“Eleven sucked,” says DorkySon.
“Eleven sucks for everyone,” DorkyDad and I say simultaneously.
We laugh at this, sitting around the table after DorkySon has finished eating the birthday meal he requested – pasta followed by red velvet cake. There is an element of truth in our response. Eleven really is a tricky age; one when you are pulled back to childhood one moment and propelled forward to your teens the next.
But DorkySon also has a point. For him especially, eleven wasn’t the best.
Our kiddo has had a lot thrown at him over the last twelve months: beginning with lockdown just a few days before his 11th birthday, the cancellation of his Grandpa’s visit to Tasmania, and a (mercifully short) period of learning from home where the main thing we all learned was what a terrible teacher I would be.
Just as things in Tassie were starting to return to normal, DorkyDad received his cancer diagnosis and started several months of gruelling treatment – by far the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with as a family.
I can’t even begin to describe how awed and proud we are by the resilience and maturity DorkySon has shown this year.
Adjusting back to our own new normal is taking a little longer than we expected. It’s more than two months since DorkyDad received the positive news we were so grateful for… but I don’t think any of us have returned to being our best selves yet. We are tired, recovering from processing so many emotions, and for that reason we are still hanging tightly together as family.
But we are also more appreciative than ever before of the little things that make life such a joy. When DorkySon and I sat down to scroll through a year’s worth of photos earlier this week, choosing which ones would make the cut for his annual photobook, it provided a necessary and timely reminder that eleven didn’t suck entirely.
There were many, many moments of love and laughter in among the rough.
We had forgotten, already, how many great walks we went on during lockdown. There we are – on Long Beach, on the Alum Cliff Walk, at Coningham Reserve, at Knocklofty, strolling through our own neighbourhood looking for teddy bears in windows.
There we are at Seven Mile Beach when flights started up again, standing with hands over ears as a plane came into land directly above our heads.
We had a weekend in Swansea, trying to support some of the local tourism operators who were hit so badly by the border closures; we had a Sunday stroll into Salamanca for burgers and churros; we had ice creams at the waterfront, sitting in the sun. In every photo, DorkySon is front and centre with a big smile and two thumbs up.
There are multiple photos of him with newly built Lego: a Tokyo skyline, a Technic Porsche, a metre-long replica of a NASA rocket.
(“It’s not just a random rocket, Mum. It’s Saturn V.”)
There are photos of him with friends: hosting his first sleepover; at the park and the pool and the karting track; down the river on a Pennicott boat. There are photos with his Future Problem Solving Team, who came sixth in Australia; on half a dozen beach clean ups with Sea Shepherd; and sitting on the kitchen floor, with DorkyDad, surrounded by confetti.
We may not have left this small island in over a year, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a time of growth. Twelve months can make such a difference in terms of confidence, experience and attitude.
DorkySon had his first sip of champagne this year. Verdict: yuck. He got seriously into coding and is active on Scratch, updating me each morning on how many views and likes his latest project has. He has strengthened many of his relationships – especially with his Godfather – and has learned the importance of opening up and talking about it when you are going through a challenging time.
I can’t believe that he is only one term into Grade 6 – it already feels like the two fabulous teachers he has this year have packed so much in, and I love hearing about the work that keeps him so interested and engaged. He is about to go on school camp for the first time and – unlike last year, when he was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of four days in Canberra – this year he is excited about it, thrilled by the prospect of three days on Tasmania’s East Coast.
But I’m also finding it hard to believe that this is DorkySon’s last year of primary school… that next February he will be starting high school and dealing with all that entails. More independence, more responsibilities, more subjects; navigating the seating hierarchy on the bus each day; buying his own lunch and perhaps even – lord help us all – getting to grips with his first mobile phone.
I think eleven will stand him in good stead for twelve. For all that is to follow. DorkySon has shown that he can deal with just about anything the world throws his way and – importantly – that he can do so with courage and humour. This year might not have been a favourite, but we’ve still managed to put together a photobook that is full of beaches and books, family and friends, good food, long walks, bright sunshine, and numerous other happy memories.
In a strange year that has literally changed the world, it’s a reminder of how much we have to be grateful for.
Happy Birthday little mate. Onwards and upwards x