Two weeks ago I knew I needed to write this post. For one, I’ve been wanting to show photos of our oldest son’s recent room refresh, and Two, I know I’m not the only one nurturing and training up a child who doesn’t quite fit “the mold.” As our oldest son’s high school graduation draws near, I’m revisiting emotions and old assumptions which at times have fit uncomfortably like insecurity, ashamedly like comparison, enough so that I’m ripping open raw places once healed in an effort to re-establish a firm foundation of assurance, hope and trust. I suspect there are other parents out there who wrestle with the same types of things, recognizing differences in their children, wondering at them, continually worrying while simultaneously celebrating unique skills and gifts not quite measurable, hoping beyond hope for bright futures while fearing they may look different from “success” we’ve seen before.
I love this quote by C.S. Lewis:
Friendship is born at that moment
when one person says to another,
“What! You, too?
I thought I was the only one.”
Well, you’re not. And I’m not. So settle in and let me tell you a bit about our son.
(And just so you can relax, yesterday I asked my son to read this post, everything from the title to my descriptions of him to my reflections. The last thing I would ever want to do is cast him in a negative light or embarrass him. He and I have spent hours talking about his future, his schooling, his personality, his struggles, his goals, and his tremendous strengths, which is why I feel the freedom to write about him so candidly. Aside from a few changes, I was given his hearty thumbs up, with special congrats for weaving in the Dr. Seuss portions.)
We have a boy who defies odds. He defies expectations, fruits and vegetables, family norms, noble posture, hip clothing, sports, and nuances of public education. Compulsively protective of his family, including our pets, he is one of the kindest, most gentle young men you will ever meet.
He forgets to shave, prefers dim light, sleeps with a comforter over his head, piles wet towels in his closet, and prefers long sleeves. He routinely finishes last at the dinner table. He thrives on familiarity and same-ness. Transitions take time and require determination.
Did I mention he is funny? As in, wet-your-pants laughing so hard, stand-up, comedian-quality funny? Yes, he is that funny.
When he was thirteen I challenged him to memorize Dr. Seuss’s book Oh the Places You’ll Go in two days. I offered $20 as incentive. Approximately 12 hours later he was ready to recite and proceeded to do so, erring once. I handed over the $20. The popular children’s book is, after all, 56 pages long.
He stockpiles money and at one point his savings account balanced higher than our own. The most money he ever spent at one time, aside from his car, was the purchase of two meticulously detailed figurines of Superman and Batman. Today they sit atop their own specially-made DIY shelves in his room and are still two of his most prized possessions.
Recently at work I sat in on another student’s parent/teacher conference as we discussed academic struggles and how best to accommodate needs. After a pause, the frustrated mom declared: “Sarah is smart! But how do we show that on paper?”
How DO we show that on paper? How DO we measure intelligence and insight and intuition and creativity and ambition using only five letters (A, B, C, D, F) printed on an official piece of paper which, alone, are assumably our children’s golden tickets to success?
Perhaps a more important question is:
Who says we have to show it on paper?
As a mother of a brilliant senior boy, I have lain awake at hours of 2 and 3am asking myself these same questions, and so many, many more. Why? Because our son’s schooling has been hard. Frankly, there were weeks I feared his high school graduation would not happen at all. Not only was he rarely interested in class content, he longed to be anywhere but in a traditional classroom. Learning, to him, involved self-selected books and websites and podcasts and Youtube channels. In his words, relevant things, topics which fueled his passion. Note-taking? You bet, to the tune of over 72 iphone Notes detailing characters and plot lines and sequel merges and virtual battles.
I am a mom who thrived on traditional book learning and immersed myself contentedly in my school environment. Later, I relished homeschooling my elementary-aged children and am now a teacher striving to inspire teenage students. Given my own son’s struggles, I felt ill-equipped to move forward as both a parent and an encourager because I seemed to lack the tools I needed to help him succeed. I battled what should be versus what, in reality, was. In my desperate desire for my son’s success, I was forced to redefine what that term actually means.
My questions began shifting as I stepped back and evaluated a bigger picture. A picture that we, as a society, have painstakingly painted to impress upon children that grades in school are the only ticket to a successful future. After all, good grades reflect effort, discipline, promise, and intelligence. Right? Certainly if you look good on paper, if your transcripts show a high GPA, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. Oh, the places you’ll go!
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
The truth is, sometimes you are not the honor student receiving a multi-thousand dollar scholarship and padding your report card with large integers after the “point” in the 3. As a matter of fact, while your peers are actively demonstrating voice-altering effects of sulfur hexafluoride and locating integrals of functions, you are inhaling film theory and production trends based on back stories and cultural demands which (sorry, son) bear no significant paper accolades of your traditional education.
Furthermore, because you chose to study and excel in non-classroom arenas and through non-traditional means, and because you possess giftings, skills and intelligences our public school has yet to measure adequately, your paper trail tells a rather depressing story. Unfortunately, your future is not looking bright. As a matter of fact, you can return those shades.
But you know what? I do not believe this for One. Single. Second. I may have taken the long way around to reach this point, which is undoubtedly the reason God gave me an exponentially gifted young man for a son, but here is what I DO believe: Regardless of GPA, regardless of academic success, regardless of traditional expectations and the assumed “right” way to succeed after high school, some young people were never meant to walk that traditional path.
The definition of success cannot be limited to letters on paper and figures in a scholarship; it must also have something to do with character, paradigm shifts, hard work, laser-like focus, and the pursuit of passions.
Our non-honor students’ paths may look weedy and harried and rocky, and sometimes it may feel like there is no path at all. At times we, as parents, stake our faith and claim a path’s existence even when we seriously struggle to find it ourselves. But two things that have comforted me repeatedly are these simple, profound truths: 1) God promises a future for my boy which includes prosperity and hope (Jeremiah 29:11), and 2) God knew I needed this boy, and this boy needed me. He assigned this boy to me as a son, and He assigned me as this boy’s mom. Because of that, I rest in the knowledge that He has already equipped me with everything I could possibly need to guide, nurture, love and direct this particular boy into a life of beauty and prosperity. God would not have left me incapable and inept.
My son’s success has not and will not look as expected. I admit I have struggled way too much with letting go of traditional outcomes and comparison to others’ accomplishments. But in my mother’s heart I have always known there is unique, deep potential with this one. He may be a late bloomer. But in his own way, in God’s perfect timing, he will be a silent force awakened. One day I will shake my head in wonder and amazement that I ever worried at all.
The truth is that in today’s world, education can look 10,000 different ways. Entire companies are being designed from You-tube videos and a Google search bar. Enterprises are teething on social media platforms. Life-altering ideas, inventions and creativity are available at our fingertips. Anything a person longs to learn is merely a click away. And this boy of ours? He is a-clickin’.
So this May we will participate in a traditional graduation ceremony (thank you, Jesus, he IS graduating) as we jointly celebrate the end of one era and the beginning of another. We will clap and eat a beautiful 2018 cake and take photos with friends and do all the traditional things. Except for when we don’t, because this party will certainly include a few personal quirks.
I am abundantly proud of this young man. Raising him at times feels like an honor I do not deserve. He has blown apart my preconceptions, carved me from ill-fitting molds, patiently educated me on themes of acceptance, surrender, and celebration, and made my perspective broader, my heart softer, my humility greater. His best moments are yet to come.
When things start to happen,
Don’t worry, don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening, too.
I can hardly wait.