Dear Leafy, (to my 13-year-old son)

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Dear Leafy,

When you have this expression on your face, we know the next thing that comes out of your mouth is going to be good.

Is the world ready for you?

You’re thirteen. (A sixteen-year-old, fourteen-year-old, and thirteen-year-old is a lot of teens.) 

Your hands, feet, and shoulders are bigger than any I have seen on a kid your age. I’m calling it: 6’5”. Let’s see if I’m correct. I’ve been taking a lot of photos and video of you. I want to capture you before you change. 

Here you are in this magical moment, living on the line between boy and man. You’ve traveled well this last year, blooming and exploding into confidence. You have a natural, lovely way of looking at the world, as if you expect it to offer you good things. And it does. It offers you humor, light, invention ideas, and new flavor combinations.

You love: creating food, seeing how things mix together, one-liners, Stephen Universe, singing and playing ukelele with Kenya, baking hard-tack or frying biscuits, and your family. You don’t love bees or being unsafe. You may be the one on the ground, telling the others to come out of the tree. You love justice. You hate injustice and you always have. 

We have some moon clay or something like that, that someone gave you for your birthday, and you brought it to me and said, “Look, Mom! It has almost no tensile strength but incredible compressive strength.” You love Science. You still walk in circles when you think. You don’t love it when someone interrupts your thought process. (Especially a younger sibling.) 

Also, you are hilarious. You always, always make us laugh, and your timing is amazing.

You’re just the most incredible kid. I really love you, Leafy. Life would be boring without you.

Love,

Mama

***

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Dear Solomon, (A letter to my ten-year-old son)

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My love, you are ten. Ten years ago, you were born during the monsoon in India, during stormy, dark, wet rain. A long labor and then there you were, a little piece of sunshine. 

This has been a good year for you. Friendships are deepening, your confidence is growing, and you’ve grown stronger in reading and writing. You started gymnastics and we were all a little shocked by your headstands and ability to do the worm all the way across the floor. Or fall back into a bridge. 

You’ve grown so tall. You’re all arms and legs and knees and elbows. You’re most often moving. Whirling, jumping, climbing, hopping.

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You love to cook, to dream, to listen to music. You love to dance wildly. You love playing the piano and drawing. The way to your truest heart is through beauty. You are transformed by a sunset or a perfect music score. Your favorite movie is Song of the Sea, and you are a little heartbroken that you will never be a Selkie. Or have a Night Fury like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. It hurts you that fantasy isn’t real. (It is, though we can’t see it in regular life.)

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You are very kind. From a rough little three year old, you turned into a boy who I couldn’t imagine purposely hurting another kid. (Besides perhaps your siblings because let’s be honest, siblings are like a pack of feral puppies.) You hate injustice and you are sensible and empathetic when it comes to treating people well. You have a longing to connect well with other people. It is beautiful to see.

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You climb into my lap at any opportunity. I keep you there as long as I can, and then I have to tip you out because you are gigantic and my legs fall asleep. I love that you love to cuddle. Part of your identity comes from being different from any other person, and I love that about you! Sometimes things get too conventional, and you handle it by shouting loud non-sequiteurs that help you feel the balance of weird with normal. We take them in short chunks, and then tell you to stop when it becomes too much. 

What would I do without your wild music running all through my life? You are a strand of something unconventional; pure art and dancing. You give me courage. You are most at home in a dreamy world, and it churns with life. I can’t wait to see what you will create.

I love you at ten. I’ve loved you all your life. I will love you forever,

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Love.

Mama

***

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Dear Leafy Boy (a letter to my twelve-year-old son),

Goofball on the left.

Goofball on the left.

You are twelve and that is impossible. My dear, shining glittery one. The two year old who used to tell us, “I have so much love in my heart for you,” in your funny voice. My quirky boy, walking on furniture, dreaming your heart out. Twelve years old. Okay, deep breath, how strange it is—simultaneously—that you weren’t there twelve years ago, and that you have been in my life twelve years. 

(End mother rant about time passing and age, the stuff your dad says, “Yeah, Rachel, yes, yes, they are older, it’s true, that’s how it works…” about.) 

Everyone should have a Leafy Boy in their lives. Here are some of the things a Leafy Boy offers in our lives. 

- Humor (You wanted to cut a slice of pizza the other day and asked, “Does anyone have a knife… or a sharp hand?” and we all died. It’s your timing, the way everything you say is unexpected and funny.) 

- Quirk (Life would be boring without our Leafy boy.)

- Encouragement (the amount of times I have heard you pipe up in someone’s defense lately… even if they are just down on themselves) 

- Someone to explain all the things, including scientific things, to me. Lately I ask you more and more, “Where did you learn that?” after you explain tesla coils, or electricity, or the way boats work. “I read about it,” you say. 

- Someone to hug me first thing every morning. We call it my Leafy Hug. “Here’s your Leafy Hug,” you say, as you come into the studio to greet me and the day. 

- Quiet inventions. I expect great things in the future.

- A constant, loyal friend. 

- A fan. (You asked me yesterday if we couldn’t just give the immigration officers signed copies of my books instead of doing all this work and paying all this money, as though I am a star.) 

- Someone who makes great videos.

 

It is the very Leafiness of you that I love so much, the way you take the world in, the way your heart works in compassion, the focus you have, your belief that you will be able to build anything and everything. Your life in superhero worlds. The fact that Naomi told you to sing a little encouraging chant (“Mama is awesome”) while shuffling sideways like a crab and clacking your hands, and you did it. More than once. I love seeing you walk along with your arm looped around your sister's neck, hers around yours. I love the way you exploded with joy when you found out that Auntie Becca is coming to India with us. You have a big heart. Goodbyes mean a lot to you, and so does time that we get to spend with people we love.

