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Dear Simon,

Today, at long last, you are six. Not five, not five-and-a-half or five-and-three-quarters, not even five-and-eleven-twelfths or any of the other intervals you tracked this past year. Just six: exactly, perfectly six. Relish it, for tomorrow you will be six and one three-hundred-sixty-fifth, and the countdown to the next year will begin anew.

This numerical obsession is just one of the new traits you have surprised me with this past year. For while most years your birthday letter describes an older version of the same child I have always known, this year has been transformative. You are no longer the mere continuation or logical extension of your younger self; the span from five to six has produced an equally lovable but noticeable different you.

Some of the changes I’ve witnessed relate to interests or talents a younger child is unlikely to demonstrate. Take that numbers thing. Last fall, you surprised me by doing small bits of addition once or twice. This fall, you’re at it again with understanding negative numbers and simple multiplication. You have spent the last twelve months observing, manipulating, and discussing numbers: So far as I can tell, you see the entire world in terms of numbers and relations between numbers. Math is your favorite subject in school, something that could only be improved upon in your eyes by its being harder. A lot harder. This instinctive feel for numbers is new and might be the greatest gift your parents did not give you.

Unless it’s the athletic ability you have demonstrated this year, which also did not come from us, and which also came as something of a surprise. Your toddler and little boy love of balls has morphed into a big-boy love of sports in general and soccer and tennis in particular. What’s more, you don’t just love it; you’re good at it! You have a natural swing, a good throwing arm, a decent shot, solid ground-strokes, and speed on the court and field.

It’s not just your interests that have grown or shifted, either. Some of your core characteristics look different this year. For example, your childhood sweetness has grown more nuanced this year, evolving into politeness, empathy, and generosity. According to coaches, teachers, and my own observation, you are a caring friend, dependable team-mate, and respectful class-mate, someone who is careful with others’ feelings and is happy to share and help. The empathy that once made you so fragile has now made you likeable. It can still be hard for you to care so much, but the reward is that almost everyone wants to be your friend.

But by far the most surprising of all in the build-up to six is the revelation of heretofore unknown personality traits and the reversal of one or two more. Just below your sensitive and sometimes hesitant surface is a core made of grit and determination. I had no idea!

I began to understand that what I thought I knew about you was changing when your independent streak emerged. One day you were happy to be dressed, bathed, helped with shoes and escorted into buildings and then—Poof!—the next day you insisted on dressing yourself, attacked shoe-tying with a furor, learned to shower solo, and demanded to walk alone to your class or camp group. You are not yet embarrassed by me, but there are certainly times you want me to lay low. You want to do things for yourself and often resent needing or being offered help.

You are also tenacious. If you set out to do something, then by gum you are going to do it or physically and emotionally collapse while trying. Your dad and I cannot count the number of times we had to drag you away from a soccer goal, tennis court, baseball diamond, or set of shoe laces while you raged in fury at your inability to accomplish the task you set for yourself. Sometimes you fell short of your goal because it was yet beyond your grasp, while other times you raged at the toll hunger, thirst, or fatigue exacted on your performance. Attempts to explain to you why you could not or could not continue to do something mostly fell on deaf ears, as did our pleas for you to set aside a task and give yourself a rest.

Not unrelated to this tenacity is an emerging competitive and perfectionist streak. If someone gets the better of you on the field or court, you are not one bit happy about it. With friends and peers, you do reasonably well keeping your cool. But with your parents, you are not afraid to rail against your own self-perceived inadequacy. Whether you are on the soccer field or tackling math work-sheets, you are your own worst critic when you achieve less than perfection. Your Dad and I are still learning how to handle this. Sometimes we explain that failing and making mistakes is just a part of learning. Other times we give in to your tenacity and let you practice, practice, practice until you master whatever skill has eluded you. Learning to do your best while accepting the limits of your own ability will, I suspect, be a life-long project for you.

There’s so much else I could say about you at six: I could tell you about your mad geography skills or how you love teasing and practical jokes. How you love card games and never, ever get in trouble at school. Or how you criticize any music that isn’t rock enough for your tastes. But if I had capture you in just a few words, I’d steal what your preschool teacher told me about you last winter. She said that the three words that best capture you are happy, eager, and bright. I can’t improve on that. Ninety-nine days out of a hundred (or more!), you are in a good mood, you are enthusiastic about doing or learning something new,  and you are bright enough to catch on to whatever the new lesson is. It’s a powerful combination.

I think you have always wanted to be like this, but it took a few years before you broke through your shell of hesitancy. At two and three you held back, at four and five the real you began to emerge at specific times and places, and now, at six, you have set yourself free to soar. And I have no doubt you will soar: the ingredients are all there. My job from here on out will be to help you acquire and develop the skills you need, to stand aside and let you try things on your own, and to provide comfort and refuge when you inevitably crash at points along the way.

I don’t know where you will take me in the next year, but if it’s anything like last year it will be filled with love, laughter, and happy discoveries. It promises to be almost as marvelous as you are. So happy birthday, my dear son. Here’s to six being the best year yet.

One Response to “Six”

  1. Amanda says:

    Happy Birthday Simon, a little belated!

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