Today, Matthew turns 9 years old. Although we celebrated his birthday in California with Grandmas, I plan to still make a cake and have one small gift for him today to mark the day. But yesterday, the gift was for us.
Last night I watched as the "little boy" slowly trudged down the street and the young man softly and gently entered. How hard it is to say good bye to that little boy, and yet what wonder there is in getting to know this young man! I have often said how much I truly like each of our sons, how if they were men my age they would be dear, close friends. Alas, instead of being that "friend" I have the privilege of being their mom...and what a privilege that indeed is.
Matthew worked off and on most of the winter cleaning tables at the restaurant, taking out trash, etc. and had saved money...his $2 here and $ .50 there. He planned to spend it in California but when there he bought very little, one of the few things being a wooden cross necklace at the Santa Barbara Mission. Well, this weekend he made an announcement. He wanted to take the entire family to the movies and pay for it himself! His movie of choice was Kung Fu Panda. I asked him later while we were alone if he knew how expensive that would be, that it would take almost all his money. I explained that if he wanted to go see the movie he could ask one of us to take him instead of taking the whole family. He said "Mommy, I know Joshie and Kenny would really like it, and it is what I want to do, please let me."
So we were caught in a tiny quandary, do we let him spend every last penny on one evening of pleasure for all of us as he was insisting and as we feel guilty standing by, do we pay for it and just take the kids, or do I let him have his moment that felt a bit for him like a rite of passage? After talking it over, we opted to let Matthew take us all out, bringing along a little money ourselves to cover it should we see that he was a little mortified or caught off guard by how much it all costs. We decided that this would be a terrific learning experience for him to see just how much "real life" costs when we take the family out once in awhile, in learning how to budget and use money wisely and why we don't do it all that often. We were just working in one of his Cub Scout books this week and discussing family finances, so it fit perfectly with that lesson.
So, I made him call the theater in the neighboring town by himself yesterday afternoon to learn what time it played, and after a light dinner off we went, everyone very excited to be going to a real movie theater which we have only done a couple of times. We were going to the "Egyptian" theater which made it even a tad bit more exciting, as although it is very old it was renovated a few years ago with an Egyptian theme and gold masks are on the walls inside, and the architecture feels very thematic and more special than the drab rectangular boxes most modern theaters are.
As we walked up to the ticket booth, which is outside the front like the old fashioned theaters used to be, Matthew stepped up confidently and asked for two adult and 3 children's tickets, then whipped out his wallet like a pro and carefully selected the right combination of bills to pay for it. It was at that moment when I knew we had made the correct decision, as the look of pride on his face as he handed each of us our tickets was worth a million bucks. Kenny and Josh both giggled with excitement as we walked in, and then Matthew announced he was treating all of us to snacks at the snack bar. We asked him again if he really wanted to spend his money that way and he said he was sure and it was just about the sweetest thing I have ever seen as all three boys huddled and Matthew questioned them carefully about what they wanted to eat and drink, and then as we got to the counter he ordered for everyone...popcorn, drinks, gummy bears, with each item ordered with swift calculation I could see that it was important to him that this was a special night for all of us.
We went in and sat down, and the tub of popcorn was quickly passed back and forth amongst all of us until Matthew in all of his new found maturity gently took the tub from Kenny and said "That's enough for now Kenny, we need to save the rest for the movie.", sounding more and more like the parent with every comment made. It is a testament to the way both Josh and Kenny view Matthew in his quiet leader role amongst them that there was no argument and Kenny happily sat back waiting until it was time for the movie to start. Matthew sat in the middle of the five of us, almost like a wise little Egyptian King on a throne. Finally the movie began and we all found ourselves laughing and really enjoying the antics on screen of the unlikely Panda hero. Munching and slurping our way through, hearing Kenny's high pitched squeal mingling with Matthew's more mellow sounding giggle, I had a greater appreciation for this new stage in our lives, we are out of the baby stage and toddler phase and are on to a more mature phase, one of even more important growing and learning of life lessons...one with kids that are more "portable" and easier to do things with. Gone are the bottles and diapers and here firmly is the stretching and exploring of the next stage of childhood. Already the letting go begins.
And as Dominick and I sat there grinning at one another as we looked from child to child whose faces were lit up not only by the soft light projected on screen but by the joy of sharing and being together doing something fun, without a word being spoken between us I know we were both thinking the same thing, that the 17 years of watching movies with his arm draped around my shoulder and the tub of popcorn shared with 2 rather than 5 were not nearly as satisfying as sitting a seat apart trying to grab the dregs of popcorn that still remained after 3 other little hands had been pawing through it. Nope, nothing compares to it.
The movie ended and we all walked to the car in the twilight reliving the adventures on screen and singing "Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting" from the 70's. Thank yous were said over and over to Matthew by everyone, all exclaiming what a terrific night it had been and how much they had enjoyed it. Matthew graciously accepted the thanks and showed how much he really IS maturing by not once throughout the evening ever saying anything close to "look what I did for you!" or trying to garner more attention for his act of generosity. That alone spoke more to me than anything else.
9 years old, wow, is that hard to believe. The passage of time is even more swift than my elders had ever said. Matthew, you are remarkable. The depth of your thoughts has always intrigued me, from the time you were 3 and talked about God being like electricity, to the times when you were even younger and talked about my Dad...the grandpa you never met...as if he was sitting right there in the seat next to you. You have shown the ability to adapt as is seldom seen in children your age, and your quiet warmth and kindness are sadly often overlooked as you are not an "in your face" kind of kid, but a more subtle kind of interaction is your gift. I am so blessed that even at 9 years old, you still hold my hand in public, don't wipe away my kisses but rather ask for them, and you still beg me to come visit your classroom and go on field trips. I know many, many moms for whom that all stopped 2 or 3 years ago...and I consider myself one of the lucky few that doesn't have a son who is already pulling away so strongly from family life to independence, who isn't chomping at the bit for premature maturity but is settling into a nice pattern of slow and appropriate growth. As I hug you these days it isn't the slightly built young boy body that I am holding onto, but lately it is the solid strength of an athlete...and the hint of the man-hug I will get someday not too far in the future. How I will miss the little Matthew, but how I love what I am witnessing in you these days!
Happy Birthday, Matthew. My little warrior, my gentleman, my movie provider, my deep thinker. Your 9th year will bring once again many changes for us all, and once again your quiet confidence and easy going nature will set the tone for much of that change. How grateful I am, how grateful your daddy is, to be your parents. As you grow older, the fear factor increases for us, as we know that you are about to enter the phase when the questions become harder to answer, when the lessons learned will be tougher, when it begins that you decide for yourself just who you want to be and how you will handle the pressures of others who push you to be someone other than that. But I hold out every hope that you will remain strong, that you you have already embraced your faith in a profound way as evidenced by a conversation we had this week, and that you are prepared for the "battle" that will inevitably arise in the coming years. Hold on to this last couple of years of young youth, cling to it fiercely, and I promise we will do all we can to protect you and yet slowly turn loose of the reigns.