It seems wrong, somehow, to call you Small Boy when you are all of eleven whole years old, but I’m not ready to give it up. I’m not ready to stop seeing the shadow of the toddler version of you—all dimples and roundness and wide grin—every time I look at you, either. Sorry. And I am definitely not ready to give up your standard retort to “Hello, Small Boy,” which is—of course—”Hello, Medium Mommy.”
Ten felt like a milestone to me. Eleven feels like a ticking time bomb; the countdown to middle school has begun, and you are still my small boy, still so far away from being ready for this next phase. I worry. A lot. And I know sometimes I don’t hide it very well. It’s only because I wish I could make the world an easier place for you, even though I know I can’t, and even though I know that if I could, you wouldn’t be the same you.
And you, Small Boy, are pretty awesome.
For everything I cannot fix or make the way you want it, there are a dozen smalls ways in which you are perfectly easy to please. Homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast? That I can do. And your reaction is worth the early alarm and pre-dawn kneading: You come downstairs with your hair sticking up in three different directions, still sleepy and warm, first folding into my lap for a snuggle, and then dancing around the kitchen while peering into the oven. A beater of frosting to lick is like winning the lottery, and when it’s finally time to tuck into breakfast you rave about how yummy it is and always, always remember to say “thank you.”
Cleaning out your room starts as drudgery and quickly turns into inspiration: Wouldn’t this friend enjoy that book? Might some children who don’t have many toys like to have this item? You are quick to suggest ways to share yourself, and your delight over having everything tidied up is matched only by your confusion when I cannot resist asking WHY it cannot STAY this way after we’re done.
You coax the dog up onto your bed, then whisper secrets into her ears while carefully rubbing her belly. You take her outside and scoop her food and throw her ball as many times as she’ll let you. Sometimes—in frustration—you’ll insist that the dog is the only one who really loves you, and Licorice will quickly take her cue and lick your face until you can’t stay mad.
This year you’ve taken steps forward and steps back and I never know from day to day or even minute to minute whether I’ll get regression or insight. The other day at Ikea you launched yourself on a rant that I felt sure would lead to a complete screaming meltdown, and I kept asking you to please stop and you kept on and finally I said, “I NEED YOU TO STOP TALKING NOW. You are hurting my feelings. Please just STOP.” You glared at me but closed your mouth, finally turning away but still fuming. We stood there, you and me, and I wondered if this was how it will always be, with you—a challenging outing leading to a not-unexpected struggle which ultimately becomes a random lashing-out at whomever’s handy (usually me).
Tears stung my eyes just as you leaned into me, ever so slightly, and said, “Sorry. I’m cranky.”
I kissed your head and gave you a squeeze and whispered, “I know. Thank you.”
“I love you,” you said, giving me a full-on bear hug, right there, right in the middle of Ikea, not caring who saw.
You are still such a small boy, with such a big heart.
Today you have delighted in your special breakfast, your presents, the impending joy of not only having a friend come over, but having “all these cool things we can build!”, and later, special dinner, and chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.
I am so grateful for the things I can do for you that make you happy. I’m so grateful that today is a good day. I’m grateful that you still fit in my lap, that you still laugh when I wipe frosting off your nose.
I’m grateful for you, Small Boy. Every day. Even on the hard days. Don’t forget. Even on the hard days, it’s not just the dog who loves you. I promise.
Happy birthday, my Monkey.