Man, did I have a great childhood. Really. Idyllic. I was, like yourself, an unplanned only child. Meaning we planned to have more but couldn’t, not that you were a surprise. Though I missed the, real or imagined, joys of sibling-hood, I had all the perks that come with being an Only. It is a luxury to be just one. The biggest perk – and what people see as the breeder of bad behavior – is you don’t have to share. I had my parent’s undivided attention. They were always available to me. They drove me to and from. They came to see my games and plays. They were there every step of the way through school. I was the sole focus and it was amazing. There were other perks too: I got to go to great schools; I came out of University/Grad School/Theatre Conservatory debt free (!!); my summer job as a camp councilor was more fun than work; and I got to travel the world – a lot. Having just one child allowed my parents to expose me to so much more than they could have with more children. It also allowed me the opportunity to really get to know them. Since it was just the 3 of us, I confided in them more than most – let’s be honest, I told them everything – and they handled it beautifully. Rarely judging, mostly listening. It’s a special relationship – the only child and parents – and one I’m very grateful for. It’s the main thing your dad and I fall back on when we feel sad we can’t give you siblings.
The thing about childhood is that it’s fleeting. And it only seems to be getting shorter as the years go by. The things 10-year-olds know these days blow my mind. I know when you’re little you just want to be grown up but let me tell you, grown up is a lot of work. Be young for as long as you can baby. I’m not advocating the Peter Pan syndrome. It’s not cute to be a man-child. But when you’re a kid, be a kid. When you’re a teenager, don’t wish the years away. I don’t even have to tell you not to rush College, because by then you’ll realize how incredible these years are and you’ll milk every moment.
I’m planning on cruise directing your childhood but if I’m not here in person to do that, here’s what I want for you:
Enjoy the Little Things – Having children is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself. They allow you to re-experience the newness of life. Right now everything is amazing to you. Even things you’ve done a million times – like drive a boat – still delight you. I find myself looking at the world through your eyes and getting so much out of it. Even when you’re not with me, I find myself pointing out things I wouldn’t have even noticed before. “Look! A train!” It makes your dad laugh. I realize I see the world now with so much more awe. It’s an unjaded way of being and it’s wonderful. Hang onto that for as long as you can. The world is magnificent. A huge spider in a web. The way a bunch of rocks come together. A stream. A sunset. The moon… Right now it all thrills you and it thrills those of us around you. We are always trying to find new things to show you. To excite you. Even when you’re off making your own plans, keep doing that. Don’t lose the wonder you had as a child.
Relish your Traditions – I can’t decorate the house enough for holidays. You get such joy out of it. The big spiders and webs and pumpkins for Halloween. The tree and all the fixings that come with Christmas. The eggs and bunnies that (tastefully) take over our house at Easter. We even have St. Paddy’s Day decorations. Every season is special and each one comes with it’s own traditions. Embrace that. Enjoy the songs, movies, food and activities that come with each special time. Relish the favorites year after year. I have to watch White Christmas, decorate the tree and listen to Bony M for it to really feel like Christmas. I like a round, fat, tall tree. One year Granny and Granddad bought a little, short, scrawny tree while I was at University and I got home and burst into tears. They’d chosen the wrong tree! AND, they’d done it without me! They were trying to be efficient. But for me, it was like stealing part of my Christmas. I’m embarrassed (and proud) to say we EXCHANGED the tree on December 23rd. I picked the “perfect” tree and got to decorate it with my parents. Extreme, yes, but traditions are important. For your Dad, Christmas is watching It’s a Wonderful Life and new Christmas Eve jammies with Gigi (used to be GK) reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. For you it might be The Polar Express and building an Architectural Digest worthy gingerbread house with your Dad. Whatever it is, fall into the comfort of tradition repetition. It allows you to relive your childhood year after year. As you get older you’ll have to blend traditions. But if your traditions mean enough to you, others will respect and accept them too. My birthday always has cake (specifically lemon) and your Dad’s always had all his cards stuck to his door. Now when our birthdays roll around, he bakes and I get serious about sticking mail to the wall…
