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The Magic and The Misery of Turning 11

2956539243I sent my 10-year-old to spend a few nights with her cousins.

Tomorrow I’ll get an 11-year-old back.

Nothing has really changed in the course of a day. You’ll be pretty much the same kid you were before. This growing up thing is so slow we barely see it. Over the course of this day and the next and the one after that… and pretty soon 365 days of barely noticeable changes leave their mark. This year, more than any other before, you will grow up.

Ten was a great year! You were still young enough to enjoy silliness, and insist your Dad piggyback you downstairs to bed each night, and draw pictures for me to put on my mirror, and tell me every detail of every thing that happened and how you felt about it and what you thought. You were old enough to watch interesting shows on TV I actually want to see too (like “Get Out Alive” and “Top Chef”), and make us laugh with your sly wit, and talk about things like the evils of marketing and consumerism and fair trade (or at least pipe in with a few thoughts before rolling your eyes). I’ve always thought of myself as a baby-person, but I think I enjoyed you as a 10-year-old, more than any other age!

I hate to say it, but… it gets complicated from here on out.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another “beautiful-changes-your-body-is-going-to-experience” talks (I know how much you enjoy those). That’s definitely part of it, but there’s more. Over the next few years your relationships – with friends, with your family and, yes, with boys *shudder* – will get more and more complex. Your choices and opportunities and temptations will get bigger and more important. Your feeeeeeeeelings…. oh, all the feelings… will get stronger and louder and more confusing and more exciting and more all-consuming. It’s horrible and wonderful all at once.

You’ll probably think I don’t understand and couldn’t possibly know how you feel and am so out of touch I don’t have any good advice left under my belt. Sometimes, you’ll be right.

But no matter what…
No matter how frustrated we are with each other
No matter how long we’ve talked circles around each other
No matter how busy, and distracted, and overwhelmed I am by all the other things in life

YOU are important to me!
One of the MOST important people.
One of my FAVOURITE people in the whole world.
And that’ll never change.
Because
nothing and no one can love you like I do!

So bring on 11. We’re ready for you.

Bring on the emotional intensity – because that’s something we already have in common. It’s exuberance, which makes us fun to be around… aaaaand it’s temper and overreaction, which is slightly less fun. Bite your tongue. Take a deep breath. Respond, don’t react. I’ll try to do the same.

Bring on the laughs and the silliness (because the best people never outgrow that entirely) and the subtle wit that comes with age (and all-around general awesomeness). Of all the qualities you have, your sense of humour is one I’m most proud of. It’s more than just fun – it’s an instant connection to other people and it’s an important coping mechanism when life inevitably gets hard. I’d just as soon send my children out into the world naked, than have them tackle adulthood without a decent sense of humour. One piece of advice about our favourite form of humour: sarcasm is like a strong seasoning; apply lightly and skillfully and it works, but too much, in the wrong time and place, leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. You are the Queen of Snark; wield it well.

Finally, bring on the social butterfly. You are already the only extrovert in a house full of introverts (since the 3-year-old doesn’t really count yet). I’ll admit, this isn’t something I understand or relate to. Much like you don’t “get” why we all like to stay home, or sit quietly, or be alone. On the other hand, you’re ALWAYS looking for a party. I’ll try to remember that you NEED a lot of people time and a lot of talking time… and a lot of me-listening-to-you time. At 11, I’ll enjoy the fact that you’re still happy to party here, at home, with us.

Bring on 11, with all the feelings and all the fun. You’re going to love it!
Happy Birthday!
Love Mom

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And now… a letter from Dad:

Dear C,

I’m writing this letter the night before your birthday, but you’re not going to receive it on your birthday. That’s because, for the first time ever, we’re not going to see you on August 20.

You’ve been away a lot this summer: camping with P… a week at summer camp… staying at Lake Okanagan for five extra days… and now a couple nights at Opa and Oma’s as you take on the role of Junior Leader for the second time this summer.

You’ve been reminding me all week that you only have a few more days of having to order off the kids menu at White Spot. But the truth is, you don’t have to remind me. I can see the evidence all around me: you are not a little kid anymore.

I see it in the way you care for the little ones – S and B, yes, but also your younger cousins, and the kids that you’re helping with at all these summer camps.

