You’ve now been twelve for three weeks. It has been a long time since I managed to post about you for your birthday, because funnily enough, it always falls at the busiest time of year. I am determined to write – and finish – this post, so that someday (if you ever read this blog, if blogs are still a thing) you will know that your birthday posts didn’t cease because of any lack of adoration on my part. I adore you now as much as I ever did. I think every day about the things that make you you, the things I appreciate about you as a person, and as part of our family.
Twelve is a special number, in my mind. In a way, it’s the last year of true childhood. Especially because age twelve, for many children around here, including you, signals the end of Elementary School. You just had your official “graduation” on the 22nd, and yesterday was your last actual day of Grade 6. You’ll be leaving the safe cradle-school you grew up in for the last six years. You will go to a new school next year, as an Intermediate. You’re definitely not a little kid anymore.
Is it obvious and/or inevitable that I feel deep pangs about this? Probably.
It’s a function of this time in history that parents tend to be all up in their kids’ business. Unlike kids at other times and in other places, you aren’t already preparing to take over the family farm, and you won’t be (nor have you ever been) going to boarding school, and we don’t have a nurse or nanny or governess (we’ve barely even had babysitters that weren’t family). There just isn’t a lot of distance or detachment yet. I’m afraid this means that I’m not only highly invested in your life, but I also feel a certain amount of entitlement about it. (Which doesn’t seem quite right, now that I write it down.)
Sometimes I try to figure out what it is that makes it hard for many parents to see their kids grow up. Why does it hurt? Shouldn’t it really be joy? After all, the alternative is not seeing you grow up… which would be infinitely more painful.
But there is a sense of loss. It does feel a bit like I’ve lost many previous versions of you, E, because of how quickly you grow and change, shedding parts of your identity. And the parts that develop in place of what’s fallen away… I simply don’t know them as well. For many reasons. You don’t necessarily want me to know everything, and that’s perfectly appropriate. We each have our own lives – as opposed to when you were a tiny person and our whole lives were wrapped up in each other. And of course, that’s what I want for you. Daddy and I both (wistfully) rejoice over your increasing independence.
This morning, for example, you went on an epic multi-hour bike ride with your friend – and no adults. And I think back to your balance-bike days and how ready you were to go down the hill at top speed without me.
Whoops, I’m waxing nostalgic. Sorry, kiddo, it appears that your mom needs to process a few things – this is what happens when she neglects to write birthday posts for you for way too long.
This is about you. Perhaps someday you will find it interesting to have insights into your younger self.
So what is 12-year-old you like?
You are smart, freckly, and, at the moment, very shaggy (as is everyone – pandemic hair). You take long walks and bike rides, most often by yourself. You love (and miss) the company of your friends. You have a special, intense affection for your pets (currently Ramona the cat, and Millie, Sandy, and Shya the rats). You accidentally hurt yourself more than anyone I know. You have a musical ear that you don’t often use. Your current favourite phrase is “load of pish-posh.” Your favourite colour is indigo (though purple will do – you are happy with your new purple shoelaces).
You do well in school without trying very hard. When it comes to chores, you will do as little as you can get away with. When it comes to a project on something that fascinates you, you will spend as long as it takes to do the topic perfect justice. You seem, almost always, not to mind how people see you – which is amazing. You insisted I send the weirdest photo we have of you to the yearbook committee – and you were disappointed that it wasn’t included (although the one that was included is a great picture). The one time you seemed self-conscious was when I made you wear a button-down shirt to your mini-graduation moment at school – you complained that shirt buttons are not “chill”.
Daddy and I were proud to read about how your teacher sees you, especially during this aggravating year. In your report card she described you as respectful, insightful, and curious, with a “diplomatic disposition” that helps you to bridge gaps between group members “using logic”. What a delightful thing to read – a glimpse into that part of you that we don’t get to know, the E that I’ve often wished to witness as a fly on the wall.
She has also noticed “a quick wit and a great sense of humour.” We know – you make us laugh out loud all the time with your improvised wordsmithery and your unique perspectives – which have always been part of you. (Often mentioned in birthday posts of yore – here are the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh birthday posts if you’d like to corroborate.)
My ongoing list of funny things you’ve said – just a tiny fraction of the total – has not been blogged for many years. Let’s take a look back for a moment…
After moving into our house in 2015: “I wonder what it’s like to be a pocket door.” (The kitchen has one.)