Believe – In magic. In possibilities. In yourself. Believe that you can do anything, be anyone. Believe that the world is good and that all people are equal. Being a child – if you’re raised right – comes with optimism. To a child everything is possible and there are no limits. You say you want to be an astronaut and everyone supports you. Heck, you say you want to be a fire truck and that’s good too. If you can dream it, it’s possible. Magic exists everywhere. Magicians fill you with wonder. Your dad is the strongest man alive. Santa comes to your house… I’m a big believer in this one. By the time you read this I’m sure you’ll know the truth, but I want you to know I never saw it as a lie. Allowing you to believe in something wonderful and happy that fills you with joy is a gift. I’ll never forget when Alison Bokle told me Santa wasn’t real. I was in Grade 2. Mrs. Felker’s class. Her brother told her and she told me. My head swam. I told her she was wrong. I told her he’d written me a note. She said my parents had written the note. My brain almost exploded. I turned away from her and walked right off the playground and all the way home. (Nice security 1982!) When my shocked mother opened the door I wouldn’t let her speak. I said, “Is there, or is there not, a Santa Clause?” The look on her face told me all I needed to know and I was devastated. I didn’t go back to school that day I was too busy crying (deduction had also shattered my belief in the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy). But despite how crushed I was, I wouldn’t give up those years of believing for anything. Going to sleep on Christmas Eve. Waking up in the morning knowing he’d been there. That pure pleasure. I wanted that for you Loch. And to be quite honest, I wanted it for me. I wanted to create that illusion for you. To this day I kinda still believe in Santa…even if it’s just in the etherial magic of Christmas, and not an actual man that fits down my chimney. I think I’m a better person for it.
Limit your Judgement – It isn’t till you’re a bit older that you start to notice people’s differences with any judgement. There’s a little boy who lives near us with an undeveloped arm and 2 fingers and a thumb. You’ve noticed but it doesn’t affect how you feel about him. You ask why people are in wheel chairs but don’t think differently of them. I’m not even sure if you’ve become aware of the difference in skin color yet. It’s such a wonderful time and one that sadly we lose the quickest. You can’t help what society will expose you too but you can remember that there was a time when you looked at others with no preconceived notion. A time where you liked and judged people on how they treated you and not on how they looked or who they were. Choose not like someone because they’re a jerk not because they’re a color.
Try New Things – When you’re young you have to try new things all the time because everything is new. New food. New places. New sports. New schools. Enjoy the ‘try me’ years. Experiment with everything that inspires you. You may not be good at, or like everything, but if you don’t try you won’t know. I did 2 student exchanges in Middle School. The first was a horrible bust where the girl and I were so astoundingly different that all we had in common was our gender. Her family lived on the outskirts of Boston so even though it was a “Boston Exchange” I never saw the city. Other than school I never saw anyone. Her brothers spit on me, her mother forgot to pack me a lunch and it was just generally miserable in her house. Not wanting to blanket judge all exchanges, I wrote it off as a single bad experience and tried an exchange again in Grade 8. Ironically, it was equally, if not more, terrible. Luck had drawn me essentially the same girl but this one spoke no English. I hated every minute of it. But, with hindsight, I’m proud to say I did it. It, unlike bad skin, is one of those experiences that actually made me stronger. Better, for the bad. I wasn’t afraid to take a risk. As we age we get more stuck in our ways and are less likely to branch out. Try things now. And even if they don’t work out (and you have to learn to say “I want to go home” in a foreign language) you’ll have grown. And that kind of growth is great.
Be open with your love – You tell me you love me all the time right now. You love holding my hand and snuggling. Children are gregarious with their love because they do very little self editing. They aren’t worried about how they are being perceived. I’m dreading the time when you no longer want to hug and kiss me. When having me around is a thorn in your side. Try not to get too self aware if you can help it. I went through a distinct “parent embarrassment” period where I wanted to be dropped off a block from the party at all times. You’ll know you’re really grown up when you no longer care about things like that, and getting dropped off at the front door of an event by your parents is awesome. Less walking! No cab fare! Take the same lesson to heart when dealing with girlfriends. Physical affection is a lovely thing to offer those you care for. Don’t be crazy PDA guy – he’s gross – but don’t withhold either. Who cares what others think. If you want to hold her hand, hold it. And if you wanna hold mine…I can think of nothing better.
