You turned 10 years old a few weeks ago! I cannot believe that you have already been on this planet for a whole decade. I can remember so many things about those first ten years and sometimes it seems like just yesterday you were stumbling around the living room on your chubby little legs saying, “Bahbo!” (rainbow) at the top of your lungs. It has been a long time since I sat down and wrote you a letter, so this may be a longer letter than most.
You had a lot of fun decorating this cake. You used some of your Star Wars action figures and made the epic battle scene. When we took them off, fudge icing was stuck all over them and C3PO looked like he pooped all over himself.
You just finished the 4th grade and it was one of the best years for you at school in a long time. You are younger than most of your classmates and that has caused some problems in the past. You’re always a little bit behind them in social and emotional development. You started riding the bus to and from school at the end of this year. You were so thrilled that we finally gave you some independence and freedom. (I cried a little behind the front door the first few times you went off alone and never looked back.) You are quicker to anger, quicker to love, quicker to trust and quicker to laugh than most of them too. Those things have nothing to do with your age. Those are the McDowell traits that will serve you well and make you special. We won’t dwell on the other McDowell traits just yet. This year, you seemed to have closed the age gap a little more. Your second grade teacher, Mr. Johnson, told us that this would happen in a few years. You started the 4th grade feeling like a misfit and ended it knowing that who are is not only acceptable, it’s awesome.
You still love basketball, Harry Potter, Minecraft and Star Wars. Your imagination is astounding. You have been taking coronet lessons for just over a year now. You really have an aptitude for music and I try not to push you too hard for fear that you will rebel and stop playing. When I take out my clarinet and we play together are some of the best memories for me this past year. Music has helped me so much throughout my life and I really love sharing that with you and seeing things for the first time again through you. You’ve started sharing some of your favorite music with me too this year. I will play you “Rock Lobster” by the B52s and then you’ll play me “Sugar” by Maroon 5 and laugh at how I dance.
So far, 2015 has been a tough year for our family. In January, Meemaw moved in with us and our normal routines were erased and replaced with anything but normal. She is so different from Grandma so I was worried how you two might get along. You’ve had Grandma less than a mile away for many years now and spend a lot of time at her house on the weekends. Again, you have surprised me with your unconditional love for Meemaw, even though she has been nothing like the Grandma you adore. You two have found your own things in common and have connected. She scratches your back for minutes every night when you come to hug her goodnight.
One Team went out of business this year. You have been going to One Team since Kindergarten and this has been a tough transition. You don’t understand why they stopped being there for you after school and during the summer. Sometimes adult reasons creep into the world of children where everything is possible and you always do ”Better Than Your Best”. Your hero, Coach Amazing, was dealing with these adult realities and some of his frustration came out as being overly harsh on you. You never told me he was treating you badly at Winter Camp. Another Coach had to fill me in. Your loyalty to him is another McDowell trait. It broke my heart to see the realization on your face that a hero was really only human after all. I am sorry you had to learn this reality this year too. Never forget that all the coaches talked and agreed that of all the hundreds of One Team kids over the years, you were their unanimous favorite.
In school, they showed your class “THE VIDEO” about puberty. You came home and announced that it was the worst day of your life. You got a “stupid” booklet and a stick of deodorant. We knew the video was coming and went to a screening of it months before you saw it. Robby, it was a stupid and outdated video. Your Dad and I trapped you in the car to have a puberty talk before you saw it hoping to ease the embarrassment. I drove, you sat behind me so we could never have eye contact and Dad started in. He would hit the highlights and then look at me for clues to what he was forgetting. Mouthing “wet dreams” to your Dad in the Dairy Queen drive-thru is something I will never forget.
In February, Dad got diagnosed with melanoma and had a large tumor removed from his foot. It has taken him 5 months to start walking again, if only on a limited basis. We didn’t tell you that dad had cancer until we got the results of the lymph node biopsy they did to see if it had spread. We didn’t know what to tell you. We didn’t want you to worry about something that we worried about. When the biopsy came back negative, we told you that what they removed was cancer and that the surgeon had gotten it all out. We told you everything was going to be fine and tried our best to believe just that.
Since Dad isn’t able to work, I have been working more and spending less time with you. I have missed our Tuesday afternoons. I learned a few years back that I have to ask you detailed questions about your day to not get a “fine” response. You always opened up on those Tuesday afternoons and I felt connected to your life and what was going on in your world. When we have talked about me working more now, you have always understood why I wasn’t there, and I thank you for that. I want you to know that all along though, I knew you were missing me, scared Dad would die and thinking about how unfair all of this was. I am thinking all those things too, Robby, but you need someone to tell you everything is going to be okay and show you how to keep moving forward in faith. I am trying really hard every day to do just that. I guess only time will tell if I was successful.
Your music teacher commented on your report card that “Robby likes to talk. A lot…” She knows you well. You talk to everyone! Your classmates, our neighbors, the other shoppers in the grocery store, the mailman, our adult friends, store clerks…it doesn’t matter who you talk to. You share information and always engage people in conversation. I’m plotting how to pay you back for telling a city council member how much I love the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I still think that this quality will help you to be a brilliant trial attorney some day. Frequently, you just go off on a jag and you are just talking and not even relaying information or aware that someone else is there with you. You just talk and talk and talk. This can go as long as 30 minutes at a time. When you do this with me and realize that I am still in the room and not listening anymore, you usually stop and say, “I’ll stop talking now. I know I talk too much, sorry.” Don’t ever stop talking to me, Robby. Talking is how you share what you think, feel and express love. Your voice is one that I will always want to hear.