I see it in the jokes you tell – no longer silly kids’ jokes that I have to pretend are funny, but the kind of dry, sarcastic wit that I actually find hilarious (and that I like to think you got from me).

I see it in the books that you read, and in the movies and TV shows that we love watching together. I see it in the clothes you wear, and the wild colours in your hair.

I see it in the pictures that you draw – already easily the best artwork produced by any member of the family. I see it in your hip hop moves, and your courage in enrolling in the dance class that you don’t want to take, so you can take the one that you do.

I see it in the hours you spend texting your friend on your iPod – already.

When I see the young lady you have become and are becoming, I see my pride and joy. I see passion, I see persistence, and I see love. I couldn’t be happier with what I see.

Happy Birthday C!

Love,
Dad

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Winning the Parenting Game

It’s like hundreds of playground meetings I’ve had before. Sideways glances. Indulgent smiles at a stranger’s child.

“He’s adorable. How old? Is he your first?”

As we politely exchange information, the tone shifts. There’s an edge of competition. No matter what we talk about, she seems determined to ‘outdo’ me.

“How insecure she must be,” think I. “Who DOES this? It’s so silly.”

But I play anyway.

We’re toe-to-toe, with our kindest voices, and our saddest stories. Let the games begin.

I’ll see your three kids in three years and raise you four kids and a disability. Ha!

I win.

Or do I?

scoreboardI’ve been keeping score ever since my friend Emily Wigle got two more stickers in Sunday School than I did. We were three. And it stung.

It’s not just parenting, either. We play our triumphs and our tragedies like cards in a poker game. It’s how we (especially women) have lived for so long, it becomes second nature. How do I measure up? Where do I fit in the pecking order?

I find myself counting kids whenever we meet someone new.

Just the three. I win! My life is harder.

Expecting number seven? How do they DO that? What’s wrong with me that I’m so overwhelmed and I only have four?

At one point, I decided to factor the special needs into the count. I have four, but the two littles count for double. We’ll call it an even six.

Never fear; you too can earn extra points:

  • Dad or Mom travels a lot +1
  • Living in a small space (trailer, cabin, apartment, RV) +1
  • Maintaining your figure +2
  • Work full-time + or -3 (depending on my mood: if that seems like it would be an extra hassle or a welcome break)
  • Fishbowl existence (pastor, missionary, politician) +2
  • Children born within a year of each other +1/per or +3 for multiples
  • Mother-in-law lives with you +1
  • Hippie Bonus Points (grow your own food, make soap, sew, no TV) +2
  • Single Mom/Dad +1000

Because everyone knows that parenthood is all about keeping score. How many hours of labour? Are you sleeping through the night yet? How many words does she have? How goes the potty training? (At this point my eye starts twitching uncontrollably) Is he in any sports? play an instrument? performing in dance competitions? composing sonnets to her loving mother to post on her weekly blog about honouring parents and not getting married until she is 30 to the man whom her father chooses?

There’s no point in even playing with a single parent. If they manage to get dressed and out of the house, automatic champion.

The constant comparison is exhausting. And pointless. Nobody wins. That moment of feeling superior/busier/more-hard-done-by is so fleeting. Right around the corner there is someone who has more on their plate, or more accomplished children, or better hair and skinnier jeans.

How about we just agree: You have your life and I have mine.

I can celebrate your success and support you in your struggles, without making it about me. I can hear your advice, without feeling judged or defensive. I can make small talk at the park with a strangely insecure woman and let her one-upmanship roll right off my back.

Parenting is not a competition. When we make it one, we all lose. Plus, it makes the playground really uncomfortable.

So here’s me, trying not to be such a loser.


Age 12 and On the Threshold

Another beautiful birthday cake from Aunt Erin. Thanks!

12

We are teetering on the brink of Teenagehood. And it shows. Some days you could easily pass for 16. And others I find you still playing like a girl. There is something bittersweet about these threshold years.

It seems to be flying by. Even you have wondered at how quickly time passes this year. Trust me, it only gets worse the older you get.

I will miss the child you’ve been. Not my first-born, but my first-grown. My first panic about exactly the right baby food consistency and the proper potty training technique and how exactly to broach the subject of sex. My first vicarious thrill as you stuck your little toes in the ocean and met the “Real” Cinderella and fell in love with characters in a book.