Be a Joiner, Be a Doer, Be a Leader – You don’t have to join everything just get out there. Open up your mind. Make new friends. A Doer is essentially someone who’s not lazy. Enjoy the energy and freedom of your youth and get involved with people, things and causes you’re interested in. Work takes over so much of your adult years. Do the things you want while you have the time to do them. And you can choose to be a leader or not, just don’t be a follower. Followers give up too much of their power. They put their needs and feelings in someone else’s hands. It’s more responsibility to make your own decisions. More work to stand up for yourself rather than behind another. But if you make that choice you’ll never feel like a spectator in your own life and there is something real to be said for that.
Enjoy your Summers– I know most of the other things are abstract but I’m going to get kinda specific with this one. Summers are special, holy even, in the world of a child. The days get longer and the nights shorter. You can be outside well past your bedtime. Popcicles and freezies are everywhere. Friends and parents are available more. There’s no school. I can’t even fathom this concept of year round school or starting the year mid August. That’s ridiculous. Summer is what fuels you for the rest of the year.
Lochlan, It is my plan that you spend at least 6 weeks of every summer in Canada. I was blessed enough to grow up summering in Ontario. Being at the cottage. Going to camp. I can’t express how happy those experiences made me or how instrumental they were to who I am. If you grow up and want to spend the summers with your friends in California, at surf camp or whatever, I totally understand. But please try to spend some time in Canada. Maybe 2 weeks at the cottage and a month at camp? It’s my hope that you’ll love it as much as I did and look forward to it all year. The friends and memories I have from my childhood summers are some of my strongest. Your cottage is the last of the great outdoors, and there is something exceptional about spending your summers in the wilderness surrounded by throngs of happy, healthy, young people. I even say that with the full knowledge that you’ll probably cease all contact with me during those days, as people as old as your parents don’t exist when you’re in the world of camp.
Watch the sun set. Dive into a lake on a boiling hot day. Go skinny dipping on a warm night. Drive the boats or wakeboard behind them. Sing songs. Do skits. Party in the evenings when the sun sets but the heat stays. Paddle a canoe. Read a book by the fire. Your dad and I are agreed, just as my parents always were, that no TV will ever be at the cottage. It was there I learned to love reading. It was there that you could really appreciate the night. The sounds, the stars…Life is so connected that it’s a real luxury to go somewhere that, for all intensive purposes, you’re off grid. We broke down last year and got a DVD projector for the occasional movie, but it’s a treat and not the norm. I hope it remains that way for you. That goes the same for game systems…
Finally, Have Fun and Don’t worry – Ride your bike, read comics, play ridiculous games with your friends, try new things, douse yourself in silly string, stay up all night playing video games, make a rally cry with your team, do crazy dances to make someone laugh, wear costumes…do all those silly, fun, yes, childish things. Because darling, you’re a child and you deserve to be light. Stress free. Try not to worry. Worry is for adults. For parents. What you can do is respect the worry. Know that we worry for real reasons, and because we want you safe and happy. Be responsible. Make smart choices. Call when you get there not because you’re told to, but because you understand why we need you to. But ultimately leave the stress to us. There’s lots of time to be serious. Childhood isn’t one of them.
You said to me the other day, “Kids don’t always get what they want, do they Mommy?” I told you that adults don’t always get what they want either. Life doesn’t work like that. We do the best we can to line up our realities with our dreams, and all too often we have to adjust. As a child, especially a child as blessed as you, that’s a foreign concept. Right now, aside from things like the candy apple you asked for in bed a couple days ago, you have very few disappointments. If it could be like that forever I’m not sure it would make you a better man. Some disappointments are necessary to make us stronger and less vulnerable, to clarify our values and desires. I want you to have as close to a perfect life as possible without ending up clueless. But I also want you to grow into a man that can handle being a grown up without losing the joy he had as a child.
If for nothing else, it’ll make you a great parent.