Dear Solo, A Letter to my Eight-Year-Old Son.

Dear Solo,

Now you are eight. Let me just say that if I had known that the person who was the wildest baby/toddler of the family would become the most sensible one day… well, I wouldn’t have done anything different, because I’ve enjoyed you in all your different forms. Even walking the coconut grove at night with you when you were an infant. 

You are such a wonder, my son. Your dad and I marvel over you at night, when you are asleep. Your sweetness, your handsome face, your love for your siblings. We have to be careful with what we tell you, as you’ll take it very seriously. Suggest that as Isaac’s older brother you can gently guide him? YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF HIM ALL THE TIME FOR INFINITY DAYS, NO MOM, DAD SAID HE HAS TO LISTEN TO ME. With ideas, you’re like a dog who gets a bone in his teeth. Not a flattering image? Okay, you’re like Einstein, or any once misunderstood genius who pressed on forever until he finally found the perfect way to express himself.

We’ve always known that you prefer to teach yourself, ever since you were three and we first tried to teach you your colors and you were so certain that yellow was actually blue. And maybe that’s why the whole world seems to be breaking open for you, fourth, beloved child. Because you can teach yourself music, you can teach yourself to cook things, you can climb anything, you can watch videos to teach yourself contact juggling. You don’t have to wait for people to tell you things you wish you already knew.

Let’s talk about music for a second. You love music, and the best thing is, you love making music. As soon as you saw your dad’s new trumpet, you said, “I want a trumpet!” And then you tried it, and you could play it. So we got you one for your birthday, and you picked it up after you unwrapped it and played everyone Happy Birthday. Like a little trumpet genius. (I know, I know, I’m your mom, but it's true!)

I’m just so proud of the way you persevere, Solomon, my monsoon baby. You laugh off being the only one on your own team, you fight back when you’re feeling stepped on, you get up in the morning and pull out your school books to work because you prefer to do things without being told. I can see it taking you far, kid. You dance with crazy abandon, you make little kids laugh with your crazy sense of humor, and your mind is full of intricate, wonderful things. 

I have this one memory of you from your birthday party. Well, many, including each time you had pure delight in your face with each present that people gave you… unedited delight. But then you opened the present that was the big teddy bear your dad for you. I’d had words with him earlier. I knew you asked for it but I wasn’t sure whether you would be embarrassed to open it in front of everyone. He didn’t think so, and he was right, because you said, “Yes!!” and then you turned to the room at large and said, “Leafy’s not very snuggly, so I need something to snuggle with at night.” 

I love you, kid. Never stop being you. 

Love, Mama

 

Dear Isaac, (A Letter to my 3-year-old son.)

Dear Isaac,

You are three years and three months old, and you are the funniest little boy I know. People often say that it is right that your name means laughter. How can I describe you? You are tough, soft, dancing, stubborn, you love beauty and fruit, you insist on your own way. You are excited by life, you sometimes confide in strangers and sometimes scowl at them.

You were bitten by a dog in a bus station the other day. None of us saw you walk toward it, thinking it was another dog, and getting a bite on the cheek for trying to pet it. A sudden scream and you ran toward me with blood on your face. We taped you up, got you on the bus, and six hours later, we went to the hospital in Chiang Mai. You were very brave. You got two shots, one in each arm, before they injected your face and you decided that you had had enough. It was hard to watch you being sad and getting injections, but mostly I was proud of you, because you were so courageous, so fun, so interested in everything, (you sat up on your gurney at one point and asked, “Mama, why do these neighbors have medicine?” and I really had no idea how to respond to that) and so full of life and sweetness. You told me that coconut is better than any chocolate. And then we walked out and caught a red truck to get back to our hotel and go to sleep.

You are very quirky. You get places mixed up. You get the words, Hospital, Hotel, and Hotsprings mixed up. So sometimes I say, “We’re going to the hospital,” and you jump up and down and cheer. Because you think we’re going to the pool and hot springs and you’re going to get to swim. 

You get bigger places mixed up too. 

A while ago you said, “In America, there are a lot of chickens and dinosaurs, and the road is broken.” I blinked at you. “Are you talking about India?”

“No! America!” 

“Are you talking about Chiang Mai?” I pushed.

“No, America!”

Okay.

Or people, and relationships.

“What’s a wife?” you asked me.

“A wife is…” 

“No! Kenya said a wife is… Uncle Neil’s wife is about… Auntie Ro. Uncle Brendan’s wife is about… Auntie Leaf. Uncle Josh’s wife is about… Auntie Omi.” 

“That’s true.” I said.

Kenya filled in, “And then he asked, is Jazzy’s wife Elkie?” 

We laughed and said, “Elkie is Jazzy’s sister. Jazzy doesn’t have a wife, just like you don’t have a wife.” 

“I do have a wife!” he said. “My wife is in America.”

Hmm. 

Practical life with you can be an exercise in patience.

“I will brush my teeth by myself.” 

“Okay.”

“After I do my breathing.” 

