A week ago, you turned nine. NINE. I can still remember counting the minutes until I could visit my tiny boy in the NICU and the sheer joy of bringing you home from the hospital at 23 days old. One of my favorite Ben stories from that time is when you removed yourself from oxygen. The nurse kept taping it back on and you kept yanking it back off, until finally they let you try to breathe without it and kept an eye on your ox sat level. And you were fine. It's a perfect example of your personality: you do everything in your own time, and when you are ready, I had better be ready to let you do it. Now you are nine-- although it seems impossible that you are that old-- and nothing has changed.
You've had a big year. You attend first grade in a regular class with kids younger than you who seem pretty accepting of you, and you have a wonderful teacher. You start and end your day in an ACC class to go over your schedule and get one-on-one practice. You have gotten fairly adept at asking questions and are curious about the world around us, you navigate your iPad like a champ, and you still enjoy all kinds of music. You like to read non-fiction books to learn new things, but you still enjoy stories. You also like dinosaurs and space, and you are still interested in classical composers. We had to disguise a turkey as Beethoven this year, after all.
You faced a big fear this year. Tom took us to visit Tennessee this summer on our way to North Carolina, and we walked deep down into a dark cave to take an electric boat ride across an under ground lake. It was very neat but very dark, and as long as I held your hand, you were quite a trooper. You have an adventurous spirit and love seeing new things. We went to the Georgia Aquarium and you got to see whale sharks and Manta Rays up close. They are huge but you stood face-to-face with them in wonder.
You like science and learning about how things work, so we had another birthday party at the Discovery Center. Some of your sweet friends from the ACC class got to come, along with several precious little girls from first grade. The girls told me you are much nicer to them than the other boys and they seem to genuinely like you, which makes my heart smile. One of them wrote a very elaborate note about you in her precious home-made card. It's a keep sake for sure. I am glad you are nice to the girls, and I hope you will always be one of the nice guys. Sometimes it seems like there aren't many of them around, and I tell you every day before you go off to school to be kind and to put good into the world.
You are nine-- but in many ways you are much younger. You still like Disney Junior, snuggles, tickles, cuddling in the chair with stories, giggling and being mischievous, and lots of younger-kid things. You are so easy to make happy-- it's astonishing really. You derive great joy from simple things-- chocolate ice cream, a favorite funny story, cute animal videos, a good stick, time to play outside, straws to manipulate, Tic Tacs. That is a quality which has become very rare, and I hope you keep that one too.
I don't know what the future holds for you. My heart often feels heavy with the questions. Will you go to college? Get married? Live independently? Be a father? I just don't know. I do know, however, that I fight every day for you to have what you need and for you to get every opportunity you can so that you can reach your potential. Whatever that is will be enough, I know. I feel sure you will be a good person, as you have such a joyful, caring heart. You can't stand for anyone to be upset and will apologize (even when it is not your fault) and try to make them feel better. You bring your friends and family much joy, and I hope that joy is always returned to you.
I love you more than all the water in the ocean, more than all the stars in the sky, more than all the wind in Texas, more than all the trees in Florida, and more than all the mountains in Colorado. I hope this next year is just as amazing as each of the last nine have been. I can't wait to share it with you.
Love always from your biggest fan,