A few years ago, my mom wrote an essay for a college class that would not only shock her teacher, but me. Sure, it’s no challenge to know how much your parents love you, but when you read almost 1,000 words about yourself, it really makes you think. Why share it with all of you? A blog is a place to put my thoughts, no? I think this is a beautiful piece. Call me bias 😉
My son, James, is 15. These days, I can see his wing tips spanning over the nest, flapping, growing impatient with curiosity and wonder. Before he takes flight, I want a snapshot, a frozen record of who he is at this moment, before time adds another inch to his frame or fires another synapse. My words and my memories are all I have, and all I need.
If James were a character in “Peter and the Wolf,” Prokofiev would have needed to invent an instrument, one whose notes cascade and whirl and fly off the musical staff to unknown heights and depths without looking back. James is that independent and creative. As an American teenager who attends a football thumping high school, his interests are photography, antiques, computers, and hiking. He blasts Italian pop music in his museum-like room, as the glass shelves lined with ancient coins, antique electronics, and delicate crystals rattle to the beat. He can skate circles around Gretzki, but hates the game of hockey. He sees the world as a potential photo, even when his camera is safely tucked away in its case. James is a square peg in a world of circular holes, and accomplishing that is a triumph to him; nothing could horrify him more than being ordinary.
There’s a purity to James that society has not yet spoiled, a purity that emerges at the least convenient of times, but which has reminded me of my own tarnished spirit. He has halted our sprint in the pouring rain to snap a picture of rain droplets suspended to the underside of a handrail in New York City, swept aside homework to blog his interests, and broken countless electronic devices while chasing the learning curve, including “accidentally” formatting the hard drive of our computer (at age 11) BEFORE backing up my work in an effort to upgrade, and bending the prongs of the CPU while “dusting” (at age 8), an $80 fix. In this way, James, like the Little Prince, has taught me about “matters of consequence;” he’s shown me that finding beauty, pursuing interests, and learning new things are as important as breathing.
A problem, to James, is something that has a solution, and simply lacks a link between the two. He tries to be that link. James holds the distinction (to my horror) of being the first student in his middle school to “jail break” his iPod Touch, the unlocking of the device that allows for the illegal downloading of applications and customized themes. He has struggled through challenging classes, social pressures, familial tensions, and teachers who just didn’t “get him” to be inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. After learning last year that he can not depend on others for excellence, he took the reins with his Science Research project this year, and developed a sociological experiment on the effects of social pressure on morality. My hypothesis predicts Intel Award, but regardless of the outcome, I’m simply proud of the idea and the effort he put forth to develop it. If failure is the problem, James has defeated it over and over again by finding his own success.
Although I am proud of his achievements, my favorite stories about James pertain to his kindness. As a young child, he would line the bathtub with bottles of his dirty bath water to donate to the poor (I dumped it, of course), and wrote me loving notes that I would find waiting for me when I came home from school long past his bedtime. When he was 4, I brought him to the AIDSwalk on Long Island, where we volunteered to direct foot traffic through Heckscher State Park. The event was apparently still fresh in his mind a few days later at a party for my friend’s son. The clown they’d hired was feverishly twisting balloons into swords and princess crowns, but not for my son. As the boys gallantly dueled each other, and the girls pranced about on their tippy-toes, my son scurried over to the table where I was seated with a red balloon tied in a loop, and proudly announced, “Look Mommy, an AIDS ribbon!”
The time he punished himself is also a great story. While I was on the phone with the local Boy Scout leader inquiring about their program, James began yelling at the top of his lungs that he would never join. (In retrospect, James in the Boy Scouts? What was I thinking?) When I hung up the phone, I was so upset with him that I told him I needed time to determine his punishment. A half hour later, while we were driving to the grocery store, he told me through tears that he thought he should be punished for two weeks with no TV. I obliged, yet with the addition of a sorry card. If only all discipline were that easy.
As a young mother, I used to sneer at the seasoned parents who‘d warn, “Enjoy every moment,” their eyebrows raised in judgment, “they grow so fast, you know.” My contempt for their wisdom was surely fed by my insecurity as an unmarried, unprepared teenage mother, but also by their ignorance. I was young, but not stupid, and I resented their repeated assumption that my son was doomed. I didn’t need their sage advice to cherish him, but in the 15 years, 6 months, and 2 days since James was born, I’ve realized just how right they were.