Fifteen.

Dear Sam,

For the second year in a row, I haven't managed to write this letter on time. I never thought I'd have to write you a second pandemic birthday letter, but here we are. 

There seem to be two main types of people: those who have enjoyed staying home and those who want nothing more than to go out and be with people. You have weathered the pandemic fairly well, I think probably the most challenging thing for you has been spending so much time in a house with your extrovert of a brother while he tried to get all his social needs met by you. It was a doozy.

Now it is November, and you've been back in school for half a semester. I don't think more kids have ever been more excited about going back to school than they were this year. You still have to wear a mask, but you and Danny both seem to just go with it.

Bellingham High School is.... huge. I've been inside a few times, and it was daunting. But you? You have classes on three floors, in two portables. You didn't go to orientation and found the classrooms no problem on your first day. You seem to mostly have friends by proximity, but even with only one person you name, it seems like you're glad to be back at school again. I think a lot of it is the routine it provides, and even though you don't love doing homework, I think you do like using your brain. You're also taking two different computer classes right now (programming and game design), so that makes for learning about things that are actually interesting to you.

I can't believe you're a sophomore, and that you've got less than 3 years of high school before you graduate. If you were any other kid, you'd be pushing for a learner's permit, but you don't have much interest in driving. I think the thought is still kind of scary to you and also you don't have a great desire to be out anywhere. I wonder if/when you'll be interested in it. 

Back in May, we celebrated your birthday on the big porch at Grandma's new house, we had a big pizza from McKay's and a very chocolatey cake. Every year, I love watching you open presents. You always laugh at the cards, and you genuinely appreciate each gift as you open it. I can see in those moments the kindness you have inside you, and that your ability to be positive and attentive is real. You face challenges with executive function - your ADD and mild form of ASD are like the perfect storm to make you seem forgetful or absentminded. Really, it's all just personality and chemicals and brain differences. I hope that in the next few years I can help you learn how to keep track of life in a way that works for you.

Despite flareups of sullen-ness and sensory overload, you are a pretty easygoing guy. You are agreeable much of the time, and argue a lot less than you used to about everyday things. Routine is definitely your friend, and that's okay. Last night you asked me to put your hair in a high ponytail so it would be out of your way while you were sleeping, then you let me take your picture because it looked hilarious, and when I looked at the picture of you with your head tilted to the side I saw so much of myself in you. I love how you just... are who you are.

During bedtime shows recently, Danny told you he loved you and you immediately replied that you loved him too, a lot. It's gotten harder as you've gotten older because you don't always want to do what he does or play with him. You fight sometimes, partly because he wants your attention and goes for it in negative ways. But you two are solid brothers who are able to love each other. You still have a lot of fun - lately you've been playing "Jeopardy" after bedtime shows, where Danny will ask ridiculous questions about geography and other things that you do not know the answers to. I like it because the vibe always ends up being so positive right before bedtime.

Lately there have been new challenges for me as a parent, and I wrote you another letter. I'm going to share an excerpt here:

You have a lot to learn. Everybody does when they are your age. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, everybody has highs and lows. But I will not give you ultimatums. I will not tell you it is my way or the highway. You are my responsibility, but far beyond that you’re my family. You are a piece of my heart outside my body, and it is my job as your mom to help you succeed.

I don’t know how to reconcile my fierce, deep-seated need to protect you from one thing with my animalistic urge to protect you from this new threat. You are 15 now, no longer a little kid who I need to protect fully from the world. I have talked to you and your brother very little about the things that went wrong in my relationship with your other parent. But you’re getting to be old enough now where it is time that you might understand some of it. This is a brand new, unsteady ground I must navigate by following my heartstring back to you.

The day you were born, they put you in my arms and I fell into your eyes, dark blue pools of trust and family. The whole world melted away and nothing else mattered when you looked at me. I still see you the way I did that day — with unlimited potential and forever my baby.
I don't know what will happen in your relationship with your other parental household as you grow older, but I know that I am instilling in you that Scott and I will always be your home, and that is all that matters to me.

This year Grandma Edie and Grandpa Paul started telling you about Digipen, and my mind is unable to process the idea of you in college. You've only got 2 more years of high school left, and then you'll be almost a legal adult, and that blows my mind. I am so curious to see what you do and where you go. Whatever it is, I hope you'll always stay not to far away from me.

Love, 
Mom
PS I forgot to mention that you are gigantic. You are now the tallest person in the family besides Paul. I never expected you to be tall!

Favorites!

Favorite Book: Illuminae Series by by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Favorite Color: Black
Favorite Song: Keter Qualities
Favorite Board Game: Stratego, but I'm only writing that because you played it with Danny last night
Favorite Video Game:  Antimatter Dimensions
Favorite TV Show: The Simpsons
Favorite YouTubers: Slimccl
Favorite Food:  Pizza, waffles, chicken nuggets, mac & cheese
Favorite Dessert: Cake
Favorite Thing to Do Outside the House:  Eat
Favorite Subject at School: Video Game Design
Best Friend: Andrew