Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy 8th Birthday, Jack

My Jack.  Somewhere along the way, you have become a man.  I know, I know.  You are only 8.  But it’s there.  Not even tucked away or hidden anymore.  You stand in front of me with this completely formed personhood.  There is no baby left in you. There is very little you can’t do for yourself anymore. You get up, you make yourself breakfast, you dress yourself, and you wander around our house completely independently.   I look out the window and see you riding your bike down the street, and it still stuns me.  How did this happen?  When did this all happen?

There are times when I do the math and panic.  8 years.  Halfway to driving.  Then only 2 more until you go off to college.  And yet: Sometimes I also wish away the days and months, because I’m so excited to see the adult-You.  Like wanting to skip to the last pages to see what happens.  I want to see the side of you that picks a major, finds a job…I want to meet your mate…see your children.  I want all of it at once. 

I watch you sit at the kitchen table, doing your sketches.  Dragons or dinosaurs or making intricate superhero books for Andrew.  I watch you choose where you make the lines on the page, and I am in wonder that this tiny little mind – these tiny fingers – are creating something so beautiful.  How your hand forms these outlines that take my breath away.  Your face will scrunch as you think about the image in your mind, and then you add more lines. More shading. You are an incredible artist, like your dad.  You see details that others miss, and you have the coordination to bring them to paper.  

I am so charmed by who you are.  What you bring to our family.  

The other day, I said to you: “You know, Jack, it’s okay to say no to your siblings when they ask you to play with them.  You’re not always responsible for helping them play dolls or sword-fight.”  And you know what you said?  “I like helping other people more than I like to help myself.” 

I know you see me try to sand the edges of it sometimes – encouraging you to take time by yourself, go do something you’d love in your room, create boundaries.  But I appreciate it about you. Your willing spirit, your absolute unquestioning love and care for others.   And I know you’re right when you tell me that you’ll say “no” when you don’t want to do something.  I need to let that go, trust you to create your lines the way you see fit.

I have no idea who you’ll become down the road.  But this moment, this part of your life, is such an honor to watch.  I love your passions – the Russian, your art, archeology, creating these inventions out of old paper towel rolls and string, watching documentaries on Netflix.

You are going to school for the first time this year.  Until now, we’d pieced your education together through co-ops and classes.  So many of your interests were things you couldn’t get in a regular classroom, and we weren’t in a hurry to stop that process of you.  And it worked for a long time.  We loved it and you did too.  But then we learned the French school was opening, and it seemed like it was time.  

I have strange feelings about it.  Not worry or concern.  Not even a moment of that.  You will love school…you will love this school…and you need things that you can’t get from me.  French, for one. Your Russian teacher being at the school, too. I want to honor your love for languages, and that’s something I can’t bring you.  The field trips, the older kids, everything.  You are going to be so happy there. 

But it marks a turning point for us, definitely.  The best parts of motherhood…watching you become your own independent self…also have elements of loss to them.  I want you at this school, I wanted you to go to Russian camp for 2 weeks, I want you to create an incredibly expansive life ahead of you – and to both of us, that means exploring the world.  You want to live in Russia, and I want that for you if that keeps being your dream.  But in wanting giant lives for our children, it means we let go of them too.  

You are probably going to become fluent in French at this school, if you keep going there.  And if you keep with Russian, maybe that one too.  Two languages where I struggle through the basics, and yet these might be defining elements of your life.  That sends a strange feeling down my core. As a mother, I love the idea of the three of you chatting in French in the backseat, as I drive you home from school.  What a cool thing to have in your life.  But it also sends you down a path where I can’t join you.  There will be massive chunks of your personhood that aren’t accessible to me.  Is that what I want?  Absolutely. But I will miss you a bit, too. 

Your mind is just like Grandpa Mike's.  Dad and I say that all the time.  You have his demeanor...his brilliance...his scientific and mechanical mind…his calm affect that can’t be fazed by anything. So many things.  But you’ve taken all that wiring and poured them into interests that are completely your own.  

God, I love that about you.

I hope you keep that about yourself.  That decision to be your own person…your own interests…and follow passions. Your authentic self is pretty incredible, Jack. I love who you are and who you’re becoming.  And on your 8th birthday, I want you to know that the most important thing I have ever watched was you and your siblings growing up.  I am honored to be part of this journey of you, becoming who you’re supposed to be.

When I grow up, I want to be writer?

Last Wednesday, I got a call that a tech writing position was open. Through word-of-mouth, they heard I was an option.  Could I send them my resume?  I sent it to them, and 10 minutes later, I had an interview for Thursday at 11AM.  I had the job by the end of the day.  It's a special contract through November, 40 hours a week, working from home, and I'm writing procedures for a big bank for strangely good pay.

This is not something I thought I wanted, and yet I'm sitting in awe that it landed into my life.  When it ends in November, the agency has more contracts -- so I can keep wandering down this tech writing path. 

It is curiously timed with the atrophy of my online teaching -- both in contracts (they've cut back considerably on max courses we can teach), and also in motivation (I was starting to feel like a data-entry person instead of a teacher).  

I'd wanted to move away from online teaching and back into the classroom, and that happened when I got the job on Wednesday and Thursday nights at the local college.  But if I left online work, I couldn't rationalize how I'd replace it.  Yes, my children will be in school more than ever before...Jack full-time, for the first time this year...but I desperately need flexibility in my work.  I want my work, but I don't want to miss out on my family at all.  How was I going to find a job that used my experiences but let me have incredible flexibility too?

And then this happened. 

I want to tell my children to embrace the nonsensical, illogical compounds of self -- even if there's no clear-cut path in sight.  At all. Just be who you are in any given moment, and let life find ways to make those elements of self fit together -- in ways you can't even imagine.

I remember sitting in our apartment in Colorado Springs, 10 years ago, when I looked up from my book and told Steve I wanted to go to graduate school for economics.  I'd been an English undergraduate, and hadn't even taken Econ 101 in college.  But I started reading about it and fell in love with the concepts, and finally decided I should be getting credits for all the reading I was doing. 

Steve probably should have looked at me like I was nuts.  He probably should have told me we couldn't afford graduate school -- we were 22 and 23, and just starting out.  He probably should have asked what I was going to do with the degree.  But instead he smiled and agreed almost immediately.  He trusted who I was, let me take out student loans that terrified our young/broke selves, and brought me food while I was scrambling to write papers late into the night.  

So many times along our last decade, my strangely contradictory choices -- based on instinct, passion, and impulse -- have paid off in the strangest ways.  And here it is again.  My MBA and my 12 years of teaching college English (an odd pairing to explain on a resume), and now this door has opened into tech writing. 

Is my life dream tech writing?  Um, no. I didn't even know I wanted to do it.  But my life dream IS to be a professional person along with being widely-available for my children, and anything that supports that means a lot to me. 

And maybe contradictory choices are going to trickle down to the next generation.  Simone can't decide between being an astronaut or a doctor, so she's decided to be a "space doctor."  Based on how things have played out in my life, I can't argue with her. :)