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“Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” (Jesuit saying)

Dear Simon,

It’s your seventh birthday today, and I’m overwhelmed with two contradictory feelings. The first is that I can hardly believe it’s been seven years since you entered my life. The second is that I can hardly believe you are only seven when I feel like I already know who you will be at ten, eighteen, or even thirty.

There has been a constancy to your personality since infancy, but last year witnessed some significant developments, and this year you gelled into what often seems like a finished product. You are in many respects the oldest seven-year-old I have ever met. Sometimes it’s easy to forget you are a child at all: Thankfully, your innocence and sweetness are always there to remind me.

Notably, this is the first year that I would not use “sensitive” as the first word to describe you. You’re not insensitive, it’s just that what appeared to be a general disposition has been fine tuned into more specific characteristics. Today I’d describe you as a perfectionistic, competitive, and kind introvert.  You don’t like masses of people all yelling over each other at once. You don’t enjoy being in large crowds. You worry about your friends and their feelings. You don’t want anyone to do anything bad or get into trouble. You have a hard time coping with losing. And you cut yourself zero slack if you make a mistake.

Here’s an example of that latter bit. A week before your birthday you tell me that all you really want for a present is a set of golf clubs (because three sports aren’t enough?) and a blank map of Asia that you can fill in. I tell you that we’re going to have a problem because I already told everyone to get you Barbie Lego instead. You laugh and feign outrage. Then I go home and print out a blank map of Asia. Everything is fun and games until you ask me if you spelled “Papua New Guinea” right. I tell you that you spelled it the way it sounds and did a great job. You get upset and practically rip a hole in the paper with your eraser. “The way it sounds” isn’t good enough. Only “the right way” is good enough. I then spend the next half hour telling you how to spell Kyrgyzstan and being silently delighted when you don’t think to ask me how to spell “Gorjia.”

Have I mentioned how competitive you are? Whether you are sitting across a game board, standing on a playing field, or sitting at your desk at school, you want to be the best and win. I have seen this drive push you to play online reading games well beyond your grade level (to keep up with a classmate), play the same board game over and over until you master it (to keep up with me and Dad), and play sports through considerable fatigue or pain. That tenacity will take you far . . . . unless it cripples you. For I have also seen you fall to pieces and cry when you lose a board game, when you make a mistake at school, and when your team is down on the field.

I’d love to tell you that age is helping you to handle mistakes and loss better, but I have no idea if that is true. It’s probably a little true, but the larger truth seems to be that you are getting better at the things you care about. Your soccer team, for instance, has yet to lose this season. The one time it looked like you might—just might—get a real run for your money, you and a talented teammate swarmed the opposing side’s best players, evaded their defenders with footwork and passing, and then plain ole’ outlasted them in the second half when they got tired. With a win on the line, you weren’t about to let something as mundane as fatigue and ankle pain slow you down. Until the game was over, that is, when you had a hard time making it to our car.

You leave everything on the field. Literally and metaphorically.

Mercifully, you are a more gracious winner than loser. You frequently fall to pieces and cry when you lose a game, but in victory you are reasonably gracious with family and totally gracious with friends. Whether you are scoring a bicycle kick over a friend’s head on a soccer play-date, not saying anything to the kid on your own team who’s getting in the way of a pass, or realizing that your amazing older cousin Ben is less-than-amazing at tennis, you keep your mouth shut and/or offer encouragement. You don’t gloat with friends, and you are careful to avoid hurt feelings.

As I think back over the last year, the biggest change in you is your list of interests. Between school and athletic endeavors, you are developing a list of hobbies and past-times that seems unlikely for one so young. Right now, your favorite things in the world include:

  • Geography: maps, atlases, and geography board games are a great favorite.
  • Science: Books about space and geology and go-to classics.
  • Math: Especially multiplication.
  • Soccer: I’ve written enough about your love of soccer to last a lifetime. Let’s put it this way, you would play for two or more hours every day if you could. You play in heat, rain, cold, and dark. If there’s grass, a goal, and a ball, your happiness is complete, but the back of the couch and a ball will do.
  • Tennis: This is your second favorite sport, and while you have played it much less than soccer, you might be even better at it. Every coach you have worked with tells me that you have natural strokes, great-footwork, and a bright future in the sport. You are never less like me than when you are holding a racquet.
  • Running and hiking: On occasion, I take you out running with me at your request. You can do three slow miles with me and a 4-minute half-mile at school. We also spent many happy days hiking the trails at Bernheim Nature Preserve this summer. You are never more like me than when you get distracted by something beautiful while out on a run or hike.
  • History: At least once a week you ask me when you will stop doing the boring stuff (i.e. civics) in social studies and can get to the good stuff (i.e. history). You especially love learning about the US presidents, which makes you very much your Uncle Steve’s nephew.
  • Drumming: You’ve been taking lessons for a year now, and I often catch you drumming a beat with your hands on tables or your lap. You are never more like your Dad than when you analyze a song you want to “rock out” to.
  • Poop jokes: Thank God! Something typical at last. Or, as the school librarian yelled out when we bought Captain Underpants at the school book fair, “You’re a real boy after all!”

There are also things you would like to count as hobbies or interests. Namely,

  • Golf: You have asked for real clubs, have a practice putting green for the house, and have made your interest in playing real golf quite clear to anyone who will listen. You also like watching golf on TV. Really.
  • Physics: You asked me what this was one day, and the answer thrilled you. “Oooooh, I think I’m going to love physics,” you squealed, “especially the part with the super hard math. When can I learn calculus?”
  • Pilates: You’ve gone to practice twice with me, both times the result of a child-care crisis on my end. Both times you have hopped on a reformer and loved the work-out. But you can’t make this a regular habit, honey. I can barely afford to go myself; there’s no way I can pay for both of us! Especially when I’m already paying for soccer, tennis, and drumming, and have golf and orthodonture to save up for next.

Still, it’s pretty thrilling on my end that you want to participate in something I like so much. And between the time we can spend running, hiking, and studying maps together, I think we can look forward to many wonderful years of shared adventure ahead of us. You are still quite young, but you have already turned into a thoroughly delightful companion. As ever, you Dad and I love you more than we can say and look forward to watching next year’s adventures unfold. Go ahead, Simon, amaze us.



2 Responses to “Seven”

  1. Amanda says:

    Happy birthday, Simon! It’s a treat to see what a great young man you are becoming.

  2. goldsteinrita says:

    I’m sure he will. He amazes me all the time. Not surprises, just amazes.

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