And so, he is nine.
What a big year it has been. New teeth, new teacher, new school. New rules and expectations. Sad goodbyes, happy hellos, and a whole lot of laughter. If I had to choose a word to sum up eight-year-old DorkySon, I think it would be resilient.
The boy whose legs used to shake with nerves before assembly stood proudly on stage for the final concert at his small school by the sea: baseball cap on, shirt untucked, singing and dancing with his arms around his classmates.
The boy who used to be scared of water now loves it so much that if I forget to bring a towel and bathers to the beach he still insists on wading up to his shoulders fully clothed.
The boy who used to cross the street to avoid walking past a dog now follows me around the house, regaling me with ‘fascinating facts’ about Dalmatians.
This boy crashes his bike, brushes the dirt off his knees, and gets right back on again.
We had a tricky few months late last year, when DorkyDad was recovering from shoulder surgery, but through the hazy days of pain medication and physio DorkySon kept us all laughing. He lay down beside his dad every evening and copied the exercises he had to do, full of show-off stretches and exaggerated groans. When DorkyDad was still in a sling, DorkySon would burst into the room after a day at school. “Hands above your head!” he’d shout. “Oh no, I forgot you can’t yet. How about a round of golf?”
The long summer holiday that followed – when DorkySon was home and DorkyDad was starting to heal – was a joy.
We had a few days up in the North West, but mainly it was doing what we do best and pottering around home: cinema trips, basketball, beach days, MONA. He did his annual bedroom clear-out, and we heaved bags full of books and toys to the op shop. On the days when I had work to do he entertained himself with Lego and reading and YouTube, only disturbing me when his tummy told him it was lunch time. We played imaginary games: cruise ships, cabin crew, car dealerships. A few times we headed up to the new school playground so he could show us around and practice on the unfamiliar play equipment without an audience.
The much-hyped boredom box that I made him didn’t get a look in. Ach well.
Last year at school was the happiest I’ve ever seen DorkySon. It was a big year of learning, but the focus for the Grade 2s was as much on their social skills as their academic ones. Spending a year as a peer leader with jobs to do around the school helped him grow in confidence and take on more responsibilities.
The joint activities between his old school and his new one also helped a lot with preparing for the transition.
DorkySon said a few weeks ago that he’s enjoying speaking to the kids in his new class, and he thinks some of them might eventually turn into friends, but that one term in it’s still too early to know who he can really trust. The friendly, familiar faces that he knows from the last four years will remain a comfort for a while, I suspect.
We are chuffed that as he finds his way in a new environment, he seems to be maintaining a strong sense of self. When his class were given free time to play outside one Friday, he shunned the ball games and chose to sit on a rock meditating for twenty minutes.
“What a perfect end to the week!” he said, walking out of school. “I feel calmer than I have done in ages.”
It makes us laugh to see what’s grabbing his attention and interest in a school which is so much bigger. Most of the athletic opportunities hold no appeal (although he does want to be on the Australian Olympic basketball team…) but he came home very excited to tell us about the machine in the library that you can use to check if there is a particular book in stock. Not only that, it also tells you what shelf to find it on!
He tells us that he is learning about the first fleet, Japanese, drama, ukulele, how to calculate the perimeter of an octagon, Chinese New Year, and lacrosse (“that game with picky up sticks”). He brings home library books about dogs and flags and windsurfing. In a few weeks he has asked to go into school early to take part in some non-compulsory national maths competitions, and I am left wondering if he can really be a child of mine.
But my bemusement at the love for maths is balanced – at least in part – by the fact that he still loves to read. Harry Potter out loud on weekend mornings. Travel books at the dinner table: he constantly spits out facts and figures from the Lonely Planet Guides to Hawaii and Mexico and Finland. And whatever he can get his hands on the rest of the time – magazines, newspapers, joke books, cereal packets and an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. He is even starting to get into audiobooks, which have made our recent car journeys immeasurably better.
DorkySon is now at an age where we ask more things of him around the house. He clears the table without being reminded and loves to take the recycling out. He helps with washing the car, with prepping fried chicken, and with loading the dishwasher.
But he is no angel. He and I have been known to clash heads spectacularly. We yell and curse each other and cry, and then go our separate ways before gradually, sheepishly creeping back for a hug. Usually it is about nothing.
He thinks capital letters and neat handwriting are for losers. He can be haphazard with his aim in the bathroom, and when he’s warm and comfy on the sofa it seems to bring out his lazy side. His latest trick when he has just finished a snack is to call DorkyDad into the room.
“Two things, Daddy. The first is that I love you so very much. The second is can you take my plate away.”
At his centre though, DorkySon is a sweet and kind little soul, and we are proud beyond belief. We love his passion for the environment. His unending appetite for ice cream and milkshakes. His enthusiasm for rainy-day beach clean ups, and the little cards and notes he posts to friends.
We love the fact that he is becoming more and more willing to give things a go. During the summer he swam out to the pontoon at the local beach for the first time. Last Monday he tried a mountain bike session at a nearby track, and today, as I write this, he is doing a Lego robotics workshop.
We love how he is learning to live in a world full of technology. He checks the tides and the phase of the moon through apps on his iPad. If there’s a new boat in the harbour or a plane overhead he looks up what it is, and where it has come from. But we also love that he is still willing to sacrifice screentime in favour of getting outside for a proper play.
We love walking to and from school with him: making the most of the space that the twice-daily trek provides for both silence and conversation. We crouch down to look at beetles on the dirt paths, say hello to passing dogs, and one day even stood and watched as an eagle chased a flock of galahs above our heads. I hope his wonder at this magical place we live in never wears off.
When we measured DorkySon on his birthday, the sharpie marks on his bedroom door told us that he has shot up four inches in the last year. The tired, grumbly days are suddenly a bit more understandable. Certainly, it feels like he never has enough clothes that fit – there are always ankles and wrists poking from somewhere – and they serve as a constant reminder of the growing he is doing both inside and out.
I’ve written before on this blog about the way in which holidays often stretch DorkySon as he deals with bombardment of new experiences. (Hurricanes and the like…) There were no big trips while he was 8. But 9 will see us return to the UK for the first time in four years.
He will meet new little cousins who have been born since we left, and will reunite with grandparents and uncles and aunties. He will wander the streets and playparks of Edinburgh and see how much – if any – he remembers from living there for the first couple of years of his life.
There will be long flights and strange foods and big feelings. All sorts of unsettling things for a boy who likes the the security and routine of home. But there will also be beaches and laughter and love.
DorkyDad and I celebrate our wedding anniversary while we’re away and we’re planning on showing DorkySon where we got married.
“Urgh,” he will say, with a disgusted look on his face. “Too much romance.”
He will roll his eyes and request that we abandon our nostalgia trip in favour of a cafe with hot chocolate and generously sized muffins. And so we will…
But what DorkyDad and I will think about – even if DorkySon isn’t ready to yet – is the fact that our wedding day in Edinburgh was the first step towards our life as his parents. Eleven years of marriage, nine of them with the best boy in the world.
Lucky us. How far we have come. What a joy it has all turned out to be.