Monday, October 19, 2015

To My First On His Eleventh

Dear John,

Happy birthday!  I am glad to say that your first personal celebration in Ames, Iowa has followed your very-smooth transition to our new home.  I don't think there any 11-year olds out there that are happier than you (except maybe those without little brothers).  Recently you told me that you feel as if we never even lived in Nashville, and I'm choosing to take that as a sign that you're adjusting quite well.

This birthday was preceded by a summer/fall like no other.  We uprooted from all that you've ever known and attempted to start making a home in a new state.  You seem to like it here, and given that there are about 3.75 boys per block of our neighborhood, I think you're justified in that regard.

If we had stayed in Nashville, you would've been the newbie at a huge middle school ... as it stands now, you're in the senior-most class at your (and Sam's, to your chagrin) elementary school, where there is no Spanish, no homework, a brand new building with a huge gymnasium, and a 5th grade band, in which you are one of the alto saxophone players.  You gave up soccer (hopefully just for this season!) to try your hand at ice skating, which you hope will lead to hockey.  I really would rather you just play soccer, but here I am sitting at the rink watching you and writing this in three layers of clothes.  As with everything, I will always support you, even if it's cold and I worry that my orthodontic investment may not have been so sound.  But I do like to watch you work so diligently to stop, turn, and glide, front and back, with a teacher who looks like an older version of Tonya Harding.  Dad and I have been jokingly calling you "Nancy Kerrigan," but the funny is lost on you.

Though you are happy most of the time, you do have a great deal of angst connected to your relationship with Sam, ever the typical "little brother."  Yesterday morning while waiting on the carpool pickup, you and he we're arguing about who should "get to" water my fall-front-porch mums.  He was adamant that there were two mums and two kids, but you were adamant that the original chore was yours.  Fair enough: We settled on an agreement wherein both children "got to" water the mums (reader, I know: I'm brilliant ... I also get them to eat pancakes with all kinds of hidden gems like ground flax and hemp seeds, but that's another post for another time when it's nobody's birthday).  During Sam's turn to water the mums, you called me over for a "conversation in private" (your words).  Here's how it went:

You:  I'm like furious.
Me:  Why are you so mad? 
You: Sam.
Me:  Can you say more about it?
You:  I feel like I want to yank off his head and punt it to Mars.

Wow.  So, OK, I didn't exactly like the violence, but what amazing descriptive language!

This is not normal though:  Most of the time, you are quite a content kiddo, and this pleases us entirely.  Throughout this last year, I've seen you develop into a truly "big kid."  I can see the shadow edges of adolescence creeping in to darken the door, but right now, you're pretty much just delightful.

Here's a profile of newly 11 year-old JEB:
  • You still love Legos.  For your birthday, Macy and Glendaddy got you a Star Wars set with over 400 pieces, and upon opening you said, "Hmmm, 421 pieces.  That should take approximately an hour and a half to knock out."
  • You also love electronics.  Nanny and Grampy got you a "quadcopter" drone with a camera, with which you spend hours recording our neighborhood.  This has led to some interesting discussions about privacy.
  • Your adoration of wheels continues.  You seem to live on your bike during daylight non-school hours, and you love to build elaborate Hot Wheels race tracks for your brother (elaborate meaning, for example, a track that cascades down the stairs into the basement, through a loop, and catapults the cars into the recycle bin).
  • Your reading skills are fine, but your teacher, Dad, and I wish that you expand your repertoire a bit (which means, anything except Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
  • You have friends galore.  Just on our street, there are Caleb, Max, Ellio, Nico, and just a couple blocks away are Jonathan, Caden, and Elias.  We've been allowing you to bike to their homes as long as it's before 6 p.m.
John, there are so many fascinating qualities of your 11-year-old self, but quite possibly the one that takes the cake is your new ability to see other people (and their feelings/emotions) as separate from your own.  This is such an important life skill buddy, and as I navigate our "everyday" with you, I see that you're developing into a caring individual who considers others even when it's inconvenient.  THAT is WJWD!

To illustrate, I'll conclude with this final anecdote:  Recently we downloaded Minecraft for your to play on my tablet computer.  It's something you've wanted for awhile.  It's perfect for you and your engineering mind.  But I started to notice that after you had played it and transitioned to another activity, you were agitated.  So after one particularly extreme incident (involving your brother, no surprise), I sent you up to your room to quietly reflect on what had happened.  After about 15 minutes, you came down, calm and even-keeled.  You proceeded to inform me that the problem is this:  After playing Minecraft (or other involved games), your brain continues to think about strategy.  And so basically anything that anyone says to you immediately post-game is an interruption of that strategizing, and it is met with agitated response.

BINGO.  Even I, with my hyper-analytical mind, had not come up with such a specific and ideal explanation of what was happening.  I had told you that I thought you were having trouble "transitioning from the screen world into the real world" but that I didn't know how to fully explain it.  That kind of self awareness is something that I've rarely, if ever, seen from you in 10+ years.  It's clearly a reflective skill marking a developmental milestone, and I'm so proud!  It feels similar to when you grew those amazing bottom teeth in your first year of life, and I documented them here as well, proudly. 

John-John:  Every year I think that you have become a cooler kid.  By the time you are 18 and ready to leave for college (OH GOSH: that's only 7 years away!!!), you'll be off the charts.  You came out of the womb a 9.5/10 (APGAR), and you're doing a bang-up job of maintaining your excellence in all of the important categories. 

We cannot WAIT to see what you do with all of your energy, ingenuity, self-awareness, and passion (as long as it does NOT involve punting your brother -- or any of his main body parts -- to Mars).  My daddy used to tell me that I was his "pride and joy," and I probably rolled my eyes ... but you, Buddy, are definitely my current definition of pride and joy, and I love watching you discover who you are becoming (and announce it to us) because it inspires me to be the kind of mom that can best support your efforts.

With all my love, hugs, and meat-finding fingers (I LOVE our inside joke!),