My dearest Ethan,

So here we are, you at 18. My goodness buddy, what a ride it has been with you. I think we can’t get to what is now and what could be without an accounting of what was.

Paps and I must have told you this story so many times. But it is worth the re-telling so bear with me.

When we had you, we assumed, you’d be like Isaac, generally easy to care for, fairly obedient and compliant. My goodness, how wrong we were. You were silent for the first two years of your life, not really talking, just observing. As if to build an arsenal of ammunitions to which you could unleash on us when you decided it was time to talk.

Oh the many challenges you put us through! Refusing to be bent with logic, or the threat of words or the ever-present cane. Jumping into puddles and into the pool with your Sunday best clothes. Your brother, the more rule-following one would ask for permission. You decided permission was for wimps.

Do first, get wet and take the punishment was how you rolled. The adventure was always worth the trouble, was truly your mantra.

You had such a strong spirit and it reduced me to tears one night. When I told you to do something, something mundane like go to bed must be, and you stood there defiant like a warrior willing to die for his cause.

I remember caning you and then crumpling into a heap of tears. How could this child ever be tamed?

I decided that very night when you were three, I had to give up trying to raise you and Isaac, keep down a job and run a household. Both of you would be front and centre. After all, as you always rightly point out, children never ask to be born.

I want to tell you, I have never regretted making that decision, not one bit.

Because I learnt that to be a parent was to understand what it means to be vulnerable, to not know what or how to do something. In those precious days and weeks and years together, you taught me how to love unconditionally, taught me that discipline was pointless without love and affection.

And so here we are. I cannot tell you enough how proud I am of how far you’ve come.

To see you, a leader at school, worried about your grades, staying up till the wee hours of the morning to study because you’ve come into your own. You’ve come to realise that without hard work and sacrifice, without this eternal tension of life, there’s no achievement.

But success to me is not measured in the tangible things. I feel the greatest puff of pride when you show thoughtfulness. When you follow me on supermarket runs,carrying all the heavy bags, indulging your ole’ mama on her aunty shopping.

I always enjoy our chats, even the ones when you’re being arrogant and entitled as only a teenager can be. But I hope you remember that words can hurt too and they cannot be taken back, edited, erased or made clean.

I hope you know you are not the sum of your grades or how well you do. You may think you have great expectations and burdens to bear on account of your brother ’s academic journey but know this: Both of you may be cut from the same cloth but you are stitched differently. Both perfectly made in their own way.

I hope you always see the good in people, even those you dislike. Especially those you dislike because they give you precious perspective of how intricate people are.

Try to find a reason and a purpose in what you do. I have learnt that the smallest, most insignificant things can mean something much later, but it is almost impossible to know this when you have to do right then and there. Do it anyway.

I hope you find kindness — give it freely and receive it warmly — in every small encounter ,especially to those with less privilege and luck than you.

And finally, I hope you know one unshakeable truth in this life: That Paps and I will have your back no matter how many puddles you jump headlong into.

Have a wonderful birthday “bruh” (heh). I wish you the best this year can bring. I know it’s a big year but I have a feeling you’re going to dive in like you always do and that is what matters — how you run the race.

Happy Birthday buddy,
Love, Mum.