As God would have it, as He usually does, I was introduced to a fabulous blog post this morning. It hit very close to home.
My eldest son, Son #1, is a junior in high school, preparing to turn 17 this summer. For his entire life, he has been a History Channel and Military Channel addict. His favorite subject has always been history and he can recount facts, events and dates like nobody’s business. Since he was a little guy, he has talked about going into the military. But what little boy doesn’t want to be an “army man” at some point in his childhood?
Son #1 has a brilliant mind. He is terribly smart – though terribly lazy and as adolescence has progressed he has grown increasingly so. He is an avid reader. He would bring me books when he was under a year old. We would sit, he in my lap for hours reading books each day. Some over and over. He had an extensive library of books as a toddler and grew into a carnivorous reader. Let me paint the correct picture for you – Son #1 probably reads anywhere from 250-350 books a year, every year since he was in elementary school. He doesn’t read books, he devours them. They become his life for the few days that he immerses himself in the author’s story. He reads with passion, intensity and obsession. Always has. When he was younger the only punishment that we found to be effective was to say, “You may not read today.” Can you imagine that? Can you imagine grounding your child from books? Well, we did. It was the only thing he cared about. I could say, no television – no response. No video games – who cares? But books and reading? Now you’ve gone too far.
At the age of 16, he still retreats to his room or a quiet nook of the house to curl up with his latest adventure. A book store is his favorite place to visit though it brings difficulty of decisions. Trying to choose is always painful for him. Receiving gift cards to bookstores is a true thrill for him. He waivers between spending less money on paperbacks in order to buy MORE books and spending the extra money to own the hardback which he cherishes. He has often told me how his books are his greatest possessions. He thinks of his books as these special entities, if you will.
His voracious appetite to devour a book has built an amazing vocabulary that he speaks with on a regular basis. It has additionally created a wonderfully talented writer. He can whip things up quickly and write with emotion and fluidity, using poignant vocabulary and the impeccable communication of thoughts to the reader. I have told him that because he has been such an attentive audience to so many authors, he writes with his own audience in mind at all times.
His mind is a banquet of information for many to feast upon. He knows a great deal about many subjects from the time he has spent reading. His brain is like the proverbial sponge absorbing all that it can as his eyes swipe across the pages. His reading speed is shocking and most times when asked to read something it is hard for me to believe that he has read it, let alone been able to comprehend anything on the page. I have used him as my proofreader and sounding board for most of my blog posts and I count on him for his input. I know that I am dealing with an individual who is more than educated in the world of words and I trust him implicitly.
I’m sure if his teachers read this blog they would wonder who I am talking about. For someone with such amazing capabilities, he is unwilling to apply it to his academic studies. He is disinterested in the routine of school, papers, homework and studying. I have found this a particular challenge in raising him as I wish there was some way to tweak his scholastic interest. He struggles with the concept of college and majors and seems truthfully unable to find a clear direction in which to start moving; Paralyzed by indecision, as if he were in a bookstore with unlimited funds staring at all of the available choices.
He wants to go into Robotics. His mind can create, build and assess effortlessly. He has been building since he was old enough to grasp a block and stack it upon another. Through the years he hoarded wooden blocks, mega blocks, bristle blocks, Lego’s, K’nex, Erector sets and now Vex Robotics kits. He joined the Robotics team at school and is mesmerized by thoughts of ideas that constantly swirl in his head. Visions of ways to connect motors, steel and aluminum with the grandest of schemes to outwit the competition. He imagines a future where he builds robots for use in space exploration or in the field of medicine – possibly designing robots performing surgical procedures. He subscribes to magazines that show a world on the cusp of a robotic future and he dreams of being apart.
None of these things are difficult for him, in fact, they come with such ease that I wonder where it comes from indeed. He knows that in order to go into the world of Robotics as an adult, he is looking at an engineering degree first. Therein lies the problem. He believes himself to be weak in mathematics. He has always felt his strength to be in English, social studies, humanities – and feels somehow inferior to the world of numbers. It’s strange to think that his brain can compute to build Robots effortlessly but feel overwhelmed in the classroom. I can see that this academic life required to fulfill his future, tampers with his confidence and leaves him unsteady about his decisions.
Son #1 flip-flops about his future. But there are things that I have watched, seen and heard from my son consistently throughout his life. He hungers for the written word and will choose a book to be his best friend on any given day. He wants to build things. He has a brilliant mind to do so. I know he must find a way. Then there is a third thing. The thing that we are not sure how this fits into his journey…
You see, Son #1 has always talked about going into the military. For. Ever. Not just in whimsical fashion but in a dreams and aspiration sort of way. When he was younger, he would tell us that he was going to go to The United States Naval Academy. That was actually where I was born. My father was enlisted and that was the closest naval hospital at the time. I grew up near the Academy and knew many who attended. I knew what was expected of those that were accepted there but encouraged his goal. But eventually Son #1 would learn that he was color blind and that was no longer an option for him. Sometimes I think that diminished his drive to achieve.
With that, I believe that he has tried to find a way to configure a life of education, military service and robotics – all trying to please everyone. Lately he has talked about journalism but frankly I think that is his feelings of desperation talking struggling to point into some sort of direction. After all, isn’t that what we do – find what we are good at – what comes most easily and natural and try to make something out of that.
Very honestly, the idea of serving in the military is stronger in him than he thinks I realize. But I do. His father has tried to discourage this path numerous times. He wants him to finish college with a degree and then go in as an officer if he still feels called to do so. I can understand this point of view. As a father of 5 children, he is simply thinking of the best way to enable his son to be a good provider for a family. But inside I fear that is not what my son wants to do. But each time my son utters the words, he his quickly hushed by the argument against it.
I have always believed that those who willingly serve in the military – especially those who make it their lifelong career, feel something deeply patriotic and do feel called to serve. It is something innate in them just like those who feel they are to be the nurses and doctors of the world. Those that show an intensity for the arts. Those compelled to make music. Those driven to surrender their lives for the freedom of our country are navigated by a compulsion as well. How else would I explain a son who has longed to be a part of the military lifestyle since he was a preschooler? He hasn’t had that exposure in any facet of his life. His family is as white-collar, middle America as they get.
As my son nears the end of his high school career and needs to make decisions about the rest of his life, I worry that as his parents we weigh in more heavily on those things that we wish for him to accomplish more than tuning into those things that he feels naturally called to do. I know how influential a parent’s words can be – especially to a first born child who wants nothing more than to please us and make us proud. I want to choose my words carefully. I want my guidance to be appropriate to his goals. I want to help mold what talents and gifts that he has been given and help him channel them where he will be most effective.
I know what the cookie cutter plans of parents for their children are. College. Career. Marriage. Family. But what about parenting when that doesn’t happen? We are approaching the college fair at my son's school. Lately, this has all been weighing heavily on my mind. But today I found a blog recommended from one of my favorite Twitter friends - Talking Teenage. The blog: Raising Teens: My Son Wants To Be a Soldier - http://bit.ly/gy1jJy and I realized that I need to listen to my son more. I need to hear what he is saying, understand what he is thinking, take a few steps in his skin and try to feel his motivations. After all, I am supposed to be helping him find his OWN way, not carefully execute mine.
Thank you, Natasha Olivera, for speaking out today. I heard you.