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.