A Letter to My Son on His 13th Birthday

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Dear Gavin,

Thirteen years ago today, you entered the world just a little sooner and a little more quickly than expected.  It seems like yesterday, and it seems like so many years ago, and the details are vivid and blurry at the same time.  I remember how you snuggled into a warm ball of folded limbs in my arms, how I studied every inch of you, from your fuzzy blonde hair to your teeny fingers and tiny toes.  I remember how you turned toward your daddy’s voice in those first moments, how we knew that you had been listening from the cozy cocoon where you had grown.  I remember how my anxieties melted away when I first held you, how I realized that mothering is both innate and mysterious, a bit frightening but surprisingly comfortable at the same time.   When you were born, my life, my purpose, my legacy – everything – it all changed.  I became a mother.

Before you were born, no one had ever depended on your dad and me for survival, so parenting was both exciting and intense.  The early days were messy and stinky and busy, exhausting and sometimes very long, yet the years have passed so quickly, like sparkling comets shooting through the sky.  I am in awe today as I look at you, a boy who is closer to being a man I have not met than to being the baby with corn silk hair who wrinkled his nose and squinted his eyes to make us laugh.  It is impossible to record all of those memories, all of the milestones and parties and vacations, the field trips and sporting events and spontaneous funny things that you have said.  But you should know that those memories are like jewels to me.  They are gems stored away in the treasure chest of my mind, riches that will not be broken or taken, buried or lost.

Gavin, things are changing between us, just as they are supposed to change, because you are growing up.  It is the sweetest and most difficult transition for a mom.  But you should know that your dad and I are incredibly proud of the young man you have become.  You are smart.  You are ambitious.  You are confident but humble, a leader but a team player, too.  You are a good friend, a caring grandson, a hard worker, and a young man of faith.  You aren’t afraid to stand up for what you believe.  You are funny and compassionate, sincere and loving and kind.  I don’t know exactly what you will do or who you will be five years from now, but I know that the path you are charting is GOOD.  I know that you will be a blessing to the world around you, and I know that you will reap many rewards in return.

I believe in you, Gavin.

But I am afraid for you, too.

It’s not that I don’t trust you or that I expect you to stumble at a fork in the road.  It’s just that I want to protect you, but I can’t always save you in the ways that I once could.  When you were younger, I could stop you before you ran into the street or grab your hand before you touched something hot.  I could redirect you before you risked just a little too much.  I could steer you toward the people whom I trusted to keep you safe.

But now you are in middle school, and you are meeting new people, people I don’t know, and your world is expanding beyond the fences I created.  You are facing problems that aren’t always visible to me, decisions that can change the trajectory of your life.  You are maturing, managing your own self, becoming your own amazing person, and it is heart-wrenching and incredible and agonizing and glorious all at the same time.

There are so many lessons that I want to share with you as you become a teenager, Gavin, lessons to tuck deep inside your soul so that they are not just things you know but things that are as much a part of who you are as your lungs and your freckles and your bones.  I want to talk to you about how “greatness” is so much more than what this world suggests.  About how failure is a part of living a full and meaningful life.  About how the people you spend time with will influence you, just as one cinnamon candy will flavor all the other candies in the dish.  About how you will always find what you are looking for, so look for the good, and about how happiness is a choice that you can make each and every day, whatever your circumstances.  About how the problems on the surface are rarely the problems that need fixed, so invest in scalpels rather than band-aids if you want to find your peace.

Maybe these are lessons for fourteen or fifteen or sixteen.  I’m not sure, Gavin, but let me teach you this.

I once believed that the moths that flutter around our porch lights were attracted by the glow, but scientists say this is not true.  They believe that moths navigate their course in the darkness of night by calibrating their flight against the position of the moon.  The moonlight is the moth’s touchstone, the constant that allows it to orient itself and fly in a straight line.  This is effective as long as the moth is not distracted from the moonlight, but the moth’s best instincts have been sabotaged by the glitter and gleam of artificial lights.  A moth that flies too close to a lightbulb or a flame becomes disoriented and loses track of the moon.  Its straight path deteriorates into a never-ending circle as it expends all of its energy, unable to get back on track.  Eventually, the lost moth becomes exhausted, often landing on and dying with its artificial moon.

When a moth loses sight of what will safely and steadily guide it, when it is distracted by something that is closer and brighter at that moment, it inadvertently creates its own demise.

Whatever you do, Gavin, do not lose sight of your touchstones.  They will guide you safely through the darkness until the sun rises once again.  Don’t exhaust yourself or lose your way by following something that shines just a little bit brighter than what you know to be true.

I try not to worry, Gavin, but it’s just a part of my job as a mom.  I fret about the test you have today and the track meet you have tomorrow, the college and career you will choose six years from now and the wife you will marry in a decade or more.  But I am confident that you will be ready for all of those things when they come.

I worry more that you will become distracted, that you will forget that this home, that our love for you, will always be a place where you can be safe and real in a world that will test you with its artificial glow.  This will always be the place where your truth can be rediscovered, where your bucket can be refilled, and where your spirit can find rest, even when you are all grown up.  This will always, always, always be your moon.

You are someone special, Gavin, and your dad and I are so lucky to have the privilege to walk the journey of your life with you.  I cannot wait to see the man, the husband, and the father that you will become.

But if you can slow down just a little, I will be fine with that, too.

Happy 13th.

Love Always,

Mom

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Pretty Please?