And then you proceed to do some very interesting breathing exercises, as though you are going to give a speech or try to make your way through a difficult childbirth.

Time is also a bit difficult. Everything in the past for you is Yesterday. “Yesterday I was a tiny baby.” “Yesterday I was in India.” 

You are learning letters, and can tell us the letters on packages you find. “Why does this say K-L-I-M?” you asked the other day, about a box of soy milk that you found. 

You have learned to swim. You taught yourself. You kick your feet and dive down, learning to love the feel of your body moving through water, the way the water holds you up and surrounds you. And I watch you swimming, and you come grinning toward me with your face wide open in smiles, your dimples, your little fish body, and I feel so much love for you. We have a favorite game, one we play when you are being "a trial." 

"I love you when you're happy and when you're sad," I say.

"And what else?" you ask.

"When you're sleepy and when you're excited."

"And what else?" 

"When you're mad and you're sweet. I love you all the time."

"And what else?"

The game goes on, and it will always go on.

I love you Isaac, my little bear,

 

Love,

Mama

Dear Leafy, (A Letter to my ten-year-old son.)

 You are ten years old! TEN YEARS OLD! Somehow, despite the fact that your brother is thirteen and your sister is nearly twelve, you are the one that I can’t believe is still growing. What happened to the Leaf Baby? What happened to the little boy who used to rub mango all over his face like it was some sort of facial mask? The boy who fell face-first into a cow pie or who used to wear a cape 24/7? 

Wait—he’s still in there. Yes, he’s there, the little crazy Leafy boy.

“Oh, Leafy.” We say it a lot, dear one. Because you are always surprising us. Your mind is a wild jungle that has amazing fruit, and occasionally you bring it to us as a little gift, as though to say, “Here is something odd and delightful.”

You love to cook, and you especially love to come up with sauces and concoctions that you call SIM. (Stuff I Made.) You come to me every day to ask me if you can make some SIM, which at the moment is something made with milk and yogurt and jam, which you freeze and eat like ice cream. You have made your own, crepe-like, pancake recipe. You make salad dressing and something we call Leafy sauce, which is a pancake topping so delicious that I’ve seen your dad eating it out of the bowl. (Butter and honey and lemon.) If I tell you that I don’t want you in the kitchen at that moment, it is a little bit as though your life is coming to an end, that’s how much it means to you. 

You’ve also started to make movies, recently. I watch them and am in awe, though they are still very simple. But they come out of you, someone I MADE, so you can understand my feelings about them. I especially like one you made recently, called, Dinosaur Chase which involved many creative shots of you leaping over things and coming to the camera all shaky, running from an unseen foe, and also a shot of you journaling about it with a voiceover at the end. SO GOOD. It’s as though you have no limits. You look at what you have and then you start to make something with it. You come up with your ideas on your own and figure out what you need. You volunteer to go to the store to buy things if we have run out of something you need. You’re a starter, kid. It’s a good way to be.

You read voraciously. You are kind. I might come out of the studio and into the kitchen to find you making breakfast on a tray. “I’m bringing Kenya breakfast in bed,” you will say. Just because.

And funny. Oh my goodness. Nothing can knock your dad out of his chair with laughter like a Leafy statement. You are hilarious. 

Here’s a tiny example of a very normal interaction between you and me. The only thing I can’t insert is your timing, your incredible intonation and the way you tilt your head and move a little jerkily, in your own way, all your own.

Leafy: (As we are eating nachos with salsa.) “I see you made your old fluffy salsa.”

Mama: “Yeah, I didn’t mean to. I think I ran the blender too long.”

Leafy: “I like your old fluffy salsa just the same as I like your other salsa.” 

Mama: “Oh. Thanks!”

Leafy: “It’s just like how I like Kai and Kenya the same, but different. I wouldn’t want to only have one of them for a really long time and never seethe other one for a really long time or ever again.”

Mama: “…”

Here’s another from the other day. I was dealing with a tantruming Isaac in my room and you came in, threw your hands up, and announced, “I don’t know if this is a good time, but I have diarrhea!” And then you left. And dear one, for the rest of my days, I will treasure you at ten. And I hope your belly feels better soon.

You were a Tauntaun from Star Wars for a parade down the beach recently. :)

You were a Tauntaun from Star Wars for a parade down the beach recently. :)


Love,

Mama

Dear Kenya,

We went out for dessert on your birthday, at a restaurant where your dad was playing music. The two of us sat in the resplendent wing-backed chairs (perhaps the only two wing-backed chairs in this part of Thailand) and chatted while we listened to Chinua play. You broke into applause after every song, causing the other diners to also stop what they were doing and applaud. At the end of the evening your dad playing "Isn't She Lovely," by Stevie Wonder, dedicating it to you. You sighed and wiggled and grinned. "He always plays this when I come here," you said, perfecting content in a little circle of love.

