Not for nothing, but, um … didn’t we just do this?
I vaguely recall thinking, at some earlier point in my life, that a year was a looooong time. The annual recurrence of your birthday, however (and, sadly, of mine as well) now serves as a reminder that these “year” things are whizzing by with steadily increasing speed. Basically, I’ll be dead soon, is what I’m saying. Happy Birthday, son!
But seriously …
Compared to the year leading up to your eighth birthday, this past year has been delightfully uneventful. Instead of dealing with major life changes and farewells and losses and massively intimidating new beginnings, you were able to just be a normal kid with a normal life (or at least as normal as life can be for a kid whose father is as abnormal as yours) … and for that, I am grateful.
(And, hey! Bonus! By taking two months to finally complete your annual birthday letter, I am able to include herein not only a look at the year leading up to your ninth birthday, but also some highlights from the first few weeks of your 10th year on earth! Who says procrastination doesn’t pay? Winning!)
Much like your old man, you’re not crazy about school. Fortunately, unlike your old man, you’re an excellent student and your teachers always have great things to say about you.
Throughout the school year, you had lots and lots (and lots) of homework. I don’t recall ever having that much (if any?) homework in the 2nd grade … and, quite frankly, I think it’s ridiculous that 8- and 9-year-old kids who have to sit in school for seven hours per day are expected to then come home and do an hour’s worth of homework. Of course, I can’t tell you that, so I instead aid your mother in prodding you to complete each night’s assignments, and dutifully help you with the occasional project that comes down the pike.
As much as I wish you were a little more enthusiastic about school, I’m not worried about your academic abilities. In addition to having exceptional math skills, you read well above your grade level, have an amazing vocabulary, and are incredibly well spoken. I like to think this has at least a little to do with the fact that I read to you almost nightly. (As previously reported, we’ve been reading the “Harry Potter” series since last fall and are nearing the end of the second-to-last book. After that, we plan to tackle “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”)
For Christmas, the thing you most wanted was a full-sized drum kit … and Santa delivered.
The hat you received for Christmas apparently inspired you to let your normally close-cropped hair grow the longest it’s ever been so that you could sport a feauxhawk:
I must admit, you looked pretty cool … when your hair was properly coiffed, that is. When you first got out of bed, however, it looked like a violently windblown haystack. Your cowlicks had cowlicks, and your mom and I spent many a school morning scrambling to help you wet down and gel up your hair mere seconds before your bus arrived. (I was glad when you finally decided to cut most of it off again.)
Your sister still adores you … and I’m pretty sure you dig her … but the two of you excel at driving each other crazy and at finding the most mind-numbing matters over which to do battle. Things such as determining which of you will turn off the television or who will close a door through which the two of you have just passed often devolve into thermonuclear screaming matches, and you both determinedly ignore my repeated insistence that the energy you spend fighting over such things exceeds exponentially the energy it would take for one or the other of you to just, you know, flick the “Off” switch or push the door shut. Oy vey.
Thankfully, the ongoing battles occasionally are interrupted by moments like this:
For the second year in a row, you celebrated your birthday with a pool party at M-M’s house … though, for the first time ever, you requested a non-themed event.
And now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to turn our attention to your greatest love: Sports.
Late last summer, you decided you wanted to play football. This excited me very little … and, ultimately, you decided to bail … a process I’ve already documented, but suffice to say: Quitting was not an easy decision for you, and letting you do so was not an easy decision for your mother and me … because as much as we were in love with the idea of you not playing football, we weren’t in love with the idea of you becoming A Quitter.
Fortunately, you didn’t become A Quitter. In fact, you partook in your second season of wrestling … and your continued participation in that sport made me yearn for you to be A Quitter … because I do not possess whatever it is that one must possess in order to comfortably watch one’s 8-year-old son engaged in a furious duel to the pseudo-death with older, heavier, stronger, more-experienced kids (which, by and large, describes the majority of the opponents with whom you were paired thanks to your above-average size for your age).
