Hi Toby. Yesterday was your tenth birthday. Welcome to the world of double digits! As is traditional, here’s my annual letter to you.
Another year, another birthday. These seem to come around faster and faster. Last year I summed you up in terms of four specific personas: footballer, baker, gamer and brother. While each of those remain true, you have definitely evolved too.
I’m not going to revisit old ground and regurgitate what I have previously written. But, to celebrate your tenth birthday, here are a few specific – and slightly random – observations about you. Often fascinating, sometimes infuriating, but uniquely you.
1. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
There are two distinct sides to your personality. There’s the happy, smiley you: helpful, considerate, enthusiastic. And then there’s the other Toby: stubborn, selfish, sulky.
The first is a genuine ray of sunshine who makes my heart sing, with a smile that lights up a room. The other will happily cut off his nose to spite his face and can pout like a supermodel. It’s hard to believe they’re two sides of the same person. But they are, they’re inextricably intertwined and they’re both just part of who you are.
A bit less Mr Hyde would be nice, though.
Yeah, I know this is one of the personas I talked about last year. But I love it when you go through one of your baking phases, particularly because you have a real flair for it. You don’t just bake well for a child; you’re a good baker, full stop.
Also, how many ten-year-olds ask for a stand mixer for their birthday? And insist on making their own birthday cake? (This year: Black Forest gateau; it was amazing.)
Baking is just one example of how you like to be practical with your hands. Which is remarkable, given that your father makes putting together a flat-pack Ikea bookshelf look more complex than the construction of the Burj Khalifa.
You love architecture and you love football. So, of course, you draw, design and construct and scale models of major football stadia out of cardboard and paper. (You so would have been a Blue Peter fan when it was in its pomp.)
You were fascinated by ancient Greece, so of course you built a Greek temple, complete with correct Corinthian columns.
One of our – your – Christmas traditions is to make hand-made paper decorations that find their way all over the house. And so on, and so on.
Now if only you could use those hands to put away your clean laundry from time to time, that’d be great.
I’ve lost track of how many toy owls you now own. (I’ve just checked: there are 11 in your bed, and that’s before all the other owl-based paraphernalia.) Each has their own name: from Twitty to Hootie – for a hilarious week after you named him, you misspelled it ‘Hottie’ – to Twoo and every other owl-based name you can possibly think of. They occupy more space in your bed than you do. Every holiday we go on, you pick one to make the trip with you.
You’re generally a very thoughtful person who happily chips in with little jobs around the house and is considerate of others. (Although you do have some glaring blind spots when it comes to your regular chores. You do not have a floor-drobe, okay?)
This was particularly evident in the run-up to Christmas. You were the one child who bought presents for everyone without having to be prompted. You put genuinely thought into identifying suitable gifts for different people. And you bought and wrapped everything well before the big day.
As much as you often disappear into your own little world – a bit like me – you really do quietly observe and think about the people around you. It’s a lovely trait.
6. Narrow but deep
This is a classic introvert characteristic, one you totally share with me. You’re uninterested in many things but when you do latch onto a subject, you give it 100%. You research every possible fact, watch every YouTube video and spend every waking moment thinking about it. And then you will talk about it animatedly for hours, barely pausing for breath and continuing long after your audience has moved on.
Fantasy football is a prime example of this. I’m a total statto, but even I switch off when you go into overdrive. At times I’m pretty sure I could pop out to Tesco to do the weekly shop and you would still be going on when I got back about how I should have played my Bench Boost last week.
In many ways it’s quite sweet – it’s always fantastic for a parent to see a child throw themselves wholeheartedly into something. But for God’s sake, boy, learn to spot social cues. When my eyes are closed and I’ve started snoring, it’s probably time to stop.
7. A broader palate
One area where you have changed most over the past year is your taste in food.
You were the child who, when we went to Malaysia two years ago, refused to even try anything one evening at a Chinese restaurant because it was new and unfamiliar. (We ended up taking you to McDonald’s. Oh, the shame.) Basically, if it wasn’t pasta or chicken nuggets, you wouldn’t eat it.
But then a funny thing happened: you suddenly decided you were ready to broaden your palate. You became the child who would go to McDonald’s … and order a salad. You discovered a love of olives. When we ask you what you fancy for lunch at the weekend, you reply, “Sushi”.
There are still plenty of foods you don’t like. But you’re so much more willing to step outside your comfort zone and at least try them first.
8. A big year
Your eleventh year is a biggie in terms of deciding your future path. The process of transitioning from primary to secondary school begins with a choice.
Which is the best school for you?
We ummed and ahhed with Isaac before sending his application to grammar school and putting him through the entrance exam. For you, the decision is even less clear-cut. You are in so many ways just as smart and capable as your big brother. But he is more consistent across the board. (Remember what I said about your interests being narrow but deep?) There are some areas where you are definitely stronger – but you have more weak spots that you can’t ignore. Which means you have more work to do in certain subjects.
It’s also hard to tell if being stretched in a challenging environment will bring out the best in you – or Mr Hyde. You may find moving from being a big fish in a small pond gives you the room to spread your wings. (A fish with wings: how’s that for a mixed metaphor?) Or you may find a larger pond a lonely, unfriendly place that you hate, sending you crawling back into your shell. At this stage, it’s hard to tell.
As we did with your brother, we won’t push you into something you don’t want to do. But this is a situation where you – with our support – are going to have to make a decision for yourself – and then commit to it. (As opposed to what you normally do, which is to change your mind every 30 seconds until it’s too late to do so.) It means being wiling to leave or extend your comfort zone. Your mum and I would love you to push yourself and take the chance. But ultimately you must decide what’s best for you, and then make the most of that choice.
So what’s it going to be, Toby? Pasta or sushi?
You know we will support you 100% either way. But the choice is yours. Either way, you’re heading for the biggest adventure of your life and we will be with you every step of the way.
And I’ll be here this time next year to write to you about it.
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