Sunday, March 04, 2007

A letter to my oldest son

Dear Ethan,

When I dropped you off at the Junior High orientation on Friday, I confess I was far more nervous than you about what awaits you next year. I helped you find a seat in the auditorium and hovered for too long to make sure you were okay amid a crowd of strangers. You may have been anxious for me to leave before I embarrassed you, but I was taking my time. To be honest, I was thinking of the many times I sat in this same auditorium 25 years ago when I attended school there – noticing that they still haven’t replaced the stained burgundy curtains on the stage – remembering that behind those curtains, backstage during a production of Tom Sawyer, I held hands with a boy for the first time. He was Huck Finn. (Even then I was attracted to the rebellious type.)

I looked at your face again (the one with the “Mom, you can GO now for Pete’s sake!” expression on it) and wondered if it was too late to tuck you under my arm and race you back home with me. Would you mind if we just postponed the whole Junior High thing for a while. Maybe forever? For the hundredth time I found myself questioning our decision back at the beginning of elementary school (just yesterday!) to have you skip a grade. You were so dang smart. You still are. But now I wish we had one more year to get used to the idea of you in Junior High.

I’m still trying to figure out when you went from being an appendage of me to being an independent person. Oh, sure if you want to go all technical on me, it was probably when they cut the umbilical cord. But I still clung to you pretty tightly after that. You were the first born, you poor thing. You suffered the full brunt of my overprotective mothering before it would be tempered by experience and more children than I could overprotect at one time.

Did it happen when I weaned you and could actually leave you for more than 3 hours at a time? Was it when you decided you were a vegetarian at the ripe old age of 2 and thus fired the first shot in the Great Food War that has yet to see a truce? Was it when you began making decisions you knew I would disapprove of, like reading those insidious Animorph books? (I assumed I could just let you get them out of your system and you’d go back to reading the National Geographic. How was I to know there were 6,000 books in the series? Either that or they are just reproducing – proliferating themselves at exponential rates in your backpack, on the floor of your room, under the seats in the van…they NEVER stop.)

Was it when you proved that I could make you take piano lessons, I could even – through gentle coercion, slightly more desperate bribery and downright threats – make you practice, but I could never make you WANT to play? Was it when, after homeschooling you, we sent you off to public school for the 5th grade, where you would vanish for 6 hours into another world? A world that remains a complete mystery to me, where you hang with friends I’ve never met, eat food I did not prepare, and learn things I did not teach you. Worst of all, when asked, “how did school go today?” you do not open up this world to me and fill in the details. Instead, you drop the dreaded F word: “fine”.

I think you took another big step towards independence yesterday at the Knowledge Bowl competition. I was so proud of you Ethan. You were confident and smart and did I mention SMART? Where did you learn all of that stuff? I’m sure I did not know who Mao Zedong was when I was your age. You also impressed me with your kind heart. When you beat the first three teams (and perhaps “beat” is too gentle a word because your team crushed them so resoundingly they were lucky to answer 2 or 3 questions), your first response was to say you felt sorry for your opponents. You, my sweet boy, never cease to amaze me.

And then, in the final round, when it was your turn to rotate out and you had to sit by me in the audience and watch while your team lost, I saw your kind heart break just a little. You agonized as your team missed questions that you knew the answers to. I could tell you wanted to jump up and help them. You wanted to blurt out all the answers and come to the rescue. But there was nothing you could do. You could only watch. And then cry a few tears on the way home when your teammates wouldn’t see.

And Ethan, if you asked me what it feels like to be a parent, I think I would say that you got a small taste of it yesterday. There are moments of joy and great pride and accomplishment, and then there are moments when you feel more than a little bit helpless – when you want to jump up and blurt out all the answers and come to the rescue but you can’t. Or at least you shouldn’t.

Maybe, if I lose enough weight by next year, you can squeeze me into your locker when you go to Junior High. What do you think?



Heth said...

I feel the same way about my oldest who is also going to junior high next year. I wish there was a way to protect them from the brutality that is middle school. If you figure out a way to get into the locker, let me know.

Jane said...

Sniff! That was really great! I have a small, teeny tiny taste of this when my students go off to middle school. My first class of Kindergartners are in HS! Gulp! Just this little glimps is enough for me to know that when I do get blessed with children, they will have to pry me away from them! Middle school, I don't even have children yet and I dread it!

Kimberly said...

How perfectly you expressed that, Julie. Gave me a few rather scary flashbacks to Junior High though.

Hope he understands that your neuroticness = your love for him.

Lynn said...

What a beautifully well written letter to your son. Each episode of "letting go", each step of their independence and growth away from us can be so difficult. Last year my son had basketball practice at the local high school on the day of the high school graduation. I sat in the parking lot watching all of the high school seniors walking by with their caps and gowns, crying my eyes out, feeling my heart squeezed, as I realized that before I know it, it will be my children that will be graduating from high school and moving on to yet another level of independence. Letting them grow is tough...too bad we don't really have any say in the just happens.

An Ordinary Mom said...

That was so touching and so inspiring. I can't imagine having a child in junior high, it seems kind of scary. I am still adjusting to the fact that my oldest is in kindergarten!?!?

Your son sounds absolutely phenomenal which just reflects the remarkable mother he has. I learned a lot about you in this post, too! Your entire family never ceases to amaze me.

Klutzmom said...

Wow! That brought memories. At first I was surprised that you didn't write about the photo of Ethan standing by the water's edge---alone, simming out on his own, learning to handle the waves and rough waters, etc. Then I looked again and realized the picture said it all.

Kate said...

Me too, me too, and me too.

I hadn't blog-hopped in a while, because I was in a knitting frenzy over the weekend, and I can't figure out how to knit while I surf.

But, yes on the spinning-wheels thing. I don't know how to fix it but I understand it all too well.

Yes on the just keep swimming thing. What choice is there, in an honest life, but to let off some steam, let a little perspective in, and then keep plugging along?

And yes on wanting to keep them babies. My oldest is 6, and I'm still not ready for her to have done any of the thousands of things she has just gone and done anyway.


anne said...

Ah Ha! Julie ended a sentence with a preposition! (I know it wasn't ungrammatical cause it still had an object, but she still did it) And to think I trusted you to check all of my college papers. Maybe you should not give this letter to Ethan because he might realize you are not perfect. I guess I will have to settle for a 99.9% perfect sister and Ethan will have to settle for a 99.9% perfect mom. This is an amazing letter and I am very glad I waited until after class to cry, I mean read it. (PS- I still know you are WAY smarter than me -please, please don't stop checking my papers)

happy mommy said...

This was lovely. My oldest daughter will be a senior next year, and it was just yesterday I walked her to kindergarten, I swear.

Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

Wow, and just today we were having a talk with our oldest about his future mission and future job and future education - just light and fun, like, "So where do you want to go on your mission?"

So scary to think of having to let go a little more every day - but so much fun to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labors. He sounds like a great kid. Good job! :)

Em said...

I love this post - you capture the slow process of letting go perfectly...