Happy birthday, Toby: Now you are 13

You’re now 13, Toby, which means you are officially a teenager. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a year of great change and growth for you. So here’s a look back at your last 12 months.

(Okay, I’m actually a month late with this post. But that’s life. I hope it’s worth the wait.)

Not a boy, not yet a man

You’re very much a work in progress at the moment. To paraphrase Britney Spears, you’re not a boy, not yet a man.

The most obvious change over the past year is physical. You’ve shot up: you’re now 5’6″, the same height as your mum, and catching up with me fast. And, having always previously had a barrel-shaped body, you’ve now leaned out significantly. You’ve burned off the puppy fat around your face and midriff. You’re never going to have Isaac’s long, gangly body, but you’ve filled out a pleasingly broad and well-proportioned frame. The roundness of your youth has flattened and squared away. If you look at photos of you from even 18-24 months ago, the transformation is quite dramatic.

Somewhere along the line, almost unnoticed, your voice broke too. Now you have what would be a rich tenor voice – if only you could actually sing. (The first part of that is me; the last is your mum’s fault, by the way.)

Add all the above together and you look like you’ve matured by two to three years rather than just one over the past 12 months.

Quiz master

Academically you continue to surprise us. We’ve always known you’re intelligent, but we’ve always felt you needed to be pushed harder than your elder brother because of your tendency to coast in subjects you’re less interested in.

When you are totally committed to a topic, your dedication and ability shine through. For instance, you and your brother recently qualified to represent your school in an area geography quiz. Out of 15 teams, yours came first. I know how fired up and proud you were about that (and rightly so).

What has pleased us even more was your recent mid-Year 8 parents’ evening, where your subject reports were never less than good and, in a surprising number of cases, outstanding. (One of your teachers even claimed he would quit teaching if you didn’t take his subject for GCSE, which is quite the endorsement!) It really feels like you’ve seized the opportunities that secondary school affords you. Maybe we underestimated you. Sorry about that.

As I noted in last year’s letter, you do have a sponge-like ability to absorb facts in your areas of interest. This stands you in good stead with your long-standing love of geography and history. (I’ve never known anyone who is as interested in watching documentaries as you.) But you also share my talent for soaking up facts about anything. Whenever we sit down and watch a TV quiz, I’m struck by how much knowledge you have quietly accumulated about so many different topics. I have little doubt we will see you as a contestant – probably a winning one – on Pointless, Mastermind or The Chase one day.

Changes of direction

You’ve replaced some of your old interests and hobbies with new ones over the past year, as any 13-year-old is bound to do. You stopped playing in goal for your local football team, but you’ve recently started – and enjoyed – playing outfield in house football competitions. (Is this really the same boy who used to consider running to the edge of his own penalty area to be too much exercise?)

Over the past year, you’ve become a keen cyclist. This was partly motivated by wanting to ride to and from school with your friends. But over last summer you also asserted your independence by going on solo bike rides. Despite your first attempt ending badly – a tumble on the canal path left you needing a first-aid patch-up and a lift home from the dad-taxi – you persevered. Now it’s not unusual for you to embark on rides of up to two hours on your own. It’s been lovely to see your confidence grow like this – and as a result you’ve earned more trust from us.

Your interest in food remains but is currently in a transitional phase. You bake only occasionally now. (So much for entering you into Junior Bake Off.) But you, Isaac and I still happily watch food-based TV shows together, particularly ones that intersect with our shared love of travel.

In terms of your culinary preferences, you’re simultaneously both more and less adventurous than you used to be. On the upside, you’re generally open to trying new dishes whenever I get experimental. And your tolerance for spicier food is definitely increasing. On the other hand, your previous suspicion of cheese-based meals has evolved into an intense dislike. Although you’ll still eat pizza and pasta dishes that contain melted cheese as long as there’s none on top. Go figure.

A few other things…

What else?

It’s taken a while, but you’re blossoming socially. You’ve always taken after me: the quiet kid happy in his own company who wouldn’t say boo to the proverbial goose. But over the past couple of years, you’ve developed new friends at a new school while maintaining your older local ones. And while you are quite happy to spend entire days closeted in your own room playing on your laptop, you will still make your own arrangements to meet up with friends without us having to cajole you into it. You’re less shy and awkward now too.

You may never have Isaac’s more natural outgoing nature and confidence, but that’s okay. You’re streets ahead of where I was at 13, when in social situations I made Trappist monks appear talkative by comparison. It’s one trait where I’m definitely glad you haven’t followed in my footsteps.

Speaking up for yourself more also means you’re less likely to suffer from forgotten-middle-child syndrome at home. Although given how loud and demanding both your siblings often are, I recognise that this always going to be a challenge for you.

You’re particularly observant and thoughtful when it comes to buying presents for others. At Christmas, you plan and buy everything you need before I’ve even started thinking about it. You take pride in wrapping everything up yourself in advance of Christmas Eve. And you have better ideas than any of us. I will scratch my head trying to come up with any present ideas for anyone. You, on the other hand, will have picked out a meaningful present that’s just right for its recipient. I often accuse you – with some justification – of being lost in your own little world, particularly when it comes to screen time, but it’s also very you to be the one who quietly observes what’s going on and files useful information away for later use.

Finally, we finally got around to giving your bedroom a thorough makeover over Christmas. I was impressed with how involved you were in this. You spent entire evenings measuring up your room, planning a new layout and picking out paint colours, new furniture and furnishings. It’s another great example of how you transform when you’re fully invested in a project. It’s no wonder you enjoy world-building games so much.

And that’s it for my review of your 13th year. By this time next year, you will have chosen and started on your GCSE subjects, so I expect lots more change, growth and hopefully the odd pleasant surprise from you over the next 12 months. No pressure!



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