Someone I know on Facebook posted a quiz asking which of these he said to his daughter on her first day back at school.
a. Don't get pregnant,
b. Don't screw up,
c. Find the biggest boy in your class, punch him in the nose and then beat the hell out of him to establish your dominance, or
d. I love you, be kind, I'll be waiting for you outside when the bell rings.
(Oh wait, I forgot to tell you, there is an alternate post today, this one is kind of long and a bit didactic so, if you prefer, there's this, "Window Bear.")
It's funny enough, it's cute and, well, clever, but... that last phrase sorta walloped me upside the head because it rang so loud and so true in my mind.
That's pretty much my parenting philosophy right there.
Tell them they're are loved - always do this, always.
Point them towards kindness because to be kind I think you have to know beauty and Art and love and quiet and tenderness and sadness. Kindness means you feel.
"I'll be waiting for you outside when the bell rings." I've mentioned before that I always walk the boys out to the street in the mornings and meet the bus when it comes back home, often Marci joins me. I don't do it because I am concerned about their safety - I once was but those days of chasing the ball of the season into the street are hopefully over - or because they particularly need me to or so I can wave at the pretty and, as you might remember from the post "Kindnesses,'" so very, well, kind bus driver. No, I don't even do it out of a sense of duty or over-attachment or tradition. I do it because I told them I would... for as long as they'd like me to.
This is a picture of them the day I made that promise. I've probably used it before but you don't know that... dammit. It is the boys waiting for the bus on their first day of kindergarten:
They still want me to wait with and for them.
"I love you, be kind, I'll be waiting for you outside when the bell rings."
It's a covenant of sorts.
Love and be loved, be kind and accept kindness, trust others and trust yourself, I'll be there for you and you for me.
Thanks for the insight Unfit Father.
I see a lot of notes to kids as they start school, lists of reasons why they are so great or how to find success and whatnot. I've written a few things like that over the years. Last year I wrote a bit about what and what not to do on a first day back to school. (And, to my horror, I just realized I used the same picture to pretty much the same affect in that post as I am using today... oh, well.)
I've considered a long list of important things the boys need to know about life and love and being cool and stuff, but have failed at finding a way to put that poetically and also, I don't know where to stop. But I wonder, if I could only tell them one thing, one all-encompassing-answer-to-everything statement, what would that be?
Last night I couldn't sleep. This is not always a bad thing for me. Late nights in a quiet house are when the hopes and dreams of us all float out and drift down the halls of imagination waiting to be caught in the hopenets and dreamcatchers of our souls. I was thinking last night about purpose and school starting and change and worry and drive and ambition and loneliness and melancholy. I remember specifically looking back on my life at times when I had to make difficult changes: a new job in the kind of restaurant I could never begin to afford myself, where the silver was plated and crystal was crystal; a new apartment in a complex where I was the minority; the first day in a college dorm room, not sure who I was and blurting out "Willy" when I was asked my name, a name some still call me; a time, years later, confidence lost, when everything felt so wrong and sad that falling on my knees and praying through the salty tears seemed the only right thing possible.
Through it all, I wondered to myself, how did I take that weight? How were these burdens and discomforts and hurts appeased, borne?
'You have to own yourself,' was the answer I heard clearly in that wierd mind-voice we all have, or should.
I figure that's as close as I'll ever get to "one all-encompassing-answer-to-everything."
You see, I believe in looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing and liking who you see there. If you don't, if your eyes avert from your very own eyes, well, if you are being true to yourself - not seeing a false self, that is - then you need to change. You simply must like and respect yourself, it's how you love and respect others. That time I fell to my knees... well, the truth of that story is that I saw myself in the dirty bathroom of the dirty apartment I lived in in the middle of a big dirty city and I neither recognized nor liked the pale and lonely, bleary-eyed man I had become. I could no longer own that version of myself. Less than a month later I was in a U-Haul with NYC in the rear-view and the rich, quiet earth of Ohio on the horizon in front of me.
I believe that to do so you must know yourself. You have to. You have to know what you believe. You have to know your own morality, make your own difficult choices about events and history and war and peace and all of it. Those may change, that's not the point, the point is you have to think about yourself. For instance, I love my faith, I own it. I own the struggles I've had with it because I know they will lead to insight and understanding, mine, my understanding. I own my faults and transgressions. I own my gratitude and peace.
Own your oddness. Hold close your quirks and eccentricities. Know you will laugh when someone says "duty" even if it is the archbishop or the president.
Own your fears, accept your shortcomings. I few months back I went to an open mic night at a local coffee house. I was nervous and dry-mouthed and self-conscious and, honestly, well... not very good. I couldn't remember the words to the songs, I kept forgetting to keep my guitar close to the mic or bumped it when I remembered to. I could say I failed, I guess, but, here's the thing. A few months later, on glorious summer night, I played a bunch of songs around a fire in the backyard of an old friend. It went fine, I remembered all the words, I was relaxed, I connected to the songs just as I like to do. I owned it.
Believe in the depths of love. Own the fluttering heart and the sweaty palms. Own the tears of happiness that is childhood and parenthood and and all the hoods between. Own your hopes. Own your dreams. Own the uniqueness of your very soul. Know that it all flows from one source, Love. Own it and know that it is yours to keep and give away and embrace and cherish and, always, remember.
Own yourself, Nick. Own your spiky hair and your new glasses. Own your quick smile, own your good heart, your tenderness, your empathy. Own, even, your fears. Own the thunderstorms and ominous clouds, let them act as a metaphor for uncertainty and timelessness. Own the different drums that live within you and beat them wildly, with abandon, with conviction. Own the who that makes you you.
Own yourself, Zack. Own your smallness as you do your confident stride. Own your ample and capable intellect. Own your sweet restlessness, and long, languishing stories. Own it all. Own your frustrated tears and deep belly laugh. Own your shyness and don't fight against it, know that examination and understanding come quickly to some but not perhaps to you. Own your wildness, own the storm that is in you at times, own the beauty in that storm and show it to others.
Own yourselves, boys. That's all I've got right now, perhaps it is a oversimplification, but I think you know what I mean.
I try to show that to the boys. I'm honest to them about my past - so far - and I believe I can continue on with that. There will be some tricky negotiating around difficult corners, but that's fine. Life is sticky and tricky and funny and weird - oh, boys, the stories I will someday tell.
Stories I own which I give to you, to them. Listen, before you can give a gift, you gotta own it.
So, uh, let's call this my back-to-school post. Yeah, that's what this is, just as I'd intended... yes.
I'll need a picture here, let's see.
Here they are walking out to the bus:
Yeah, they're neither one very good. Oh, well. You know what? The truth is that's how I see them these days. Walking ahead, further and further ahead with each passing day it seems, in to the what-will-be.
And childhood is always little blurry around the edges, isn't it?
Thanks for coming around again, I appreciate it. Peace to you, consider the kids who are starting school today and this week or the weeks to come. Maybe, spend a little time remembering the days you started school, the new beginning you've known, the false starts and the do-overs, the dreams fulfilled and the hopes yet to come, the stories you have told, are telling and will tell... the stories you own yourself.
You may have noticed I didn't link to the blog I mentioned above. It is my policy to list other blogs I may mention here at the end. You know why... they are usually better than mine and I'm afraid I'll never see you again. The Unfit Father is funny and irreverent and heartfelt and sweet. This post, "My Daughter the Storyteller" had me chuckling in the basement a few days ago. It is good stuff, go take a look if you have a few, but keep in mind, you might be there a while.
See ya next time.
This piece is an alternate post to today's other back-to-school post which is much shorter and easier to digest, maybe...