Nine Candles, Nine Exclamation Marks

Another year, even more proof that you’re no longer three years old, but rather 3². Though you’re anything but square.

How'd you get up there?

How’d you get up there?

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.

With your buddy, Wilbert, on your last birthday.

With your buddy, Wilbert, on your last birthday.

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.

On perhaps the one nice day for sledding last winter (the winter of our subzero discontent...)

On perhaps the one nice day for sledding last winter (the winter of our subzero discontent…)

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.

The great strategerist and work.

The great strategerist and work.

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.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In KY, post-cave tour...

In KY, post-cave tour…

Wildlife habitat in NC

Wildlife rehabilitation center in NC

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.

A pretty simple equation: where there is cake, there is Oliver.

A pretty simple equation: where there is cake, there is Oliver.

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.

Oliver, ever enthusiastic!!!

Oliver, ever enthusiastic!!!

The proud (and protective) big brother.

The proud (and protective) big brother.

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.

How can anyone help but feel happy when you're around?

How can anyone help but feel happy when you’re around?

And you do.

And you do.

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.

Categories: Ollie | 7 Comments

It’s a Tall Man’s World

I’ve had this post brewing for awhile. Like, at least a year. But: grad school. Life. Time-related excuses blah blah blah. Today, however, when I was enjoying some one-on-one time with my delightful youngest child, apple of my eye, I was reminded all over again how his eye(s) are very, very low to the ground.

Short Stack, he is short. Pretty darn short. Like, often-mistaken-for-at-least-two-years-younger-than-he-actually-is short. And between his unique combination of shorter stature and fierce independence lies a very large problem: nothing is made for him. He goes to the men’s room and comes out a moment later: “Mama, I can’t reach the soap.” This is the most hygienic six-year-old boy you’ve ever met…he sings ABCs AND Happy Birthday while washing his hands (much to the chagrin of his kindergarten teachers). So I have to lead him into the ladies’ room to boost him to a soap dispenser and sometimes hold him up at the sink, too. This while getting stink-eye from ladies who feel he’s too old to be in their domain. Well, guess what, ladies? He tried to do it solo in his own-gendered restroom (don’t even get me started on that one.) But apparently building architects/engineers don’t account for this quandry.

He is confident and polite enough to ask at a food counter for a cup for water, but adults often don’t see him waiting patiently to inquire. Then he cannot get the water himself, because again: too high. Today on our date he really, REALLY wanted to do the Freestyle drink machine on his own. One time an adult tried to reach over him from their place behind him in line and get their drink first because it took him 3 seconds to choose what soda he wanted. Then, later, when he went back for water he had figured out that there were buttons below, within his reach, intended for use by the handicapped customers. Clever boy! But again, a man behind us in line shot eye-daggers at me and sighed impatiently while Seth navigated the controls.

You know what? I don’t care. I give not one flying fig about these impatient, intolerant adults (and just who ARE these people, anyway?) and their huffing and their eye-rolling and their toe-tapping. I wasn’t always this way…with the older two, I was not so much more aware of others’ feelings about my tortoise children, but I was more sensitive to annoying them. I tried to rush my children along, or help them even when they were old enough to learn the skills themselves, to avoid inconveniencing people. But I have aged and mellowed myself; I have done my fair share of learning about what my children are learning at each stage of their development. And make no mistake…my child is building skills here, people. Independence and autonomy, verbal negotiations, and social skills that put the ungracious tall people to shame. When he opens his mouth and speaks to them, they are immediately disarmed. How old are you? they inevitably ask, awestruck by his vocabulary or his math prowess. But he doesn’t always get the chance to talk to them before they make up their minds that he is bothersome, and why should it matter? We are still doing a rather poor job of letting the little ones explore and do what they can on their own.

It made me think of something an elder at church recently confessed: she was upset that when she was a child, convention put the highest value on the elders and now that she was an elder, everyone thought the little ones were the ones to whom we ought to defer. I chuckled, and expressed my condolences, and I see her point. But I really *don’t* think we defer to our young people. Why do we continue to teach schools according to grown-up administrator’s standards and not to the needs and developmental appropriateness of the child? Why do we talk over their heads, ignoring the fact that they likely understand far more than we realize and dismissing their ideas when they try to insert themselves into the conversation? Why does my six-year-old need help reaching the gosh darn soap in every.single.public.bathroom? We systematically put things out of their reach, all the while placing such a high cultural value on independence and extroversion.

I think I notice it more with Seth than I did with the older boys, who were always extraordinarily tall for their age. Or maybe they were inclined to let me help rush them through things, not wanting to annoy others with their slower speed. Or maybe they just skipped the hand washing more often than I realized…but this is still a tall man’s world. So I’ll keep boosting, and bending to make eye contact, and allowing my six-year-old to hold up your beverage dispensing because he stood in line and it’s his turn, damn it. And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, more folks will be inclined to bring it down a level, or slow it down a notch, and see that there really is so much richness to enjoy in seeing things from a child’s perspective.

Categories: Mostly Me, Seth | 2 Comments