All day, you said, "People are so nice, people are being so nice to me." You said it as Naomi lit candles for you and Ro and a visiting traveler wove a crown of flowers for your head. It was such a simple birthday; no presents, we hadn't had your party yet. Just a day to remember that you were born, with a crown of flowers and candles in the cake we ate for community lunch. But you have always received the simplest things with joy. If you have a handful of clay, you are happy. All you need is a bit of something you can sculpt and bake in the sun, you don't need much, my love. And if people are kind to you, you are receiving a little of how people feel when you are so kind to them, when you make them gifts with your hands for goodbye presents, or do small things to make others feel better. 

Once, a traveler asked me if I get used to how beautiful you are. It was a funny question, especially asked right in front of you. And I guess the answer is yes, your face is more familiar to me than my own. But I never get used to the fact that your inner radiance shines brighter than your physical self. That is the gift we have all been given in you. You are an animal rescuer (most recently you have been nursing two baby rats), lover of justice, defender of the small. What a thing to be.

As we sat in our wing-backed chairs, you turned to me.
"Thank you for making me," you said. 
"You're welcome," I said. "But I didn't really make you."
"No," you said.
"I built you," I said. "No, that's not right. I was your house, while God was building you."
"Yeah! You were my house!" 

We sat and chatted for a while longer, you sculpted a bird with the malleable eraser that you always carry with you. A bird with one wing outstretched. And suddenly you lunged at me in a sprawling hug.
"Can you be my house again?" you asked. 
I squeezed you really tight.
"I will always be your house," I said.

Dear Solo,

The other day you came with your dad and I, to Chiang Mai, all by yourself. It takes three hours to get there, on a very curvy road. We had rented a car so we could get to the city and back on the same day, and we left really early in the morning so we could get there in time for your appointment at the consulate for your new passport, which is expiring soon. (This means that you are very, very old. Nearly six years old!)

You were an angel. We were rather surprised by how quiet our day was. You read in the car, slept a bit, hummed to yourself, talked with us a little about the radio show we were listening to. Your dad and I had long, uninterrupted talks while you watched the passing trees through the window. In Chiang Mai you sat at the consulate quietly, we talked a bit while we waited. You stood and looked at the man when he was checking that the baby on your first passport was really you. (Hard to tell, really. It looks like a photo of Isaac.) You held our hands on the way back to the car. When we asked you what you wanted for lunch, you said “pizza,” so you and I got pizza while your dad looked for a salad. 

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

We painted your gloves on, but they started to melt off, all over you!

Of course you were still you, delightful, curious, stormy, stubborn, surprising you. When I asked you questions to draw you out, you gave me a “how dare you speak to me,” look. I reverted to one of my oldest tricks, talking casually about something I know you’re interested in, and waiting for you to join my one-sided conversation. It worked and you told me all about a video you had seen for making oobleck out of potato starch, starting with raw potatoes. (Couldn’t we just buy potato starch? I thought.) 

But you were a milder, more thoughtful you. This has been creeping up on us as you morph into the little boy you are. (And it’s hard to call you little when you look like an eight-year-old. I constantly have to remind myself that you’re still only five, you are nearly as tall as Leafy.) 

You are the best at Memory.

You are the best at Memory.

It told me a little bit about how hard it is to be you sometimes, the fourth kid, with the personality of someone who loves to teach, to offer knowledge, to instruct, and to have older brothers and sisters who often say, “I KNOW,” when you try to tell them something. I’m always trying to help them understand that they need to build your confidence by listening to you, but they forget.

They should listen to you more, because the world needs a kid who figures things out for himself, who loves to teach himself how to do absolutely. everything. Who came to me and said, “food is crunchy because the molecules are closer together!” and it was a discovery with enough joy that it could have been the discovery of a new planet. The world needs someone exactly like you, Solo, someone who thinks the way you do and is fiery like you, someone who draws so beautifully and loves people the way you do. 

Over the last couple of years you have had no patience for neighbors who just want to say hello or shoot the breeze. You used to be the chattiest of small talkers, without even so many words. Now it’s a waste of time to you, and no amount of trying to talk you into it will change things. (I know you’ll eventually come around, the way the other kids did.) But you are the first to make a friend when you meet a kid, pouncing on them with all your sharing abilities, telling them all about something you’ve done or seen or made. You practice headstands, you play with numbers in your head. (“Eight take away two is six!” you’ll announce out of the blue as you stand on your head against the wall.) You climb on things, you skip and jump around instead of walking. You get terribly angry when you feel ganged up on. You take really good care of Isaac. You’ve become excellent with Wookie. You adore your father, right now. (I’m kind of a runner up, these days. It’s okay, you had your years and years of shadowing my every move.) You’re a budding geologist, always finding the coolest rocks, always looking for geodes. 

You remind me often of India, the country where you were born, with your highs and lows, the way you can look as though the sun has come out radiantly, or as though we’d better head for cover. And like with that beautiful, maddening country I love, I am entranced by you, my son. You are so purely you, refusing to be anyone else at all. 

It’s wonderful.

Love, Mama

 

(Credit goes to Chinua for many of these photos.)