It was DorkySon’s birthday at the end of March. Seven. Goodness.
As with every year previous, we asked if he wanted a party, and as with every year previous he said no. He is nothing if not predictable – still a boy of simple pleasures. On the day itself he took in some sweets to share with classmates, and asked to have dinner at a local brewpub. (Pulled pork sandwiches for the win!) His present requests also remained modest – books, Lego, and a big shiny balloon. The weekend after his birthday we took a boat trip down the river – an opportunity to see penguins bobbing in the water and sea eagles soar above our heads – then went for fish and chips, and ice cream. He is a boy after my own heart for sure.
Seven feels like an important age, perhaps because it’s when so many of my own memories begin. There are snatches before that of course, but I think seven is when a sense of chronology began, and, when I started to get a more coherent sense of self.
If the same is true with him then it means the next year is a crucial one for finding the right balance: allowing him to be close and comforted when he wants that, but also helping him find inner strength, and gently nudging him to do more alone.
He is getting good at helping around the house – stacking firewood, picking up leaves, setting and clearing the table – but also has days when he comes home from school with an empty tank. He tends to get cranky when he’s hungry, and teary when he’s tired. Not sure where he gets that from…
Shortly after DorkySon’s birthday he had two weeks off school and every day of those holidays demonstrated the need for balance, for respecting that he is getting older while also understanding that he’s really still quite young. One morning my big, brave boy grinned proudly down at me from the very top of the climbing wall, thrilled he had made it so high for the first time. Later that same day, he snuggled up beside me on the sofa, asked for another blanket to keep his toes warm and watched a cartoon on DVD that he hadn’t been off the shelf for months. We are lucky that he is pretty self-aware, and knows when he has had enough.
I haven’t quite got my head around how physically big he is yet. Every time I buy clothes without him beside me I buy a size too small – I hold those Age 7 trousers up against myself and can’t believe that his legs could ever fill them. So I plump for the Age 6 ones, and then have to return them the next day.
The summer just past saw his body change completely. Despite the daily layers of Factor 50 his arms warmed to the colour of sweet caramel. He had already lost his soft toddler curves to harder angles – for a while he was all elbows and knees – but now he’s filling out with muscle too. He has finally gone up a level in swimming, and is starting to broaden across the shoulders and chest. The training wheels are off Red Deer – we spend hours every weekend out on our bikes – and his calves are becoming more defined all the time. It has been a joy to see him progress so quickly from hesitant pedalling around the university car park to scrambling up hills and making long, noisy skid marks along gravel paths.
We are right in the middle of the wobbly tooth years – the front four have gone already, and a couple more seem sure to follow shortly. The tooth fairy has been generous, and left a gold coin for each tiny incisor, but DorkySon has already started to give me a sceptical look when her name comes up. It seems so soon…
He always wakes early to read. He spends half an hour in his own bed with a book before rushing through to our room. On weekdays he’s in a rush to get on with the day – “Dorky hug then let’s go downstairs!” he’ll shout. But on weekends he has learned to linger. He doesn’t come through until 7.30, and then it’s time to chat, to read, to slurp juice (him) or sip coffee (us). He keeps a notebook by the bed, for jotting down poems and pictures. His handwriting is taking practice and patience, mainly because he is too quick and wants to get everything down at once (I sympathise with that, and so does his dad…).
DorkySon loves all the things a seven-year-old should love. Splashing in the sea. Cuddles. Picnics in the back of the car. Baking. Bad jokes. Word games. Helping DorkyDad out with chores at the weekend. Finding excuses to sneak downstairs after bedtime. Family Feud. National Geographic Kids magazine – he pores over each new issue for hours, before regaling us with facts about cheetahs, or coral reefs, or China. He loves getting mail, and is so lucky with friends and family around the world who send postcards, books, jelly snakes, stickers, and badges to add to his collection.
DorkyDad and I worry, a little, about our son growing up. He is almost too open sometimes – too gentle – and we talk often about the need to protect him enough, but not too much. He feels everything so deeply, both good and bad, and the big heart that lets him skip along the pavement singing when he’s happy is the same heart that makes him weep at books and films in which someone gets hurt, or something seems unfair. Now that he can read whatever he sees – headlines, adverts, subtitles – it’s much harder to control what he learns about the world, and sometimes he asks questions that we are unable to answer.
But we need people with big hearts and big brains. We need people who care – boys like DorkySon who turn the television off when a war movie comes on, and who blow raspberries at the radio when they hear the name of a politician they don’t like. We need boys who hold up their fingers in a peace sign instead of waving goodbye.
There may be some hard conversations ahead, but we wouldn’t change DorkySon’s nature for anything.
This post seems as good a time as any to acknowledge that I haven’t been writing as much on the blog recently – in fact hardly at all – and part of that is that I’ve not yet worked out how to post regularly while also respecting DorkySon’s privacy. While I’ve never posted anything that would intentionally embarrass him, I’m more aware than I’ve ever been that he is an autonomous little person, who is now at the age where he can tell his own stories, rather than have me tell them for him.
We have already worked out an agreement about photos – nothing goes on Facebook without his approval, and if he deems a shot too silly or just not right, then he gets to veto.
Words are harder. I want to keep recording what we do as a family – to write down details of the funny and silly and serious life that we live. But I also understand that while my stories and DorkySon’s stories intersect they are no longer one and the same. We often have conversations that make me hoot with laughter – most days in fact – and sometimes they feel right for sharing, but other times I imagine how he might feel if he knew a teacher or the parent of one of his friends had read about something he’d said to me in private, and so I hold back from posting.
It’s not to say there will be no more DorkyMum – just that the rules feel different to when I started five years ago, and I need to work out how to fit inside them. DorkyDad and I have always talked about what’s okay to share on here and what’s not, but now DorkySon gets a say now too.
Judging by his ever-improving digital literacy and all those notebooks by the bed, it will not be very many years before my sweet, smart big hearted boy chooses to claim a corner of the internet as his own.
Better prepare yourselves for that.