Thankfully, you’ve already decided that you’d rather play basketball this winter than wrestle. The relief this brings me is almost as intoxicating as tequila.
In addition to wrestling, your combat training this past year included karate:
You also played lacrosse for the third consecutive season:
Of course, when it comes to sports, your clear-cut favorite (and mine too) continues to be baseball.
Dude: You are a baseball player. Like, for real.
I remember when you were pretending to be a baseball player …
I remember when you were learning to be a baseball player …
I remember when you were practicing to be a baseball player …
But when the season started up this spring, it became very clear that all of that pretending and learning and practicing is paying off.
You were, without question, one of the best players on the team … as evidenced by the fact that you were selected to participate in the All-Star game … an occurrence I like to call The Coolest Thing Ever.
And it was The Coolest Thing Ever … until, a couple of weeks after your ninth birthday, you tried out for your age group’s tournament team … and made the cut … at which point that became The Coolest Thing Ever.
To say I was proud would be like saying Everest is a cute little hill.
Let’s review: In three short years, you’ve gone from this …
Even more impressive than your comfort at the plate is your comfort behind the plate.
The rules for the spring leagues in which you’ve played (and I’ve coached) during each of the past five years require that players rotate positions every inning. The tournament team marked the first time players began taking semi-ownership of certain positions … and you quickly made a reputation for yourself as an exceptional catcher.
And you were equally comfortable in the field:
[This is where I would have included some totally awesome photos of you pitching ... but the several times you were on the mound this summer, I was incapable of doing anything except watching you and cheering you on and trying not to get too choked up. (I mostly failed at that last one.)]
Last summer, you took the mound for the first time and, unsurprisingly, your lack of experience made for a very shaky performance. During your second (and only other) summer 2011 pitching appearance, you struck out the side … but the umpire provided you with a, shall we say, very generous strike zone.
This summer, however, you received some actual pitching instruction from coaches who know more than Coach Daddy (admittedly an easy feat), and your improvement was tremendous. I basically marveled at every strikeout you earned (and there were a lot) … mostly because of how proud and impressed I was … but also because, when I think back to being a 9-year-old and imagine taking center stage as the pitcher in a little league game, I see myself simultaneously vomiting and wetting my pants while running off the field and hiding in the woods. You, meanwhile, were completely calm, cool and collected.
(And let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the 9-year-old me had remained on the mound long enough to record two outs, but then got popped in the mouth while trying to field a hard grounder that took a nasty hop just over my glove and left me with two very bloodied and swollen lips and a busted upper gum: I can assure you with great and embarrassing certainty that I would not have pulled myself together, insisted on staying in the game, and then struck out the final batter before heading off to the hospital.)
To put it bluntly: You amaze me, and I am so thankful that you are having the kind of childhood you’re having, and that we have the kind of father-and-son relationship we have, because I am working without a script here, pal. My Dad was a terrific provider, but beyond that, I don’t have much of an example to follow.
Which, I suppose, is why this whole baseball thing we’ve got going means so much to me. I am unbelievably grateful that, after growing up having not much of a relationship with my father and almost no interest whatsoever in sports, I somehow became a huge baseball fan the year before your birth, and unexpectedly got backed into coaching baseball despite having no intention of ever doing any such thing. … because the bond that you and I have forged around the sport and the extent to which my coaching your teams has allowed us to connect are among the greatest joys of my life.
And when I see you handle yourself the way you do on the baseball field … and see how much your teammates and other coaches like and respect you … and see how seriously the opposing teams take you … and see how composed and confident you are during your games … I know I must be doing something right.
And I realize there’s a good chance that, when you grow up, you might be acutely aware of the ways in which I fell short as a father … not only because that’s what kids do, but also because I often screw up, and lose my temper, and say or do the wrong thing. But I am hopeful that your memories of my failures will be offset by even more memories of how much I’ve been there for you, and how much I love you, and how lucky I feel to be your father … and how unbelievably proud of you I am.
Because I am, my son. More than you can imagine.
I love you, Buddy Boy.