Hey, Fireflies!

I have a brand new post that I can’t wait to share with you next Tuesday.  It’s a letter to my son on his 13th birthday . . . Let’s just say that you may want to throw a box of tissues in the cart when you are at Kroger this weekend.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you . . .

Until then, I’m asking for a HUGE favor!  Please click here to visit the Today Show Parenting Blog where my recent post “How to Influence Your Kids When They Keep Getting Smarter and You Keep Getting Dumber” has been published.  I feel like this post has the potential to get some attention, but the more that it is “Voted Up,” the more likely it is to get noticed by the editors.

You can visit the post on the Today Show Parenting Blog and click “Vote Up” to help me.  The “Vote Up” button is right ABOVE the post.  Please feel free to share the post on your Facebook page if you feel compelled to do that, too!  I will let you know if anything exciting happens!

Thanks, as always, for sharing in this journey with me!  You have no idea how grateful I am.

~Mary Ann

P.S. A few weeks ago, a producer from New York City contacted me to discuss my writing.  His company creates some pretty amazing shows for channels like TLC and National Geographic.  How cool is that?!?  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect match, but I believe that all of this writing is going to lead to SOMETHING fantastic someday – I just don’t know what!

 

How to Influence Your Kids When They Keep Getting Smarter and You Keep Getting Dumber

Quote Intro

My kids think I’m stupid.

I knew this day would come.  I mean, I used to be that smartass kid myself.

I thought that I knew everything about everything because my age (almost) ended with -teen.  I thought I had the answers to life’s hard questions despite hardly having lived at all.  I thought my parents, who paid for everything and provided everything and fixed everything, were the least smart people on the entire planet.  And I had evidence.  I mean, I got straight A’s in middle school.  What could they possibly know that I didn’t?

(And then when I moved out, they studied really hard and became GENIUSES almost overnight!  I’m not sure why they waited so long . . . )

So now my kids are the ones rolling their eyes when I offer advice, sighing with distrust at everything I say.  How could my knowledge of unclogging a toilet or writing a check compare to their knowledge of sports stats and texting slang?  Seriously.

Yes, my kids think I’m stupid.

But here is something I have noticed.

They think Abraham Lincoln was smart.
They think Michael Jordan is smart.
They think the Beastie Boys are smart.
They think Dr. Seuss was smart.
They think Benjamin Franklin was smart.
They think John Cena is smart.
They think Yoda is smart.
They think Steven Spielberg is smart.
They think Albert Einstein was REALLY smart.
And they think Lebron James is a genius.

Basically, they think everyone is smart except me.

But here’s what they don’t understand: I AM smart.  I’m so smart that I can make them think I’m dumb while I’m outsmarting them.  I’m smart enough to realize that I can trick them into learning the values I want to teach them by teaching those values through someone else they trust.  Like Doc Brown from Back to the Future or Beverly from The Goldbergs.

Dumb parents everywhere, listen up.  Let me share with you my little secret – the Quote of the Day.

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Every morning, before my kids head off to school, I scour the Internet for a quotation that feels right for the day.  Sometimes it shares deep wisdom about life, friendship, hard work, perseverance, love, joy, faith, or success.  Sometimes it’s funny.  Sometimes it is a line from a movie we just watched or from a favorite television show.  Every once in a while it is a Bible verse, and sometimes it specifically applies to something that is happening that day, like if my kids need encouragement for a test or a track meet.  The quotation for the day is quickly recorded on two post-it notes, three if I want to be reminded of it later myself, and stuffed into lunch boxes before the kids dash out the door.  If one of my kiddos is buying lunch, then I stick the post-it somewhere in a folder or book for them to find later in the day.

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I know what you’re thinking.  Her kids don’t read those things.  They probably toss them in the cafeteria trash can or hide them under an apple or granola bar so that no one else will see.  How embarrassing.

WRONG.

How do I know this?  Because whenever I forget to pack one, they ALWAYS tell me.

Sometimes we talk about them over dinner.  Sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes their friends ask to see them at lunch.  Sometimes my kids reflect on them on their own.  Sometimes I stick them on the refrigerator as a reminder, and sometimes we discuss them when we unpack their lunchboxes after school.  Sometimes I see one from several weeks ago tucked into a folder or marking a page in a book. Cha ching.  If they read it more than once before tossing it, that’s even better.

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I hope that sometimes those words of wisdom, not from their stupid mom but from someone brilliant, like Charles Barkley or Will Ferrell, change their day.  I hope that enough of those carefully chosen words over all the days and all the weeks and all the months of school will help to shape their lives.

Remember the days when you could stuff a sweet note into your child’s lunchbox, and he would treasure that little scrap of paper love all afternoon?  Once you hit the tweens, those days are over.  But don’t be fooled, moms and dads.  Your kids still appreciate your influence.  They still want to know that they are loved, even as their growing independence pulls them farther and farther away.

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They want your attention; they just don’t want a lipstick kiss from their mother on a heart-shaped napkin anymore.

Because, well, moms are dumb.

But it’s okay, mom.  You’ve got backup.  Because Homer Simpson is really, really smart.

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**Maybe you want to pilot a Quote of the Day routine with your kids in the last quarter of the school year.  Let me help!  I included a few quotations above to get you started!  Watch the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page for more each week!  If doing this in the morning seems overwhelming to you, make them all on the weekend instead.  Five minutes and you are finished!**