Another year, even more proof that you’re no longer three years old, but rather 3². Though you’re anything but square.
We’ve had quite the year together. In fact, it’s pretty difficult for me to write this letter to/about you this year because there are a lot of very grown-up feelings involved in how your ninth year has gone down. I’m aware that, as you get older, there are appropriate places to process such things (with trusted friends and family, for instance) and inappropriate ones (on the internet). I would simply say that every second we’ve spent thinking about you and advocating for you, about how to help support you as you grow into your best self, has been so worthwhile. We’ve done a lot of work, with helpers, and I don’t regret a moment of it. But most of all: YOU’VE done the work.
You are basically my role model for living, because you find a way to be joyful and compassionate even when things are hard. It’s amazing to watch you go through a mental process, trying to reconceptualize one thing into a new something, knowing that even the small paradigm shifts can be arduous (for me, anyway). You have proven time and again that, with some proper time and space for recalibrating, you can and do meet changes with grace and good cheer. Do you have any idea how rare and wonderful that is? I don’t know if you do, but I’m going to keep saying it forever and hope that you will, someday.
A few traits have emerged this year that we either didn’t see as much in the past, or they have just started to look differently as you’ve grown. For one thing, you love to play games. LOVE. And you are quite the little strategist. Most recently, this has kindled a desire to master the game of chess. You played Boompa on Thanksgiving, lost graciously, but even though you’ve played probably 10 games so far in your life, Boompa even had to admit: “He’s good.” Whether it’s in chess, or other games, or simply in life, you’ve started to think a few steps ahead of the present moment. For someone who previously lived only in the realm of this! very! moment!, this is something new and exciting. Cause and effect are no longer a momentary experiment, but have become a concept to premeditate. That’s been huge for you.
I want to be clear, though: you have not lost your sense of fun. You’re still my exclamation-mark kid. Maybe I should have named you !!!!!! instead of Oliver. It was especially fun to travel with you on our big family road trip this year, because every day was a new adventure that you embraced whole-heartedly. I don’t think you complained of boredom except for maybe once in a whole two-week period of constant driving. You were adaptable to whatever came our way, you ate with vigor (well, that’s a given), and you tried new things with a spirit of curiosity. At the end of each day, you expressed how much fun you’d had, and were grateful. You remarked on the new things you saw along the way with a sense of wonder. Basically, you are the perfect travel companion.
When we meet new people (or people we don’t remember since the last time our paths crossed), you are the first to approach with a hand extended in welcome, introducing yourself and asking about your new friend. And if they have food they’re willing to share or an electronic device you can watch them play, so much the better.
You have also really come into your own as the middle child in our family. We often reflect with you that you have a very unique place in our unit, because you are both a little brother and a big brother at the same time. As Maxwell has gone on to middle school, you have stepped into a more active “big brother” role with Seth. You are attentive and protective of him on the bus and in the halls of elementary school. You have more of an interest in trying to play with him at home, too, even though it is sometimes difficult with him. You keep trying. After a more resigned first 6 months or so of your year, you’ve regained your confidence and your persistence. I didn’t realize how much I’d been holding my breath over it until the time I recognized it had returned. Your positive spirit, it has returned. And we are all better for it because, quite frankly, you show us all how it’s done.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you are brave. You are brave to love, with an open heart, every single person in your life. Sometimes you get hurt in the process and, as your mom, I feel a tug to protect you. But you have shown me something this year: I can’t, and I shouldn’t, shield you from that potential hurt at the expense of you putting all that beautiful love out there into the world. Yes, some people (even some kids!) are jerks and they will take advantage of your kindness. They will tease, or steal, or push. But I see that you gain more by universally spreading your love and enthusiasm than you lose. If someone missteps, you have learned to simply say “no”, or take a step back, but you don’t rescind your love and respect for them. How were you born with such wisdom? I don’t know, but I see it is your gift to me, and to the world.
I celebrate today the anniversary of the birth of your big, beautiful heart into this world. I am grateful for it every day.
Happy birthday, Oliver.