I have an eight-year-old. How did that happen?
It feels like a matter of months since I was doing a last-minute run to the party store for the shiny blue 7 balloon. But a whole year has passed, and I was under strict instructions this time. No balloon. No birthday balloon, for the first time, ever.
Seven was quite a year – at times it felt like DorkySon was more comfortable in his skin than anyone else I know. He grew smarter and funnier, stronger and kinder, and made me prouder than I can put into words. But some days it felt like the pressure of new responsibilities was a little too much for him. I got a taste of how things might feel ten years from now, with slammed doors and sweaty trainers and more swearing than is likely appropriate. Oy. I’m buying my bunker now.
It was a year of exciting firsts, every week packed with new experiences. Bouncing on trampolines at Inflatable World. His first film (and his second) at the cinema. Both brought tears, a hot face buried in the crook of my elbow, but he assured me afterwards that he’d been having fun. He danced the Maypole at the Midwinter Festival, ate juicy tacos from a cardboard box. He entered a writing competition; was selected as a finalist and put on a suit to shake the Governor’s hand. He went to the climbing centre, hauled himself up the walls and squeezed himself through the tunnels. He dropped the training wheels from his beloved first bike, and then moved on from that bike entirely. Red Deer became Green Flame – fatter tyres, bigger frame, longer skid marks. He got a wetsuit and a body board, and the boy who just a few years ago was terrified of the water now has to be hauled out shivering.
He was thrilled with a new teacher at school, with a composite class of Grade 1s and 2s that allowed him to establish friendships with a few older boys. They were such different characters – the Grade 2s were sporty and DorkySon was really not – but they were sweet, gentle souls, and together as a group they loved to laugh. They built LEGO together, established secret hand signs and symbols, and called themselves the Pros. Without even knowing it, just by being kind, they brought DorkySon’s confidence to a place it had never been before.
His school was allocated a signal box to decorate – one small part in a city-wide plan – and he proudly showed me the mark he made upon Hobart, a brightly painted seagull with a chip in its beak. He dressed as Wally for World Book Day, looking much too cute in red stripes and glasses. He played a Baby Penguin in the whole-school play (“Not ‘a’ baby penguin, Mum, THE Baby penguin…”).
That is the other thing: Mummy is slowly becoming Mum. Daddy is slowly becoming Dad. Every so often he will abandon the Top Gear videos and the Minecraft demos, and I’ll catch him watching a sneaky episode of Noddy, or Thomas, or Peppa Pig.
“You don’t think it’s too babysish, do you?’ he’ll ask anxiously.
I reassure him that it’s not.
October was our big trip to the USA. 18 hour plane journeys. The hurricane. The power cut. The ripping-up of the itinerary. It was a learning experience. Character building. All that stuff. At least he came back with a good story to tell.
A few weeks before Christmas, things were tough. Part of it, I think, was end-of-term-itis. 2016 had been a long, busy year, with a fierce winter, that challenging trip abroad, and a spring of rotten weather. DorkySon and his classmates had worked hard and they were exhausted. In the school playground at pickup time, you could see little bumps and grumps that would normally be shaken off turn into a big deal. We were all ready for summer.
DorkySon seemed aware that he was about to enter a transition phase. He was not a big boy, yet. But he was certainly not a little one either. His list to Santa included a dictionary, but it also included magic to keep us alive forever. Goodness.
Australian school holidays have taken some getting used to. It feels like all the good stuff comes at once – the school year ends and it’s Christmas and it’s New Year and it’s summer and there are fireworks and the sausages are sizzling and it’s all a little too much to handle.
But in a way, I’m glad the end of the school year here coincides with the festive season. The combination of exhaustion and sugar is not always the easiest, but what is Christmas if not a time for us all to connect with our inner child? It wasn’t just DorkySon staying in his pyjamas all day, eating chocolate for breakfast and getting excited about family movies on the TV – it was all of us. There were several weeks of beach time and ice cream. As a family, we took up surfing and mini golf. We went swimming in the river, played board games, took naps and had bacon sandwiches for breakfast every single day.
It was relaxing, And without even noticing, Dorky Son learnt how to tie his own laces, He started to pour his own cereal from the bowl and to shampoo his own hair. He sat in the shallow waves and learned how it feels to be pulled first one way and then another. That felt, to me, like plenty learning to be getting on with.
We are proud of his sense of responsibility, and his serious approach to life, Since February, DorkySon has been a Grade 2 – the last year at his small school by the sea before he moves into a bigger primary school – and he is feeling the weight of all the responsibilities that come with that. Along with all his classmates, he is a peer leader – he wears a red hat instead of blue, pins a badge to his shirt with his name on it.
It is a magical thing to see the confidence the role to these lovely little people. They lead younger kids through daily exercise, the raise the flag each morning and they choose a charity each term to raise money for. Every week they grow before our eyes – without even noticing they become kinder, sweeter, more thoughtful kids. It makes me grateful to be a part of this community.
But we are also proud of DorkySon’s loud laugh, his attempts at poetry and his goofy dances. We love his terrible jokes, his imaginative Lego creations, and his habit of raiding the kitchen cupboard to make foul concoctions in a mixing bowl. We love when he leaves us post-it note messages on our pillows at night. We love it when he’s so excited by something outside that he rushes down the steps without shoes on.
DorkyDad and I want to make sure that DorkySon doesn’t grow up too fast. There is plenty of time for that. It is our job to help him stay in touch his inner silliness, which can most often be found with a combination of tickles, penguin videos, and chocolate muffins.
Happy Birthday, little mate.
We hope that eight