boys school, and it feels particularly right and valuable right now that you are in a place where everyone is focused on boyhood and young manhood.
The last year held a lot of good things, in addition to the two overwhelmingly bad things that hit us at its end. I struggle to remember this, but it’s important. You love your new school, and I love that you love it. You weren’t sure, to be honest, about leaving the safety of the school where you had been since you were four. It was the revisit day that changed everything, and when I picked you up that afternoon, you looked at me with a grin and said, “I’m in.” And you’ve been all in since then. This despite showing up on the first day in shorts because I told you they were allowed. And … they’re not. You handled that speedbump with grace. You were elected president of your class, threw yourself into soccer and your classes, did tech for the fall play. You’re still finding your stride, but I am sure you are in the right place and I love seeing you challenged and supported in equal measure.
You stopped playing hockey this year, which was a big change. For the first time in many years I’m not spending hours a week at the cold Cambridge rink, and you aren’t on a team with many of the boys you’ve played with since you were 8. But you have enthusiastically taken up squash, and it’s been fun to watch.
You are full of joy. You loved sailing and camp last summer, and plan to return to both this year. You tie a tie with ease, and lately you’ve been wearing some that belonged to my father. He taught you how to tie a bow tie, and every time you wear one, I think of him. You love pugs, sleep with a stuffed one called Lil Pug, and sometimes say things like, “on a scale of one to pug, how cute is it?” It’s hard to earn your trust and esteem, but once that happens, you are deeply loyal. You are fascinated by space travel (Andy Weir’s The Martian is a favorite book, and Artemis is on your bedside table now) and by how things work. You want to be an architect when you grow up.
One of the things I think about most as you grow into a young man is protecting the seam of sensitivity and emotional awareness that runs through you. You are definitely a Myers-Briggs “F,” and a strong one. I’m aware that the world can send a message to boys that they ought not talk about their feelings, but I also feel very strongly that it doesn’t have to be that way. Last week you and I were home alone for several nights, and one dinner we got to talking about Grandpa and Poppy, and about your dear friend’s mother who died at the end of last year. All three had died abruptly, and in none of the cases did you or I get to say goodbye. “I’ve been thinking about it,” you said thoughtfully as you chewed your ranch dressing coated chicken (ranch dressing and buffalo sauce are two of your great loves). “I just want to always be sure to say what I feel, so nobody ever wonders.” You swallowed. “You know, just in case something happens and I don’t get another chance.” I stood up and hugged you, hiding the tears that ran down my face as I did so. I’m sorry you are so aware of this risk, but I’m grateful that your reaction, at least so far, is to stay open to the world and to love.
May it always be so. Stay funny and stay sweet, my dear boy, my last baby, my only son. It feels like you and me against the world in some ways right now, since Grace is away and Dad is often traveling. I love your company; you make me laugh and you make me think, and I simply adore you. I’m prouder than I can express of you, and I so look forward to what lies ahead.
Happy thirteenth birthday, Whit. I love you.