You turned 12 on Wednesday, Toby. One year from becoming a fully-fledged teenager! Here’s my annual letter reflecting back on the past 12 months.
It’s been an eventful year despite the Covid pandemic, and one at the end of which you are a very different person than you were at the start.
The biggest change in your life over this past year has been transitioning from primary to secondary school. As a parent, it’s easy to forget how big a deal that is. After seven years of having a short walk to our local primary school surrounded by the same kids, it’s a shock to the system to suddenly commute to Reading by train.
It’s a big step up. A new environment; new friends to make. Becoming more self-reliant and independent. I’ll admit we were a bit concerned whether you were mature enough yet. After all, you have that same tendency for being scatter-brained and unobservant that you share with me. But you’ve coped admirably.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s been the making of you. When I compare you to four months ago, I see a boy who has embraced extra responsibility and adapted with barely a hiccup. You found your feet quickly, made new friends and maintained relationships with your old ones. While you still like to enjoy solo time, you’re now far more sociable than before, which has been lovely to see. Okay, you’re still a hopeless last-minute merchant, but you’re definitely not the same person you were when you left primary school in July – let alone the four-year-old who started primary school back in 2014 – in a good way.
I will admit that I’m quite surprised you didn’t give up football this year, after a difficult season in which you, as a specialist goalkeeper, didn’t get much coaching.
But you persisted, and good on you for that. Moving to a different team seems to have re-energised you. You’ve responded to more coaching and the challenge of stepping up a year group. And you’ve improved significantly and ironed out the inconsistencies that used to plague your play. It’s been great to see you become more focussed, and I hope you can keep improving and playing for a while yet. Now you have a striker for a sister, you’ll hopefully have more opportunities to practise too.
Games & quizzes
We are very much a family who love our games, and you have always had a notable talent in this area. You more than hold your own not just against your older brother but also against your parents and our game-playing friends. As someone who prides himself on being a sharp strategist, I’m always impressed by your ability to think ahead and make adjustments when needed. Whether it’s strategic games such as Catan or our current favourite Meepleland, or more word-based affairs such as Articulate, you win more than your fair share. (You’ll never beat me at 7 Wonders, though.)
What I particularly love about watching you play games is that it brings out your confident, outgoing side, which is something other people haven’t really glimpsed elsewhere until recently. You seem to come alive, and you’re much more obviously competitive and driven when you’re in game mode.
You’re also incredibly knowledgeable. Like me, you have a real thirst for facts and trivia. You’re much more likely to pick up a non-fiction book or watch a random documentary than your siblings. When we watch a TV quiz, you chip in with answers left, right and centre. (Whenever a geography question comes up, we all automatically defer to you now.) And you do like to create a devilish round or seven whenever we hold one of our family quiz nights.
Factual and strategic pursuits often seem to be where you are happiest and most comfortable. That may be unusual for a boy of your age, but it’s no bad thing. If nothing else, you will be welcome on any pub quiz team!
You don’t bake as much as you used to. That’s better for my waistline, although I do miss your regular supply of cakes and biscuits.
More broadly, your interests and palate when it comes to trying different types of food have expanded significantly this past year. You were a picky eater when you were younger but now you’ll give pretty much everything a try. I’ve been dabbling in Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and French cooking recently, and you’ve embraced all of these and shown a genuine interest too. It’s just one more thing you and I have in common.
At school, where your brother favoured languages, you seem to be leaning more towards humanities. Geography, of course, but also history – I guess that appeals to your penchant for accumulating facts and knowledge. With two scientists for parents, neither you nor your brother have headed in the direction we thought you would, but I couldn’t be happier.
Even so, as I’ve written before, you’re still very much Mini-Me in terms of appearance, personality and preferences. I often look at you and it really is like staring at a mirror image of my younger self.
Stuck in the middle
Neither your mum (an only child) nor I (the older of two boys) truly know what it’s like to be a middle child. But we recognise it’s not the easiest role to occupy, particularly when you’re an introvert sandwiched between two extroverts.
There are times when they gang up on you. There are times when you can’t stand to be in the same room with either of them without World War Three breaking out. But there are also times when your caring, considerate side really shines through. You’re definitely a thoughtful child; the one who buys or makes carefully personalised Christmas presents weeks in advance. It would be nice if that side of you came out more often but it’s the curse of being the middle child that you get provoked – and sometimes do the provoking – from both sides.
One day (sooner than I care to think about), the three of you will go your separate ways living your own lives, and I think you more than either of the others will miss that three-sibling dynamic. We’ll see.
You’ve grown so much this year, maybe more than in any previous one. And you’re following your own path too – distinctly different to Isaac, but no less valid. It will be fascinating to see where your 13th year takes you.