Tag Archives: letters to my son

A note to my boy, who is ten today

Chasing pigeons in lower Manhattan.Dear Declan,

Now you are ten. Declan’s first decade is a wrap.

Ten. Like all of your fingers or all of your toes, like the first syllable of your name. It’s the number of inkblots in the Rorschach test, the percentage you are supposed to tithe or take down to weaken an army, the atomic number of neon, the minimum number of players on a baseball field during play, the Wheel of Fortune card in a tarot deck.

It’s a powerful base number that can take you to infinite places, like the Eames’ film, Powers of Ten, that you used to watch over and over and over again when you were three. You loved it so dearly that you wanted to go to the Chicago lakeside to lay yourself down exactly where the man in the movie did, maybe thinking that it was a place where you could travel to the farthest reaches of the universe and the depths of the microverse.

“Ten is the number that allows all the numbers above it to exist because it’s the first use of zero,” you told me the other day. We had your birthday party cake decorated with 1+100 zeroes – a googol – because it is ten to the power of ten to the power of ten, and it was named 100 years ago (10 X 10).

You are an initiate into the double digits, a place I hope that you’ll remain vibrant and healthy for the next 89 years. You seem like a guy who could still hold his own well in the triple digits too.

Age nine has been eventful. You liked impersonating Rene Magritte’s “Son of Man” by holding apples and balls in front of your face and demanding that I snap a picture. You researched dark energy and dark matter. You learned to knit. You met Michio Kaku and nearly jumped out of your skin with excitement. You were a neuron for Halloween.

You asked to take refuge, the formal step of becoming Buddhist last summer, and did so with a lama who had taken refuge in Tibet when he was nine. The refuge name you were given means “glorious wisdom,” Karma Sherab Palzang but Lama Karma kept calling you “Chocolate” to see if you’d answer to it. And sweet you did every time.

I gave you a sign that says “I want to have adventures with you” for your room, and I’m happy that we still do. We do things like wake up early and drive around in our pajamas to see a lunar eclipse. We walked all over Manhattan together last August, exploring Battery Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, SOHO, The Skyscraper Museum. I let you play in the fountain in Washington Square Park on a steamy day. You emerged after a good hour, soaked and joyful. “God knows I loved that,” you said as we took back to the sidewalk.

You fell in love with the Met, the way I was as a kid. When you walked into the room with the Temple of Dendur, which you last saw at age 5, you said “THIS is where this room is! I have had so many dreams in here!”

You wake up the morning and ask me things like whether or not I know how George Washington really died, or if I realized that chocolate chip cookies and plastic were both invented by accident. I never know how the day is going to begin. I am happy that certain things seem to be outside of your purview. The other day, you told me someone had knocked you down at the roller rink and when I asked, startled “on purpose?” You replied within a beat, “of course not!”

I met Larry. And eventually so did you. (Plus his dogs, Walter and Leelu.) Your first impression of him was “he’s funny and he’s kind.” But what I most remember is that when I told you that he made me feel safe and loved, you hugged me so hard. You put your hand on my face sweetly and said “I think this is important for you.”

We celebrated your birthday on Sunday with so many of your friends at the bowling alley, which – of course we did, because the game has 10 pins and ten frames. You have this beautiful exuberance for all things and people. I loved the way some of your friends talked to you, how excited they were about presents that had gotten you or the cards they had picked out specially.

There was nothing in particular you asked for on your birthday today. You decided you wanted to give something instead – ten inches of your hair to Locks of Love. Your hair is beautiful and has been such a signifier of you as a person – this boy who hasn’t cared about being called a girl, this unfazed, self-possessed individual who I admire so, so deeply. You are such a dynamic and lovely person, Declan. And as earnest and delightful as you are, you’re also goofy and funny as heck.

It’s so exciting to wake up every day and find out more about who you are, who you want to become.

I love you so much my sweet boy,


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A note to my boy, who is NINE today

spaceboyDear Declan,

Now we begin your tenth orbit around the sun. It’s the last year that your age will be identified with a single digit, the closing of your time as a primary student, the beginning of who knows what? You are an ennead of enchanted and perplexing years. Everything is possible.

Nine is beautiful and mysterious. A stitch in time is said to save it, and isn’t that the truth? Dante said there are nine rings of hell, while Tolkien wrote of nine rings of power. There are nine consciousnesses in Buddhism, nine months in human gestation, nine innings in a regulation game of baseball, nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and nine squares on each side of the Rubik’s cube that you are so enamored with these days. Mathematically, it’s a square number, a composite number, a lucky number, a Motzkin number, an exponential factorial and a bunch of other things you seem to be really interested in. It’s the atomic number of Fluorine, which is some pretty scary, toxic stuff. I know, because I once read to you about it at bedtime by your request and thought to myself “if this isn’t a mother’s love, what is?”

When I was pregnant with you I drank water from the Castalian spring on Mount Parnassus in Greece, the consecrated ground of Apollo and the nine muses. Everyone who knows you knows that you have the inspiration of Urania, the muse of astronomy. But those who know you best know that poetry, dancing, music, theater and history give you joy as well. I suspect you will draw encouragement from all nine muses in time, my sweet, sweet boy.

When I asked you what you remembered best from this past year, it was mostly about the world around you. It was things like the confirmation of new element 115, temporarily called “Ununpentium,” which made you dance all over the house when you heard the news. Or the steps toward a unified theory of everything humanity made when it was announced that the signatures of gravitational waves were detected by a team of scientists led by your religion teacher’s brother.

You remember the conversations you have been lucky enough to have with OSU astronomers and physicists and the day you surprised math professors when you discovered a new configuration in their circle-packing game. And that you finally saw meteors one night in Woodstock last August, as one after another streaked the sky.

I remember a lot of things, too. Like the way you thought you’d need my help when you tried ice skating for the first time, but got out there on your own and felt so fast. Last summer we wandered through Manhattan together for the fourth summer in a row and you lit up on the rocks of Central Park, a place so familiar and comfortable to you now. We laid down on the floor of the Guggenheim to look at James Turrell’s installation and the American Museum of Natural History to stare up at the blue whale. I hope we can lay down on the floor of the Louvre or the Uffizi together someday.

I remember when you shook Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s hand sweetly and gently last fall and smiled with your whole head. We took a couple of containers full of nightcrawlers home from his teaching for a “life release” practice and buried them outside of my bedroom window, liberating them from their sentence as fish bait. Almost every creature from the bug world makes you uneasy, but for days after, you spoke to them through the glass.

“I hope you have a good life now, worms,” you told them. “I hope the soil is rich. You’re free!”

You were a d-brane from M-theory for Halloween, which had you lamenting the lack of physicists in the neighborhood on beggar’s night. You researched the possibility of warp drive for your project at the school Interest Fair. Right now, you are learning to knit from a woman who deeply impressed you with her hyperbolic plane made of yarn.

At Christmastime, you were cast as “the voice of God” in a school play and projected your lines like a pro, then sang “Away in a Manger” all by yourself in front of a church packed with people. You are so brave. You made a special book to give to friends and family that you named “Declan’s theories and other things he likes to think about.”

And when it comes to wisdom you are no slouch. Once, when I asked you about how you respond to children at school in a conflict, you were thoughtful about it.

“I try to let people be who they are and hope that they shape themselves into someone kind,” you said, pausing for a moment. “Unless they’re sociopaths.”

Your humor isn’t bad either. You reenacted the birth of the universe as you cracked a glow stick into action one night. As its blue light emerged, you waved it around and said “hey mom – do you know what chemical element is in this thing?” I said I did not.

“It’s hilarium! Because it’s a glow schtick.”

You look out for me. When I took you to see the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, I flinched during the violent parts, so you covered my eyes. I was roller skating too fast for your liking a few weeks ago. “You could get really, really hurt,” you said, and insisted that I slow down and hold your hand for a few laps.

You say thank you in unexpected moments. You try not to take things for granted.

Parenting becomes less and less about the choices I make for you every year. I try to put you in the best places that I can find to feed your thoughtful and curious spirit, but you are making your world happen, finding your own confidence, discovering and expressing your own feelings and convictions. It’s such an honor to witness your becoming.

A friend of mine told me he could see my imprint on you. “You circle all around him like a field of (William) Blake’s angels,” he told me. “He knows, absolutely, that he is loved. It’s safe for him to become who he is.”

God I hope that’s true, now and always.

I know that being your mom has helped me become kinder to my imperfect self, less afraid and more accepting of the life I have, even when it hasn’t gone the way I thought it should. I believe that might make anyone better at loving others.

I love you so, so much Declan and I couldn’t be prouder of how you you are.

Love \infty


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A note to my boy, who is six today

Dear Declan,

You are six today. Six!

That’s halfway to twelve.

That’s one-third of the way to 18.

You’ve grown so much this year. Taller. Wiser. Kinder.  More confident, and though I didn’t think it was possible, more curious. Aggressively curious, even. And infectiously thrilled by every new thing that you learn.

You wander around the house, wondering aloud, asking questions I don’t know the answers to, like “Why is Qatar so small?” Or quasi-rhetorical ones, like “3.5 billion years isn’t a very long time for life to take to evolve, is it mom?” (Props to Carl Sagan.)  You quiz me to find out if I know which continents use the most electricity, or sit up with a start, just moments after waking, and tell me “I just got what plasma actually is.”

On Mother’s Day, you explained how the Himalayas were formed to three separate audiences, how they are folded and getting taller every year. No wonder I got so excited when I found a DNA stencil at the craft store yesterday.

We’ve traded in bedtime storybooks for brief tomes about Silicon, Chlorine, Fluorine & Iodine, and Sulfur. Then you always manage to extract sciencey, psychedelic stories from my imagination in which you are the star (sometimes of the plasma variety) before you fall asleep.  Thankfully, you return to storybooks now and then when I grow weary of molecules. When there are pictures or short chapters, you do most of the bedtime reading.

All that, and I can still say silly things like “hey, my son turned into a pink punch balloon” at the dining room table, watch you peek over said balloon and say to me in earnest, “no mom, I’m right here.”

Earlier in the school year, you started asking me six times four, three times seven, nine times ten from the back seat of the car, using your fingers like the Montessori chains.  “I’m not sure if it’s safe for mommy to do math and drive,” I told you.  You kept testing my multiplication skills anyway.

A few weeks ago, you sat down at the dining room table with me and asked “what is 122 times 365?” I thought you were just seeing what I could do in my head, but you had a greater purpose. I leaned on my phone calculator for an answer. You repeated the number I read — 44, 530 — and looked thoughtful for a moment before you declared: “that’s how many days the oldest person who ever lived was alive.”

I am always a little stunned, although I shouldn’t be at this point, at the things you understand – like the kind of math you have to do in order to find that number. And then I’m a little sad, because I also understand why the length of a life might be of such interest to you. You watched your Grandfafa fade away last summer, and bravely read a book at his funeral.  The last year has taken us to a plethora of hospitals and funeral homes. You know I spend every Saturday morning with someone else who will be passing soon. You dive-bomb me with hugs and kisses the moment you sense any sadness.

Sometimes, I am overcome with worry around 4 a.m., feeling this is all much too much for you – deaths, illnesses, separated parents – all this while you’re figuring out how to keep your feet clean in the muddy world of playground politics. But we’re good about talking right now, you and me. We share and work through things.  We feel sad when we need to. We rebound. It feels like most of what we do when we are together is laugh.

I try to remember to stop and breathe you in the way I did when you were a baby, to breathe in these fleeting moments when I can still carry you, still snuggle you so that you can feel little and safe.

The real reason I imagine that you want to know how many days are possible in a lifetime is because you are busy calculating how to make each one count. And you do. You really do. More than anyone I have ever met.

Declan, I love you so spectacularly much that my heart can hardly stand it.

Happy sixth birthday.

I love you infinity,


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A note to my boy, who is five today

Dear Declan,
You are five today. That is a little bit of a relief because I can’t remember the last time you met someone new who would have guessed that you were only four. Between your tall physique and your extensive vocabulary, I’ve had more than one person look at me like I must not remember the actual day that you were born.
There is no doubt that you are growing up quickly. And that I can barely remember the time before you were able to talk to me, when you were a babbling bundle of rolypoliness with ticklish, chubby folds on your legs.
These days I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time while you pick words you recognize off the page and ask me to tell you when I reach them. You work out math problems on your fingers. You close yourself in the storage ottoman and tell me you’re headed through a black hole, out a white hole and into some other part of the universe. You mix up magic fairy dust in a little tin and whisper wishes into it. You love dogs and babies. You laugh hysterically at mispronounced words and plastic dinosaurs that bite. And no matter how much you rationalize that they can’t hurt you, you seriously cannot stand bugs.
I’m grateful to Stephen Hawking because he reasoned that the imperfection of the universe is what made us possible. Now, when you make mistakes, I have a higher authority than your mother to invoke, which helps to keep you from being too hard on yourself. Sometimes this works for me too. Beautiful things can come of mistakes, now we know what to look for when we mess up. “Perfection is not possible,” is your new mantra. I made this point to you once. You’ve made it back to me at least a dozen times since, probably because I’ve really needed to hear it.
You’re also growing up in ways I wish you didn’t have to. Your preschool experience has taught you, and re-taught me the value of going through our feelings instead of around them, so maybe we’re at least better prepared for several of the challenges that are right before us.

Hospice workers, with all their loving care, have just descended on our family. And as much as I don’t want you to be burdened, as much as I want to protect you from feeling that you have the obligation to help, that obligation lives in you. You like to push your Grandfafa’s dining tray in so he can reach his food. You pick up things that he drops. You ask him what he needs when he calls out for help and you help him adjust his chair. Most of all, you do what a lot of us have more trouble doing around him – you laugh, you talk to him about all the science dancing around your brain. You impress him with ballet jumps and happy energy and provide him with little glimmers of pride and joy. You snuggle with his wife, my mom, your Giga. You are one of the best caretakers I know.


A few days ago you asked me not to put you in any summer camps for a while. What you want, you told me, is for us to have our own adventures, to do projects, to be together. You know you’re starting Kindergarten this fall, and they say a summer filled with shared experiences is the best preparation for this transition. I’m hopeful it will prepare me too, because I’m pretty sure you’re going to soar in school. I’ll be the one who is a wreck, having less of you in my day.
I wrote this thing after you were born. And every day you give me new answers to the question I asked that day in Delphi. I have been privileged to have a lot of amazing teachers in my life, and you are one of the greatest. I am so proud to be your mom.
I love you as brightly as a quasar, as infinitely as the stars in all of the galaxies in the heavens and as powerfully as a hypernova.
Happy birthday.

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A note to my boy, who is four today…

My little boy is four today. Four.

I feel like I’m supposed to say that I can’t believe he’s four already, and in some ways that’s true, but mostly it isn’t. I feel like I’ve been awake in motherhood, probably more than any other role I’ve played in my life. I’ve been present with him in these years. Lately I’ve had to remind myself what I was doing in the others, to seek out evidence of who I was before.

When I look at pictures of that chubby-cheeked mystery of a baby I gave birth to four years ago, I may feel nostalgic to hold that tiny body or dress him in those little clothes, but I don’t see a person that I miss. I see someone I’ve felt privileged to know and excited to watch unfold. Yesterday, for a moment when we hugged each other and he kissed me sweetly, I said, haphazardly, “I love your smooches and hugs so much. I hope you’ll always have smooches and hugs for me.” He looked at me strangely, and kind of sympathetically before he said “I will always hug you.” I thought, well, he won’t, but that will be another time and place and this is today. Or maybe he will. He is a master of surprises.

In true mother blogging fashion, here are some thoughts I wanted to write down for my son, to let him know some of the things that I see when I look at him, things that I’m coming to understand are just a fragment of who he is.

Dear Declan,
You are four today. You are amazing. You are tall and healthy and strong and kind and warm and well-loved by a remarkable number of people. This is the last week of your first year of preschool, where you surprised everyone by learning all the names of your classmates within the first couple of weeks, and then started on the parents. You knew the names of several of the moms and dads before I did.

You know more of the neighbors than I do, too. They ask you to eat dinner with them and plant beans in their yards because they enjoy your company. How lucky they are to learn so much about the solar system and the workings of the digestive system from you. How lucky we are to live on a block with adults who see and try to understand and appreciate you for you.

So far, you haven’t met a word you weren’t willing to try to use in a sentence. You sneak sweets at your two grandmothers’ houses and then tell me you know they aren’t nutritious. You looked at the painting a four-year-old friend gave you as a birthday gift last night and became delighted all over again that it’s now yours. “It’s very expensive,” you told me, I think because you understand the word to mean something you really, really like that’s hard to get. And then: “We make expensive paintings at our house sometimes too, right mommy?”

You’re becoming a Dadaist. You make jokes like “Why did the chicken cross the kitchen?” Answer: “Tweet tweet!” and you ring people’s bellies like doorbells until they say “Who’s there?” which you answer with nonsense words or silence. When we’re home together and you want my attention, you bust out with a nonsequitur like “a wild purple pansy has five petals.” You never hesitate when you name a new stuffed animal. Your teddy bear is Baljoulth. Your cat Pipapupa. Your dog Shoop. When I think you won’t possibly remember the name you concocted five days later, you always do. Silly, as you say, makes you a man.

You are compassionate. You’re a little uncertain about bugs in general, but when we went to the butterfly exhibit this year, you bravely approached the chrysalis case and watched some new wings fluttering behind glass. As we got ready to enter the biome where they fly freely, we heard multiple warnings not to touch them, especially with the palms of our hands, or they could get hurt. “What would happen?” you asked me. I tried to explain how the oils on our hands could weigh them down. “What if one lands on me and I hurt it?” You asked. Your outfit had no pockets, so I suggested folding your arms. As we walked in, we saw a butterfly on the path ahead of us, struggling and unable to fly. “What happened to it?” you asked me, tight sadness creeping into your voice. “Did someone touch it?” This was too much for your heart to bear and you buried yourself in my chest, hands clasped together, and ordered us to leave. You couldn’t bear to hurt one yourself. (Ants and spiders are, of course, a different story.)

You are kind. You sidle up to my elderly stepfather, your Grandfafa, whose hand tremors and shakes more each time we visit, and insist that he partake in the joy you know as Crocodile Dentist. You pat his knee. You dance for him. You talk to him about the things you’ve learned lately and try to get him to throw a foam football with you from the armchair he rarely leaves. You demand that Giga get him a bib at dinner. You kiss and hug him. Aging and debilitating illness can be scary, so I think we would try and understand if you were afraid, but so far, you are not. You are just light in the day of a person whose life is darkly clouding.

You rock a party hat. Or any hat. Or sunglasses. Or the hand-me-down green jean jacket that your best bud at school gave you. Another mom at school admires your sense of fashion. “He gets it,” she told me one day. “You wear one signature item with confidence – that’s the essence of style.”

Your curiosity is epic. Some people marvel at your intelligence, but it’s your questions and your imagination and the connections you make that routinely bowl me over. Every time I think they might wane, or that your interests may shift to playground endeavors, you surprise me by returning to space – outer and inner, turning so many of the perceptions that I had often thought safe inside out. Your thinking is magical and scientific. I can’t imagine why it is that you notice when we come home on different roads than we took to our destination. I don’t know why you always notice when we pass the confluence of Columbus’ two rivers. You can find our house from space on Google Earth, along with your school, Perkins Observatory, COSI and the Statehouse.

We are thinking of going to Chicago this summer and while we have museums and a planetarium in mind, the thing you most want to see is the patch of grass where the man sleeps on the blanket in Powers of Ten. This is the perspective you can’t seem to get enough of – these journeys from our little patch of earth to the edges of the known universe, and all the way back into us, where cells and atoms and chromosomes and DNA seem just as infinite. (By the way, you just played a space trivia board game with your dad meant for seven year olds and you completely hosed him in the first round.)

The only accurate expectation I had of parenthood was that your influence on me would be as great or even stronger than the one I had on you. In a culture where I think too many people talk at or down to kids instead of listening to and speaking with them, you manage to bring so many people to your level. I watched as people came to wish you well the other day – adults and children who took such great care to give you heartfelt gifts that reflected the person they see. You were gleeful and unbelieving that all of that stuff was for meant for you. You were as appreciative and excited as any gift-giver could be and even an attentive host who made certain his friends were festooned with a lei. You sow the seeds of kindness and wonder so naturally.

I can’t wait to find out what else we get to learn from you as we enter your fifth revolution around the sun. I love you so much, my sweet boy.

Happy birthday.


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