A friend of yours moved away this year and it has been hard for you. I long for you to find another friend like him. There will be one. I know it. One of the best things about the friend you had was the way his family took you in and enjoyed who you are. It’s what want for you, for others to get to experience what I know about you, to get the Leafy zing and sparkle. Your three year old cousin gets it. As she said the other day, "Leafy, your magic comes from your nose." I would have to agree.

I think this year is going to be amazing. I love to see you marching through the world, walking your circles, thinking your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear more of them. I am so so so glad to have you dear one. You have a place in my heart that no one else does.

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Love,

Mama

***

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Dear Leafy (A letter to my eleven-year-old son.)

And now you are eleven.

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Not possible.

But, somehow possible. Funny how time is like that, hm? Inexorable, I believe they call it. Or just real, a real thing that ticks along until babies are tall and wide shouldered, grinning and creative.

Every morning you come into the studio to say hi to me. I've been working for a couple hours and you have some questions for me. You might ask:

"Can I work on Omega 9?" (the video game you are designing with a friend)

Answer: "No, have breakfast first."

Or: "Can you make oatmeal?"

Answer: "In a minute, when I'm done with this scene."

Or you may tell me about your dream, or ask me a question about writing, publishing, designing, or whether we have milk and if you can have your friend Caelen over later.

Almost always, you are the first person I see in the morning. I love it.

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You are an eleven-year-old version of the sweet, kind, hilarious Leafy boy you've always been. You are handsome, giving, goofy, punny, and you are working on what seems to be stand up delivery. You are always surprising us with what you think of, what you say. The quirk bubbles out of you, and spills over onto the rest of us and makes our life more like an adventure. An adventure where we sometimes travel in Leafy's mind, which has a lot of superheroes and jokes that don't miss a beat.

You are inspired. The minute you wake up every day, you are thinking of what you will do that day: writing, reading, creating. You dream in class, you dream while asleep, you dream while walking, eating,  and when you are supposed to be doing other things.

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You are currently working on writing a book, creating a video game (the aforementioned Omega 9), a YouTube channel for gameplay, and a YouTube channel for animation. You never feel that you to be perfect at something before doing it, or making it public, and I think nothing will carry you farther in life than that; the ability to make something and pass it along, getting better as you go, without perfectionism.

You are kind, generous, and mostly easy-going. In the last year we've seen more of your temper than ever before, which is to be expected, I suppose. You're learning to control it, I think. It takes a lot, and a very certain type of thing, to rile you up. You have no tolerance for injustice, and you don't like being interrupted when you are deep in your thought world. (This one is hard in a big family.) You're amazing at drawing people in, making sure they feel included. You have no strict perimeters about who gets to be your friend. You're kind to young kids and sweet with adults. You have a bad habit of laughing while we're scolding you. But you are mostly a laughing boy, so I guess it makes sense. 

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You're a bit of a secret, I think. We don't know yet just how wonderful you are. We see glimpses all the time, but I believe some day we'll all be dazzled. There will be a flash and we'll be sitting there saying, "Did you see that? That was Leafy!" And we'll be telling everywhere we knew you when you were a baby.

I'll be the most proud of all. I love you and I have always loved you so much,

Mama.

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Dear Kai, (A letter to my fourteen-year-old son)

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Fourteen is tall, brilliant, handsome, and strong. You love reading, YouTube, roaming town looking for good smoothies, time with your friends, and playing pool. We play board games, and recently, while we were watching Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie, you paused it and asked with concern, "Are you sure you want to watch this? It seems a bit scary for you." (The answer was no, actually I didn't want to watch it. I left you and your sister to it.)

You tell the younger kids to give me a break sometimes, if they're all whining at me at the same time. You make lunch, or play with Isaac, or run out to get food from a street stall for us. You are right in the curve between kid and man. Playing, reading, lounging, then jumping up to help. You are thoughtful and sometimes oblivious. In the circle at Shekina Garden, where we ask questions, I always love your answers. One day, the question was "what was something you really, really looked forward to?" You told everyone that it was Isaac being born. (Melt.)

The other night we were buying street food for dinner. Isaac and Kenya and I went to a noodle stall and you and the other boys went to buy shawarma. When you came back, you realized the man hadn't understood your order and had only given you two. You didn't even hesitate, you gave the shawarma to your brothers and went to make yourself an omelette. It's like this, one minute I'm wondering whether you really see outside yourself, the next, you're doing something so effortlessly thoughtful that I'm certain you do. 

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Because it's not always easy these days.  It begins. You test, I push back, you prod, I snap. I know you deserve a mother ten times as good, ten times as patient as you figure out your frame, your outlines, the things that make you, you and me, me. I know it! I wish you had someone without any ego at all, as you push at the boundaries of this relationship.

 But you have me, and I guess this is what it means anyway, because none of us find ourselves in a perfect landscape photo, empty of conflict or other people. We learn to navigate by bumping into things, and sometimes it feels like we are in the dark. (But I love you, this dark is full of love for you.)

 We circle around one another, finding ways to connect. I'm learning when to cut conversation off and when to listen harder. (Both are important parts of this.) Why we do the things we do is not up for discussion every single day. It can't be, if we're going to stay sane. But I'm happy to discuss the world, God, science, why art is important, your favorite movies, your latest blended milk drink concoction.

 The tapestry of my parenting feels more full of holes than ever, and I have never been more thankful for your father. We are doing this together and in many ways he is more suited for your questions, your pushing. You have other adults in your life, and you need them.

And God fills the holes, he breathes in them and you grow and grow and your mind amazes me even as it infuriates me with its wild logic. You are boy, you are becoming man. You were my baby and you will always be my son.

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Love, Mama

PS: If any readers are interested, here is the first letter I wrote to Kai on this blog, ten years ago, when he was four.