You’re 11 Today…
You are 11 today. And before long you’ll be 17 and then 24 and then older. And although I know I shouldn’t, I vacillate between being in this moment with you and wondering who you’ll be as you continue to grow. I can’t help it; perhaps no parent can. To wonder how to be the best parent for you and knowing how every choice we make impacts you; to worry or hope or, at times, stress unnecessarily over your development.
That’s why as I write this I can’t help but imagine the grown, adult you reading back over this blog, finding this and other posts and remembering your perspective. And I find myself writing to that version of you now.
Right now you are 11 but like no 11 year old I’ve ever known. You are an old soul and I sometimes have to remind myself that you are still young and that my expectations of comprehension or ability are not always realistic. You often grasp so much and speak so well that I forget my philosophical waxing may make little sense from your current vantage point on life.
At 11, you are always walking at least 20 feet ahead of us, eating your hamburgers with nothing on them and devouring twice as much as a grown man eats in a day. You are barefoot on rocks and over hot cement and through brambles, because nothing feel worse than wearing shoes in the summer. You can’t stand your hair curly and ask me several times a month how one goes about straightening it. You frequently stand tall in front of me to see that you are now up to my shoulders, my chin, my lips, my nose. You love mythology, gaming and, of course, Lego. You’re teaching yourself how to yield a long-sword and nunchucks and you hate your picture taken.
On a rare occasion I can catch you off guard and you’ll hold my hand or walk with my arm around your shoulders; usually you’re much too old for such a thing. But when it storms badly you’ll lay beside me in bed, while Dad checks the awning outside, with your thumbs in your ears and your fingers over your eyes and you’ll let me keep you safe from the thunder that rattles the walls. And when I ask politely and remind you that even I am not too old to curl up with Grandma, you’ll let me cuddle up beside you for no reason at all, although there is a reason, my own reason: I just want to hold onto this moment with you before it’s grown and gone.
Right now, not when you grow up but today, you are a sculptor, a def poet, an engineer and an artist. Yes, you who is self-critical and a perfectionist. You rarely will admit it but you are creative none the less. I can’t wait to see how you develop these talents or which new ones you discover tomorrow or next year or decades from now. I can’t wait until you embrace the idea that you are whole and passionate and can be amazing and influential at any age. Instead, in your difficult moments, you loathe and fear and tear yourself down with your words. I scramble to hold your pieces together for you, to counteract the harsh effect your own words have by describing the things I see in you: hard-working, invested, determined, strong, independent, talented, creative, funny.
Oh, you are funny. You practice this particular art daily, studying other comedians and their delivery, mimicking them: their expressions, their tones of voice. We find ourselves reminding you that most jokes lose their humor after 18 repetitions and that some are only funny because you would never dream of actually doing or saying such a thing off-stage and in real life. I have Zack & Cody to thank for many benign insults thrown our way. But I have you to thank for the laughter. (Just yesterday you chirped up a man wasn’t “losing a daughter”, he was losing his wallet. I nearly fell out of my chair.)
Right now, at 11, you are boisterous, loud and always moving. When we lay down to read you are putting your feet behind your head or flipping and catching pillows over mine. And it’s always just when I think you’re not listening to the story anymore that you ask what a word means or why a character did that. You find the holes and unexplored parts of the book or the movie impossible to ignore. When I want to finish a paragraph, you want to discuss plot twists and the author’s intentions and the very best I can say is that I have no idea why Rowling decided Voldemort should have seven horcruxes, instead of eight.
Right now, at 11, you are intelligent, inquisitive and a little fearful of it. You read well beyond your years, but you hate reading books yourself. It makes you anxious, as though some teacher may still be lurking behind the door ready to jump out and grade you. Numbers and words come easily to you unless you realize it’s “reading” or “math” and then your doubt fumbles you or halts you completely. I’m ready for those things to pass, for you to see no one is pushing or judging or insisting you perform; I’m hoping you can come to embrace life and learning to the extent we do. I know you’re not always there yet but I’m excited in the moments you are and for the time you always will be. That’ll be the day the world vibrates with anticipation of what you’ll do with all the power you find within yourself. That’ll be the day the universe unfurls at your feet and you finally understand what “limitless possibilities” really means. Until that day arrives, I’ll happily read to you. It’s one of my very favorite things to do.
Right now, at 11, you are intense. You often surprise people with your intensity and they don’t know how to respond or look at me waiting for an exaggerated response of my own. But I know your intensity and although there are many times it overwhelms me, I know it’s you needing validation in this moment for it to pass. I wish, at 11, you could see that too; that these things pass and that no single moment or emotion encompasses a lifetime, sadly even when we want it to.
Right now, at just 11, you are critical of the world. You seek out and find the injustice; you dwell on the imperfect. You insist on perfection and don’t understand it doesn’t exist. You decide what people think of you, what parents mean with their words and what some old guy at the store really thought about your not being in school at 11:30 in the morning and insist that most people are out to ruin things, especially things you love. I know these are important traits: it’s necessary to see what can be better in order to create change. But I struggle when it feels like pessimism or fear or comes out as anger. I want you to feel excitement over making changes, not condemnation over what needs changing. But those are my views and you are adamant in your own. And for that (and many other traits) I admire you.
Right now, at 11, you can be too much for me. You have a fire inside you fueled by anger, fear and insistence. I try to give you a new fuel every day, things like love, acceptance and confidence. Many days I fail. I constantly remind myself that your values don’t need to be mine, that my perceptions don’t need to be yours.
Yesterday we had a conversation. And although you usually resist such big, philosophical ideas of mine, this time you listened to what I have found to be my truth. I wonder at 17 or 24 or older if you’ll remember driving down a country road in a borrowed car speaking about growing older and living our passions vs “getting a job”. You worry that work can’t be fun, that growing up means doing things you hate for money. Perhaps that’s why you constantly challenge the necessity of currency.
I can’t blame you for feeling these things when 97% of the known population does the very thing you don’t want to do: grow up, put away their passions, get a job and complain about it until they retire. We want so badly to show you another way of life, which is perhaps one of the biggest motivators to our current one.
I knew when you came into this world that you came with purpose. And every day I think I see glimpses of it within your strong will and refusal to back down. Your confidence – the very confidence that lacks when you look upon your own creations – shines when you look upon the things with which you know you disagree. I see an unstoppable force in you, yes, even at 11. I see a gentleness, too. And I sit here wondering what it all means now and what it will mean for the adult you.
You amaze me, Zeb. And as imperfect as I am, I’m honored to be your mother. Happy birthday, baby.