Today, you turned seven years old. I’ve been looking at baby and toddler pictures of you recently and sometimes I think you still look exactly the same, and other times I can’t believe how grown up you look now.
I probably say this every year, but I love the stage you’re in right now. You are becoming more independent every day, which means you are also becoming more helpful. And not just in the we-pretend-you’re-being-helpful-to-teach-you-to-be-helpful sort of way, but really, truly helpful. The other morning, you woke up early and I told you to go downstairs and turn on the TV for a few minutes until I came down. Instead of turning on the TV, you fed Rex (which required using a stool to get his food container from the top of the refrigerator). You filled his water dish and then took him outside to pee. We’d never shown you how to feed him or asked you to do that; you just saw he was hungry and wanted to help.
You are becoming quite the little athlete. You joined your first real soccer team this fall, and it is such a thrill for me and your Dad to watch you play. You have a natural talent for it, but you also work hard to improve. You’ve already gotten a reputation as being a solid defender and you made your first regular season goal last weekend, which helped your team earn its first win. It’s fun for us to see how you’re excelling at it, but more importantly, we love how you play with such focus and heart and how you support your teammates with an endless supply of high-fives and encouragement.
Hey, guess what? You’re finally slightly less obsessed with dinosaurs! For the first time since 2012, we’re going to have a birthday party that isn’t dinosaur-themed! This year, you’re all about Minecraft and Legos and video games and even a bit of Star Wars. You still want to be a paleontologist when you grow up, but you’re also considering becoming an inventor so you can invent cool dog contraptions of some sort for Rex, who you’ve already informed me will come with you when you move out.
That’s right. You’ve decided recently that you actually won’t live with me forever because you want a wife and kids of your own (plus Rex). You don’t intend to go far, though. Next door, maybe, or across the street. That way, you can still come for dinner anytime I make spaghetti, pizza or hot dogs.
Your creativity and imagination take my breath away. My favorite part of the day is when I get to flip through the school work you bring home. I glance at the assignments your teacher had you complete in class and then I turn them over. On the back of each one, I might find a beach scene or your own illustration of “Green Eggs and Ham” or dinosaurs hunting each other or, most recently, an elaborate fight scene that included helicopters, good guys, bad guys and laser guns. Sometimes I have to flip the sheet back over to make sure you actually completed the work you were assigned, but you always do. I imagine you rushing through it so you can flip it over and get to filling up that blank side.
You love books, you are naturally gifted math and you love to learn. You are curious and creative, you are impulsive and intense. You are harder on yourself than anyone else ever could be. You are sensitive and thoughtful. You are the kid who won’t tell me about his day until you’ve heard all about mine; “Tell me everything,” you say. You love celebrations of every kind. You are the sort of kid who wasn’t satisfied celebrating his father’s birthday for just one day this year. No, you insisted that for his “second day of birthday,” we blow up enough balloons so that when he arrived home from work, he entered not the sunporch but “Balloon World.”
You are so very social. You make friends absolutely everywhere you go. It’s a little mind-boggling to your parents who were both the very definition of shy introverts at your age. We sometimes watch you in awe as you gather all the kids together on the playground for a game; we look at each other and say, “Where did he come from?”
I don’t know where you came from. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be your mom. You once told me that before you were born, you picked me. “There was no other Mommy I wanted,” you said. And I sort of believe you; I know how tenacious you can be when you want something. I’m just so grateful the one you wanted was me.
There is one last thing that has to be said. This year, you once again welcomed a foster brother into your life; and once again, you had to say goodbye. Ry, I can never tell you how much I admire the grace, compassion, wisdom and strength you have shown to both of your foster brothers. I know these past few years haven’t exactly been easy. But the ease with which you love and accept children into our home is inspiring, and the depth with which you understand why we’ve had to say goodbye gives me some peace. One of these days, I hope we can grant you your greatest wish – a sibling you can keep forever. Regardless, I know there are two boys out in this world who are lucky to have had you as a “brother.”
Happy birthday, kiddo. I love you. Always, always, always.
Previous birthday letters to Ryan: