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To Calvin, on your twelfth birthday

As I sit here writing to you today, just shy of your birthday actually, I am thinking back through all my letters to you and realizing that this one is somehow easier than the last few. In many ways I feel like we’ve turned an important corner. I have always loved being your parent, but I have not always loved parenting you, and it has not always been easy. Now this year, finally, some breathing room. I think the key is a growing independence in your work, so that the demands on your time are coming more from inside you rather than from me, and that means less resistance on your part, less nagging on mine. These changes have returned to us the greater joys of our first years of homeschooling, and allowed us to grow closer, have more fun, even as the work gets more challenging.

Of course this was your most challenging year yet. Cell biology, chemistry, and nuclear energy in science; a return to the ancients in history; Algebra 2 for math, plus some coding and regular logic puzzles; a focus on origin stories, myths, and early legends in literature. We also studied geography, Spanish, and art, and while I couldn’t say what your favorite subject is—that seems to change weekly—I do know your least favorite is writing or composition. I think this is because it makes you nervous, the open ended nature of a blank page, and I hope to help you tackle that insecurity in the coming years.

A glaring omission above is the area of fine arts, but your dedication to that discipline seems so other that I give it its own paragraph. Theater, vocal music, instrumental music, and dance—you do it all. You performed in two more main stage shows with Young People’s Theatre this year: Spamalot and Cinderella, both professional level productions. You continued with ballet and tap classes through the year and learned so much in that time that you wowed us in your spring recital. You spent another great year with the Boychoir of Ann Arbor, signing the traditional opening solo in their Christmas concert in a beautiful, clear, angelic voice. In the fall you auditioned into the Regional Honors Choir so in February we took you to Chicago where you sang with kids from all over the Midwest, a wonderful experience. You are still truly excelling on the piano, too, and have a real talent for not just playing, but for feeling the music and making that emotion heard. But the best part of fine arts this year has been your immediate love and dedication to a new instrument: the bassoon. When you came to me in the fall of this school year and said they were looking for clarinetists to switch to the bassoon I was really nervous. This was an instrument I knew nothing about! But you were certain, and adamant. They sent you home with this expensive instrument and provided you with small group instruction in school while we got you a private teacher, and if we hadn’t already been pretty sure you sounded good, your private teacher’s amazement at the speed of your progress would have clued us in. This summer you will go to Blue Lake to study bassoon and have fun with other music geeks your age. It’s eleven days and nights that terrify me, but not you. You’re just excited.

You have always had this absence of social fear. Though you call yourself shy, and there are many instances where you choose to hang back in groups, ultimately you are happy to take on new things and plunge into new situations. You seem to just trust that you’ll be fine, knowing that you are self-reliant and unconcerned about what other people think. (For the most part. We all fall for those insecurities sometimes.) This year has seen us move a little farther away from the embrace of the homeschooling group as your schedule has started to clash with theirs. But this has not left you as bereft as I thought it might. Instead you have leaned more heavily into the neighborhood gang, and possibly into friendships with the kids you have met in band. Your base is shifting, as bases sometimes do at this age, but you seem completely unconcerned. 

These, then, are the pre-teen years. This will be the last of them, in fact, and they have not (yet?) brought the conflict and terror we had been told to prepare for. Instead I still see in you a softness, a kindness, a sweetness that keeps you young in my eyes, but also a burgeoning independence that is not the bane but the blessing of these years. We love you, we are so very proud of you, we really, truly enjoy you.

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