Dear Solo, (a letter to my almost eleven-year-old son),

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Dear Solo,

You will be eleven this month.

Let’s not forget you, India baby, walked on the shores of the Arabian sea. Born during the monsoon, when the water streamed down the windows and I held my face in the cardamom jar every morning because I couldn’t bear the mildew stench. You were so loved.

Little baby Solomon, King Solomon we called you.

You cried in the coconut grove and I walked you under the stars, step by step in the humid night air.

You learned to walk in the mountains, toddling at great heights, teeth first, while Nepali friends carried you back and forth and fed you sweets. You ran away from me in the Pokhara markets while I vainly tried to follow, trailing three young children and holding many bags. You tucked yourself away in sari shops or gold stores, hiding behind counters, hiding in boats, hiding under your blankets on your bed. You were always laughing when we found you. You were covered in sand, shining with stars, swimming like a fish.

We moved to Thailand and you leaned on the arms of Thai grandmothers, grinning up at them, you played with soi dogs, charmed monks.

And then you turned inward very suddenly, became quiet, scowled your way around. It was an abrupt shift. You were working something out, deep inside there somewhere. Any way we leaned, you leaned the other way. No, you said. No, no, no.

Just as abruptly, the sunshine came back, and with it, the dancing. You have danced in many countries. Sometimes your dancing makes me feel like I could fly if I tried hard enough. I think it makes you feel that way too.

You cried when we moved out of our house. But you out of anyone need the starry skies. You are mighty, young son. Sometimes you wonder if you look okay.

“You are so beautiful,” you told me the other day. “And Dad is so beautiful. But me?”

I don’t know what it is that blocks you from seeing it, but son, you are stunning.

You protect people that you feel are being shamed or mocked.

You draw for hours and spend your money and time making gifts for people.

You are Wookie’s great friend. The only time you seem to stay still is when you are reading somewhere with Wookie curled up beside you. You always look out for animals and every kind of creature. You are fierce and sometimes anxious, artistic and a boy of great feeling.

There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you.

I love you and love you and love you. Your dad does too. Sometimes we talk about how we feel about you. We can barely stand it.

I’m writing this birthday letter early just because I’m feeling it now. Because I can hear your laugh in my head and it is so sweet to me.

My son.

My wild son, in perpetual motion.

I love you.

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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),

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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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