“Dad, they shouldn’t give us so much homework to do during summer. It’s not fair and it’s not right.”
I nod my head in agreement with my son, and tell him part of me agrees with him, but it doesn’t matter because this isn’t a debate. His homework is his responsibility. It’s part of the joy of going into 8th grade and getting ready for high school.
It doesn’t seem possible that my son is almost old enough to be in high school. It is hard to fathom how fast time has gone, but it’s growing easier to imagine a time when he will not be a little boy any more.
Truth is that little boy doesn’t exist and hasn’t in years. I remember the baby and the toddler he was. I see pieces of the first, second and third grader too but the little face and chubby cheeks are harder to see now.
His voice hasn’t really changed yet, but it’s not a little boy’s voice anymore. It’s somewhere in between. While his language is far more sophisticated, the pitch is still (somewhat) high.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m making a mistake by not pushing you harder,” I tell him. “Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake when I was in high school by not pushing myself harder. I figured out the angles and learned how to get things done.”
He looks at me and smiles.
“I’m telling you this because I want you to learn from my mistakes. Figuring out how to beat the system didn’t make my life easier. I’ve had to work harder because of it,” I say.
That’s only sort of true.
I want him to do better, to have more and to get more out of life than I have. It is not that my life has been so hard because compared to many others, it hasn’t been. But the last five years or so have been among the hardest of my life, and they’ve made me question things like nothing else ever has.
Don’t ask me to tell you if it is just a quirk of fate or a midlife crisis because I’m not particularly interested in labeling it. What I know is that this period has been among the most painful and challenging of my life. A label won’t make it any better or any worse.
Platitudes won’t help me feel any better nor will they make me more or less confident about the advice I am giving.
What I want is for my children to be the conductors of their lives. I want them to recognize the value of hard work and a good education. I want them to see they can’t control everything that happens, but they can manage their response to it.
Material things can be taken from you, but your education cannot be. An educated person who is willing to work hard and is resourceful has an advantage. A person who understands how to roll with the changes and moments in life has an advantage.
“Dad, I want to watch one more show and then I’ll go read.”
“You can do that,” I say. “Remember when you’re overwhelmed with work and desperate to go to sleep you chose to watch one more show. Manage your time or it will manage you. Work smarter, not harder.”
He nods his head and smiles, and I head upstairs.
Part of me wonders if I’m giving him too much leeway. Part of me wonders if I should push a bit harder now to help him become more disciplined. My gut says he’s a good kid and that he’ll do better if I let him figure it out for himself.
My grandfather always said you can’t screw an old head on young shoulders, and he was right. I won’t make my issues into my son’s. We’re different people.
Later on, he’ll say good night. He’ll thank me for pushing him to read more. I’ll nod my head and smile. As he walks away, I’ll think again about how yesterday he was a baby who had no teeth and, now he is a kid with hair under his arms.
Time passes far too quickly.