Seven. You know, it doesn’t seem so strange that you’re as old as you are right now. I used to marvel, unbelieving, that I had a baby, a one-year-old, a four-year-old. But for some reason you just seem exactly appropriate as you are, right now, all shoulderlength hair and no front teeth, playing piano, playing soccer, swimming, climbing the ropes in gymnastics class. At your class’s Halloween party, you eschewed your Value Village Spiderman costume (complete with built-in muscles) in favour of your everyday clothes. “I’m going as a second-grader,” you said, and man, did you pull it off. You’re just so perfectly cast as a seven-year-old that it’s hardly surprising. You know? (Or maybe I’m simply gearing up to turn 40 in a few weeks and so you’re getting off easy.)
So you at seven (or, as you like to point out, in your eighth year): typical in so many ways. I can’t tell you how many renditions of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” I’ve heard in recent weeks. At your birthday party, you and all your friends took delight in the same kinds of jokes: “Mom, mom, what’s your name?” you say, and then “And what’s this?” pointing to your nose, and then, holding out your empty hands, “What’s in my hands?” (Susan knows nothing!) Ha ha ha, say I, and didn’t you see me standing here just as you told that same exact joke to your brother, who tries to repeat it to me but doesn’t quite get it because he’s only in JK? No, that didn’t occur to you, because, of course, you’re only seven years old.
You read like a fiend: each morning, your alarm goes off at 7 AM and you curl up in bed for half an hour or so with a book. In the past year, you’ve started devouring some of my childhood favourites: Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing series (I still remember what a big deal it was when Blume came to Toronto to sign copies of Superfudge at the Toronto Children’s Bookstore: hours-long lineups and screaming fans. See, children’s authors were still rockstars even before JK Rowling. Not that we’ve started to you yet on JK Rowling. Because once we start, we won’t be able to stop you. And some of those books are a little scary.). A few weeks ago, I got Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth out of the library for you and you loved it and all its crazy puns. And I loved reading it to you — the parts you didn’t read yourself, leaving me scrambling to catch up to the story.
And yet, I have to convince you almost every time to try a new author, a new adventure. For your birthday, I went a little wild in the children’s section of the bookstore, picking out titles based on your previous favourites (the latest Magic Treehouse), my childhood classics (CS Lewis’s Narnia series), the New York Times literary supplement (Brian Selznik’s Wonderstruck), and things that just looked interesting (Wildwood). You thanked us profusely and then put the whole damn stack aside and pick something familiar to read before bed as I held Wildwood not-so-subtly in my lap. “Put that away,” you told me. “I don’t want to read it.” As bedtime drew to a close and you finished your allotment of one of those tiresome Geronimo Stilton chapters, I offered to read just two pages of the new book, and you grudgingly agreed. When I reached the end of the two pages, you said, diffidently, “You can read more.” And then, after the lights were out, you called out in a darkened room to Rachel: “Mom?” When she answered, you said, “Thanks for the books. I already started one: Wildwood.” And I smiled to myself.
And I guess that’s kind of how it is with you at the moment: passionate and hesitant, a taste for adventure tempered with heavy doses of the familiar. Is that all seven-year-olds? Is that all of us? Will I spend my life as a parent gently (forcefully?) coaxing you into the next adventure just as I coax you to eat breakfast and wear a hat in the cold? Or will you one day pick up a new book, a new sport, develop a new passion, spontaneously, of your own accord?
On the other hand, we’ve just found out about a Pokémon club at the local library and you were in from the get-go, so maybe I’m overthinking this whole thing.
Speaking of Pokémon, they have replaced Bakugan as your preoccupation of choice. You are Pokémon hustler, with an encyclopedic knowledge of each creature’s damage points and powers, playing on Skype with Rob, with your Zaidie when he shows up in town on your birthday weekend. “It’s quite amazing,” your Zaidie told me, shaking his head slightly as you trounced him over and over: “He knows every detail, every card, every rule.” And those cards: you must have several hundred by now, given to you as gifts, bought at Zellers with your birthday money and allowance. “Do you need to go to university to work at Zellers?” you ask me and your other mother. Because that’s the job you want (either that or working at Starbucks): so close to all those cards all day long, and you get a discount! And, after futilely trying to explain that no, you don’t need to go to university in general to work at Zellers (or Starbucks), but that you may still want to consider university in general, I think, Well, as long as you’re happy.
Your other passion is soccer. You’re up and dressed early and outside, even in the snow, kicking a ball around, begging us to play with you, complaining when we call you in for dinner or insist that it really is time to go to school. I never imagined myself as the mom kicking a ball around with her boys after school, after dinner, first thing on a weekend morning, but that’s who I am now. And maybe if I weren’t so busy keeping up with you I would marvel at that, too, but who has time?
Happy seventh birthday, Rowan: you’re marvelous.
P.S. Comment if you remember when Superfudge was released!