“I’ve forgotten my hunger, like a hobbit.” (I had recently read The Hobbit to you and your sister at bedtimes, although she had slept through most of it.)
“Just let me think about this, and do my process of unspeakable math.”
Around age 7, when your little sister brought up “the olden days”: “Well, I think you’re talking about the olden days when people drove only old-fashioned cars, and mostly lived in huts, and hunted moose.”
Age 9, hoping to get back to your computer slide show even though you were supposedly not feeling well: “My ear still hurts a bit, and my tummy isn’t quite normal. And I feel an increasing ambition to do some more backgrounds.“
I wrote a little list one morning, this past year sometime, when you had used the words gallivanting, cognitively, befuddled, and panache, all before leaving for school.
And just a few weeks ago, there was this conversation, pertaining to the ability to eat food with your new braces:
Daddy: “What you need to do is learn to eat cereal with milk in it. Then it gets nice and soggy.”
You: “Daddy. That’s basically the devil’s soup. We don’t speak of that in our sacred community.”
Then just the other day, during breakfast, I made some urgent noise because I was sure you were about to drip peanut butter somewhere far from your pancake, and you said calmly, “Mama. I can handle this. Besides, breakfast is supposed to be intense and heartbreaking… a journey, with lots of action.”
To go with your love of words, there is a revulsion that you sometimes claim when you hear a new word or phrase and it strikes you as uncool. You get indignant, offended. “NO. Just… no. That word is ALL WRONG.” Once, your sister made up a little sentence with all of your current un-favourites, just to see your reaction: “I have an inkling that you’ll chunk it up into a tizzy of nubbins and tomfoolery.”
As you can see, just listening to you put words into sentences is pure entertainment when you’re on a roll.
On the other hand. *Ahem.* Let us remind ourselves that you are twelve at a time when we have been living in pandemic conditions for over a year. Until now, you could say that not every 12-year-old already had an existential crisis under their belt (and I wish no 12-year-old had one) – and now, here we are. It has not been easy for anyone. Stress levels have been high. Online school has been less than ideal. Consequently, during your twelfth year, we have noticed that some things about you are difficult:
The big frustrated sigh when we ask you to fulfill your regular responsibilities, as though we were asking the world of you, or nagging your head off.
The fact that I kind of do have to nag your head off about many things.
Figuring out where appropriate lines of independence lie when it comes to screen time – recognizing that online school has mandated a lot more screen time than I would ever have wished for you. (That’s a whole other blog post.)
Frequent hostility (sometimes warranted, always returned) toward your sister.
A general apathy (and sometimes antipathy) toward most things that aren’t video-game related – not always, but enough that it scares me.
These things might all have still been true without the pandemic. You’ve never been a huge fan of school anyway; you’ve never been much of a morning person either. You know how to do joy, but you also show early indicators of being a li’l curmudgeon-in-training.
There was a point this year when Daddy wondered aloud where your sweet side went. Thankfully, I know that it didn’t go anywhere – it’s just a bit muffled and tangled up in other things sometimes. Daddy had, until these last few weeks, been working overtime for many many months in a row, and just hadn’t had as many of those chances to connect in moments of calm. We still laugh pretty often, especially at meals, thanks to our senses of humour being all on the same wavelength. You and your sister still play together beautifully some of the time. (Your favourite activities right now are Mad Libs and “Serve the Kitchen”, a trampoline ball-game that you invented together.)
And I still come see you to “tuck you in” almost every night, and that is when you are at your sweetest. You give me hugs and kisses, tell me things with sleepy frankness, and try to induce me to stay by cuddling my arm, just the way you did as a wee thing. (You would keep me, or at least my arm, all night if you could.) As always, you do not hesitate to say I love you – prompted or not. And you still give lovely hugs. Your head is past my shoulder, but you are still shorter than I am, thank goodness. I wonder if that will still be true next year.
And just today, at the park, we got out of the van and you took my hand. You still just do, sometimes. It never fails to amaze and humble me (although I am always outwardly casual). I don’t know whether you think about doing it, or even notice, but it reassures me. I can’t help feeling that as long as you can still take my hand, or hug my arm, or let me put my hand on your cheek, we will be fine.
I love you, cherished boy. It’s an honour to be your mama.