Today is Little Dude's birthday. Only, he's not so little anymore. He's 7. This means he's lost all traces of his baby belly and chubby cheeks. He is all coltish legs and angular features and perfect skin. He is energy trapped in human form. He chafes when I hover and ventures into the world instead of always clinging to my arm. He can read, write, add, subtract, walk to his friend's house, get his own breakfast and make his own bed. He has preferences and peculiarities. If seven is the number of deadly sins and years of bad luck for breaking a mirror, it is also the number that reminds me that my son is no longer an extension of me, but a person in his own right.
Every year I write him a letter on his birthday to try to capture what he's leaving behind and what lies ahead. The letters imperfectly capture his life as I see it, but I hope if he ever wants to look back on these years, they'll be here for him.
Dear Little Dude,
Today you are 7 and I am amazed. You don't know this, but every night I check on you before I go to sleep, and last night, I stared at you for an hour because I cannot believe how big you are. Of all of the things in my life, you are the thing of which I am most proud.
You have changed from a big, pudgy, joyful baby into a tall, skinny, joyful boy. You are kind. You are funny. You are gentle and loving and decent. You are mischievous and happy and exuberant. You say "Hey Mom" at least 100 times a day, and most of the time I can't wait to hear what you have to say (although 10 percent of the time I pretend I can't hear you because I just need a break).
Six was the era of pretend shaving, mediocre tooth brushing, Pokemon card games with no rules, whining, dramatic playdates, Playmobil everything (although to be fair, that was also 4 and 5), lost teeth (including two to an errant lacrosse ball), hesitant questions about Santa's existence, locker room hijinks, first grade, helping (even when it meant cleaning out the neighbor's chicken coop), requests for "alone time" and permission to cross the street without an adult (always denied, sorry), the color red, holding the vomit bag in the car by yourself, discovering the world outside of PBS, an aversion to bathing, drawing pictures, sending your brother to college, feeling left out, being brave, failing and trying again, reading, New Year's "revolutions" and learning that it isn't always about you. It was a hard and wonderful year. I expect this one will be, too.
At the threshold of 7, you are full of opinions and good will and curiosity. You are gregarious at home, but shy around people you don't know. You are bright, even as you make up words and phrases with abandon -- "The dog is getting lick on me" and "I don't know what these words say, they're in curse" being two of my favorites. You are stubborn and sensitive in equal measure. Quick to forgive, you are also easily frustrated and sometimes selfish. You are eager to have friends over, but struggle to share when they're here. You are independent. When you were 2, I once watched you walk into the other room to play. As you left, you held up your arm and said, "Bye, Mom. I'm playing. You're on your own." I was thrilled at this expression of autonomy, exulting in a few moments of time to myself. I'm more ambivalent now, perhaps because these incidents are more common. You need me less and that's as it should be, but I can't say it doesn't make me wistful.
You've become a real boy.
But even as you shed babyhood, ready to embrace the dirt and roughhousing and toughness of the life of boys, I am grateful that at your core you are warm and loving and affectionate and patient and optimistic and un-jaded. I cling to what might be our last year of evening snuggles, and hugs and kisses to make skinned knees better, because this softness is what makes you you. I hope you never lose it. People will tell you to toughen up, get over things, and be a big boy, but on the cusp of a new year, I hope you ignore them. I hope you stay compassionate and kind and vulnerable, even though I know it will make things harder for you at times. I love you exactly as you are. We could work on the bathing thing, though.