Once again you are blazing a trail for your siblings. And strangely for us as well. We don’t always know what to do or say, if anything. And I’m pretty sure you’ll have a few things to discuss with your therapist someday. Whether it is because or in spite of us, you have become a lovely young woman. And we are so proud of you!

You are kind, thoughtful, easy-going, nurturing, gracious (with the glaring exception of your closest sister, hmmm…), intelligent, and talented. We hear all the time how mature and responsible you are. But the compliment that thrills me most, are the frequent ones about your gentle, loving spirit.

We see it everyday with your baby sister and your new brother. You are like a second mommy. And though we try to protect your own childhood, you (and your other sister) have eagerly jumped in to help out when we need it. You have been such a blessing to us this past year.

As you look forward this year and childhood fades behind you, I hope that you will use that analytical brain and extreme love of planning to prepare for life you want to lead. This is the time to make many important decisions which will carry your into adulthood. Who do you want to be? What will you devote yourself to? Where are your limits and boundaries? Who is your God?

We’ve made most these decisions for you as a child, but in the next decade we will slowly hand all the control over to you. It is not easy to step back, but we are not worried. We can already see glimpses of the woman God intended for you to be and we are thrilled with what we see.

The teens are an exciting, overwhelming time and there will be times when life and hormones and emotions may seem to overwhelm you. It’s easy to simply react. So many poor decisions are made impulsively, without the bigger picture in mind. Don’t let anyone or anything take your purpose from you.

Be calm and easygoing, but don’t be a doormat.

Be kind and thoughtful, but don’t be people pleaser.

Be nurturing and generous, but find a balance.

Be responsible and conscientious, but let other’s take the lead too.

Be creative and orderly, but get messy.

Be godly and devout, but open-hearted.

Be yourself, but try new things.

More and more our role is to be a consultant rather than a manager. We will always be here to listen and advise and pray and hope the best for you. You may outgrow stuffed animals and clothes bought in the children’s section and bedtime hugs and kisses (though you WILL continue to give them, for my sake if nothing else), but you will never outgrow your Mom.

I love you. I believe in you. And I am incredibly proud of you!

Happy 12th Birthday L!

Love Always,

Mom

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Happy 12th birthday, my almost-teenager!

It’s funny… as I sit down to write this letter, I realize that I’ve been thinking of you as older than you are. Truthfully, I have a hard time believing you still have another 365 days left of “childhood” before we officially enter a new era.

Today, you’re legally allowed to babysit for other families. You’ve been babysitting for us for a year already.

At the age when other dancers in your school graduate into the seniors’ class, you’ve been dancing with the seniors for two years already.

;

Though most parents would think of their 12-year-old as “one of the kids,” we think of you as a seriously contributing member of the family. Your return to school in a week and a half will not be a relief or a break for us; it will mean that our best helper is now away for most of the day, busy with school and dance and friends and youth group and everything else that fills this life that you’re building for yourself.

;

We’ve been spoiled by you this summer. Spoiled by your role as second mommy to The Littles, as you’ve selflessly cared for them and helped us manage the chaos of adding a toddler to the family. Spoiled by the joy it brings us to have someone else in the house that we can talk to at an almost grown-up level.

I hope you know that we appreciate all that you have given to this family this summer. I know there are times when we have been consumed by the chaos, and we have barked an order for you to “Watch The Boy!” as we have dashed off to care for someone that needs caring for, without a please or a thank you or an I love you. We’re big believers that, in a family, everyone is expected to chip in and do their share. But that doesn’t mean that we take it for granted that we do, or that we don’t notice and appreciate the sacrifices you have made.

Of all our kids, you are the one who was gung ho about adoption right from the start. You didn’t care what it might cost you personally; you knew there was room for one more in our family. You’ve backed that up since we brought S home, giving so much of your time and energy to be with him, and to help us wherever we need helping. I thank you, I appreciate you, and I love you. Again and again, I have told people that I have no idea how we would have survived the past three months without L and C. Your support has meant the world to us, and has given us a glimpse of the caring, generous young woman you are becoming. We couldn’t be more proud of you. Happy Birthday!

Love from,

Your Daddy


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