"They are born. They can drive. They move out. Hold them close and make them snuggle you and kiss them even if they fuss and put down the phone and the laptop when they are talking to you, and make the labor intensive dinner they love the most, because tomorrow they will drive themselves to school and start charting college visits. It's all so dumb. Why didn't someone warn us when we had babies that it would be over in half a minute?" - Jen Hatmaker
A few nights before Christmas this past year, as I was busy wrapping piles of presents and Daddy and I were talking about which gifts we were most excited to watch you open, he suddenly said to me, "You know - it won't be that many more years and Jaden will be needing his own car." And that comment stopped me dead in the middle of my wrapping, scotch tape stuck to my fingers, as I looked up at him and told him to be quiet. :)
It's true though. Here you are - turning nine years old tomorrow. Your last year in single digits and exactly halfway out the door - halfway to that big '18' number. And I swear it only took half a minute.
But it's not really the number or the age that has me realizing how fast these years are going. It's more because of who you have become, who you are becoming, and how we've watched you spread your wings over the past year.
Yes, you've become more independent and less reliant on us. And the realization of this happening is a lot like how I feel when you wander off to sit with your friends at basketball games instead of with us. It's this weird tug on my heart strings - so happy to watch you happy - but also struggling with letting go. So in other words, the same feelings every mother goes through while watching their babes grow up.
And it has been such a big year for you. In big ways and small ways, you are developing into a young man. You finally learned to ride your bike without training wheels, played your first year of kid-pitch baseball, got asked to join a competitive AAU basketball team, passed the swimming test at the Falls and conquered that high-dive and drop slide halfway through the summer. You flew on your first airplane, braved one heck of a roller coaster at Disney World, climbed the rock wall all the way to the top, received your first real Bible on the stage in front of our church congregation and family, took your first phone calls from friends after giving mommy's number out to your classmates, started learning cursive, completed you first Iowa assessment testing at school, experienced your first Arch Madness Tournament in St. Louis and continue to develop close, close friendships with your buddies. It's been a memorable year for you - for all of us - and I feel so lucky that I get to be your biggest cheerleader - whether its while sitting in the bleacher seats watching you score game winning free throws - or congratulating you for earning math awards at school - which is shockingly still your favorite subject.
And though there is so much growth happening, I'm thankful that there are still those moments when you remind me that you still need me. Usually in the quiet of night right before bed, when you wrap your arms around me, lay your head next to my chest and sigh that deep sigh that says, "I love you, Mommy." Or last night, when you hung around the kitchen with Daddy, excitedly helping him put together a pasta - reading the ingredients and directions off the recipe, asking lots of questions and feeling so happy and excited to be spending that time with him.
We love who you are Jaden, even during the days and moments when I'm pulling my hair out and feeling a little exasperated. You are often loud - because you're so full of life. You are messy. You cannot ever remember to pick up dirty underwear or towels even as you're stepping all over them, you often times miss the toilet completely because you're in too much of a hurry to move on to other things, you somehow end up sleeping with pencils, shoes and footballs in your bed, leaving them for me to find hiding under your bed sheets in the morning when I'm making your bed, you leave string cheese wrappers ALL over the house and still manage to get pizza or spaghetti sauce ALL over your face when eating. It's amazing. We haven't been able to figure out how you miss your mouth so badly. :)
Yes, you are messy - and wild. And you love your family and friends in such big, wild ways. You want your grandparents and aunt and uncle and cousins around at all times. When football season ended, you cried about leaving your teammates right there on the field in front of them - and then the whole way home. I'll never forget that. You smother Lucy cat, and most of the time she puts up with it. You push your brother's buttons, but the two of you are pretty inseparable, and I see that bond only growing as you two both grow.
You still love food but refuse to eat cereal for breakfast and you don't like mashed potatoes (much to your Daddy's dismay). You laugh so hard and loud at funny things. Your Papa Tim loves taking you to movies just so he can hear you laugh. Often times you'll get to laughing at movies so hard at home that we have to pause it just to give you a moment to breathe and give the rest of us a chance to actually be able to HEAR the movie. :)
We can't get you to do anything quickly. You are the slowest to change clothes, put pajamas on, get your coat on or tie your shoes. You are never in a hurry, and often times get distracted by the little things around you. That being said, you pay such close attention in school, sit so incredibly still in class, and continue to be a leading light for your teachers. You are still all about sports, and I have no idea how far this will take you, but I'm grateful for the opportunities you've been given that mesh so well with your passion.
When I think back to you as a baby, you are now who you were then, and it's pretty amazing how that works. Eating all the time, rarely able to sit still, wanting some kind of a ball in your hands at all times, fascinated by buttons and electronics and a strong desire to understand how things work. But there are surprises, too. This year, you have gained a passion for studying and researching animals and have mentioned on numerous occasions now that you see your future in Africa - making a career out of working with wild life. You also love math, have won multiple math awards, and would happily work on 20 math sheets before having to do 10 minutes of reading. It is the complete opposite of your dad and I, which just goes to show that God designs us all incredibly uniquely.
Even at three months, you were already working on your follow-through! With your tongue out! See? Some things just don't change. :)
Of all the things that make you who you are, your heart is what makes me proudest. Your love for babies and animals and family and friends and Jesus. Your excitement for all experiences - but especially if those experiences include your favorite people. You are such a good friend to your best bud, Jack. It warmed my heart last weekend watching the two of you walk together through the parking lot, seeing the way Jack casually put his arm around you in a bro hug. The way you cried our first night home from Disney World - not because the adventure was over - but because you missed sleeping in the same hotel room with your whole family. The way your third grade football team meant the world to you and how you didn't want to let those relationships and memories go. The way you told us this year - out of the blue - that you wished Martin Luther King could give "that speech again" - because your heart was breaking for others not like you.
Jaden Timothy, you are a wild, goofy, messy, and sweet blessing to all who get to play with you, coach you, teach you, know you and love you. Happy birthday, bud. Proud of you. Love you.