Sometimes it’s all I can do not to stare at you. It’s not because I’m weird (though I am). It’s not because I’m thinking that you need a haircut (though you probably do). It’s just that sometimes, just for a second, you look like the man you’re going to be instead of the little boy I’ve always known. Those moments are odd and cool and make me proud and curious, and then I look away quickly so you won’t wonder why your weird mother is staring at you. But if you ever catch me, now you know what’s happening.
I just really like watching you grow up.
Nine seems like an unremarkable number at first glance. Its only claim to fame is that it’s half-way to 18, but that’s pretty interesting when you think about it.
That’s you. Half-way to taking responsibility for yourself. Half-way to the person we’ll trust enough to vote and get a full time job and get a credit card (in that order please) and go off to college to live on your own. Half-way to a grown-up you.
That sounds about right.
You’re certainly getting huge, catching up with your big sister in size, soon to overtake her, if you didn’t already do that last night when I wasn’t looking. You’re getting steadier, too, learning to control your feelings where that’s what’s needed, like in the classroom and on the baseball field, and to let them go when that’s allowed, like while playing MLB15 on the playstation. Basically, your amazing brain has been tricking us into thinking you’re older than you are for a while now, and finally your body and your emotions are beginning to play catch up. I’m happy for you. It’s going to be a huge relief when things actually even out, and even though this is only the half-way point, 50% is worth a lot.
See there? One minute my boy with the gap-toothed grin goofing off with your friends and the next minute the deadly serious pitcher focused on nothing but the game and the task at hand. You are both of those people, not just now while you’re in the middle, but you are both of those people and always will be. I know that in the moment that you are being one, being treated like the other is unbearable. If I do it sometimes, it’s not because I don’t get it, it’s just because I can’t always keep track. I’m learning, but even the most flexible of mamas get whiplash sometimes. Bear with me, and resist the temptation to feel sorry for yourself. You are not misunderstood. You’re just the only one who is inside your own head. There’s a little lag time for those of us on the outside. Be patient, okay?
In spite of those frustrating moments, we’re having a pretty great time, aren’t we? I love doing things with you so much. No one does enthusiastic like you do. You are curious. You are interested. You are excited about life and the world. It makes me want to take you everywhere and show you all the things. These next nine years are going to be a blast.
And yeah, I know there’s going to be a time very soon when hanging out together is more fun for me than it is for you. I know you’d already rather be with your friends most days. I get it. It’s cool. It should be that way.
I’ll make you a deal. When you’re 18, I’ll send you off to have adventures with friends in far off places I’ve never been to. I’ll take my own trips with Papi and my other friends, and I’ll live my own life and let you have yours. But for the next nine years, your friends have to share you with me, okay? I get to be the one who takes you to Yellowstone and who shows you the Lincoln Memorial and who watches your face when you first step foot in Diagon Alley. I think that’s only fair, a little payoff for all the peanut butter toast I made and the puke I’ve cleaned up and the million times I read Hippos Go Berzerk.
So that’s about it, then. You’re getting to the age now where most of what you need to learn you’ll get from Papi. You don’t even know how good you have it there. Your Papi is the best man I know, and if you listen to him and follow in his footsteps, you’ll be well on your way to being the man you should be. There’s lots of room for being your own person and for walking your own path and hopefully for exceeding us in many ways, but trust me, son, if you want to know how to be a real man, the best kind of husband and father, just watch Papi. It’s all there.
My job, in addition to baking super awesome birthday cakes and making sure you shower regularly, is to show you what’s possible. That it’s possible to pursue your dreams and also be responsible. That it’s possible to ignore some rules but still follow the ones that matter. That it’s possible for someone (a girl, even) to beat you in an argument. That it’s possible that someone like that is more fun than someone who never does. That it’s possible to be okay even when it turns out you’re wrong. That it’s possible to respectfully challenge someone and that it’s possible to feel respected by someone who challenges you.
That it’s possible to be truly happy with someone who understands you and who never gives up on you and who never bores you, even if they do sometimes annoy you.
Happy birthday, buddy. Nine years with you have been awesome. I’m really glad I get nine more.
I couldn’t possibly love you more than I do,