Category Archives: birthday

Last First

Today, my baby is ten years old. It’s the last time one of my kids will reach double digits for the first time. As far as birthdays go, it’s a pretty big deal.

He wants a big LEGO set, so he’s been “window” shopping on Amazon for weeks. (He’s so my kid.) In the meantime, I bought him an instant camera because he loves taking pictures of our dogs and then drawing pictures from the photos.

He’s an artist. When he’s not eating or sleeping, he’s drawing. Our kitchen table is strewn with fitful pictures of aliens, ninjas, super heroes, and dogs with eyes and mouths that evoke fear, courage, and love and stare at me from every angle.

When he’s not drawing, he plays the piano. And the guitar and the ukulele and the harmonica. He’s taken some music lessons, but he has the enviable ability to sit down with an instrument and make music.

I don’t know what he’ll do with his life, but I have a feeling it will give me permission to say, “Do what your love,” like my parents said to me.

Last weekend, I took my older son to his weekly swim lesson. It was the morning after Daylight Saving. We were exhausted even though we didn’t get out of bed until 9:30am. As I sat on the bench sipping coffee, scrolling my phone, and begging my brain to wake up, my tween on the cusp of 13 did a 200-yard freestyle warm-up.

I couldn’t help but admire his physical skills that were so vastly different from mine. He moved through his strokes with grace, speed, and ease, even after the clocks hoodwinked us. I passed my neighbor’s deep-end swim test with an impressive doggie paddle in 1983(ish), but my son’s rhythmic side-breathing as he coursed gracefully through the pool, especially after losing a precious hour in the earth’s rotation around the sun, was a sight to behold.

A parent/child swim class at the shallow end of the pool caught my sleepy eyes. Moms and dads willed their toddlers to blow bubbles and kick their legs, pleaded with them not to have to go to the bathroom after getting in the water, and wrestled with them as they made their way to the locker room wrapped in towels where negotiations would surely amp up.

With the time change, I imagined they’d been up since the wee hours of the morning. Bringing their babies to the pool, an enormous task on an average day, was probably a reprieve. An activity to pass the time on an infamously hellish day with littles.

I could feel that season of early parenting deep in my bones. Loving, hating, cherishing, and cursing every moment. Believing I was wholly responsible for how my kids turned out (in water and on land), holding on for dear life, and sinking under the weight of it all.

I’m treading in deeper water now in a world with deodorant and cell phones and the absence of hands reaching for mine at crosswalks. A world where my kids show me daily who they are, what they want, and where they’re headed. A world where my job isn’t to hold on to them; rather to let them go and hope they swim.

And swim, they do. And draw. And make music. And who knows what else. That’s the beauty of letting go.

Someday those frazzled parents in the shallow end would sit on the bench like me, scroll their phones, sip coffee, and watch their kids become—beautifully and imperfectly—exactly who they were meant to be. I could’ve tapped them on the shoulder to tell them about all the things their kids would eventually do that would surprise and amaze them, but they probably wouldn’t have believed me.

I can hardly believe it myself.

Today, my baby is ten years old. It’s the last time one of my kids will reach double digits for the first time. I read an article in the Chicago Tribune about the college admissions scandal, and one line has stuck with me: “It feels harder and harder to frame college as the beginning of something, not the end result.”

Last first double digits could feel like an end if I let it. But how can I when with each passing year, I get another glimpse of the remarkable beginning toward which these boys of mine are headed.

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I see this hashtag all the time. If it’s not #thisis7, then it’s #thisis5 or #thisis3. Parents capture a moment in time that epitomizes their child’s age, smack a filter on it, and post it on social media.

I’m not criticizing it. Unless you’re posting naked pictures of your kid. Then I am criticizing it because stop it.

I’ve done it myself. Not the naked thing, the hashtag thing. There are moments that exemplify the sweetness of two, the irrationality of three, the stubbornness of four, or the pride of five.

The generalization of ages and stages are largely true. Most one-year-olds are delicious…


…and most four-year-olds are silly…


…but it’s also subjective. I’ve seen a #thisis4 caption on a picture of a kid riding a bike with no training wheels and a #thisis5 caption on a picture of a kid eating sushi.  Neither were remotely like my four or five.

There is no truer depiction of #thisis6 to me than than this.


Six is bored and “hangry” and MY FEET HURT at the Statue of Liberty so everyone else must suffer, too.

But #thisis6, too.


And so is this.


And this.


Is my six anything like your six? Maybe, maybe not.

But #thisis[fill in the age] isn’t really for everyone else. It’s for us. Our relentless desire (need? obsession?) to capture perfect (I use that term loosely) snapshots of our kids personifying their age comes from a place of love and pride, and in many cases, from debilitating guilt over not making proper baby books. Besides that, it keeps Facebook memories, #tbt, and apps like Chatbooks in business.

We all think our kids are the bee’s knees, and that’s okay. My sometimes grumpy, blue-eyed superhero gamer is seven today and he’s #oneofakind.

He drinks a cup of Kefir every morning like coffee. (Seriously. Do not make eye contact until he’s had his Kefir.)

He’s a self-proclaimed computer nerd.

He wants to create a YouTube channel where he can review video games and toys.

He plays Minecraft, Roblox, and other computer games with the skills of an unemployed 20-something who lives in his parents’ basement. (Ruh roh.)

His gamer name is Nutty Riles.

His friends at school call him Nutty.

When he grows up, he wants to be a scientist and find a cure for diabetes.

He loves to draw.

He hates pants.

He has training wheels on his bike.

He doesn’t know how to tie his shoes.

He has some serious boyhood angst about having a name (Riley) that’s for girls, too.

He loves getting mail, “reading” Oriental Trading catalogs, and circling everything he wants. When he does this bizarre activity, he always circles luau-themed foam can covers for his Daddy’s beer.

He remembers every single time he’s seen me cry.

He has no front teeth.

He says “Bro.” A lot.

Last week, he had a threenager tantrum because I wouldn’t let him eat a cookie right before dinner.

When he cries (for real), tears don’t stream down his cheeks. They squirt a good six inches from his face.

He hates having his hair washed.

He loves scotch tape.

He believes in God.

He lights up when he sees an empty box he can turn into a racecar or an airplane.

He’s a good friend.

He loves bread. We call him the Bread King.

He’s #mybaby.


He’s was so excited to celebrate his 7th birthday at school that he wore a cape for the occasion. Makes perfect sense.


Happy birthday, Bro.






Filed under birthday