I am decompressing this morning from an amazing trip with the kids to Duke University. First, I’ve decided that I would like to go back to college and this time to a smaller setting than Virginia Tech. After hearing about opportunities to live in student learning groups (you can form your own group based upon your interest in anything), focused studies with professors, choosing not only a minor but also a “certificate,” it’s easy to see why the students at Duke don’t want to graduate. They take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. Although Lauren and I decided we are not nerdy enough when the engineer tour guide talked about taking a class in the Future of Drones, Aaron was so excited. At one point, he said, “I really regret not applying for early decision. I will be disappointed if I don’t get accepted.” Hmm. It was time for our talk. It has been on my mind for a month or so. First, you have to know my son. This is the kid who was curious from the time he could talk. He collected anything and everything from bird feathers (no one got lice), marbles, buttons, fossils, Pokemon cards, rocks, dead bugs (or that is what happened to them when they were placed in what Tony called “The Death Chamber”). Not only would he collect them but then we would have to get books from the library to identify them. This all started before the age of 5. The only way I got him to jump off the board was to promise him not ice cream, not a toy, but more books. I know. Weird. For two average intelligence parents, Tony and I marveled at the sperm and egg that created him. My father used to say, “I hope I live long enough to see what Aaron grows up to become.” Unfortunately, he didn’t and neither did Tony but everyone has had high expectations of Aaron’s future, including himself. Last month, as part of professional development, I had to watch a 3 hour webinar from the Jason Foundation, established by a father whose son committed suicide. One part really stuck out at me. It was the story that a father told of his son. From the time the boy was small, he would say, “I’m going to go to Princeton just like you and Grandpa.” The father encouraged him by buying him t shirts, keeping up with the school’s teams and even making visits to the campus. When he became a senior, he applied because it was the only place he had ever dreamed of going. He was not accepted. He left a suicide note to his father saying “I’m sorry I disappointed you.” As the father said, “I didn’t really care if he went to Princeton, but I never told him” Ugh. This is why I needed to have the talk with Aaron. So the moment was right as the three of us had dinner together back at the hotel. I told him the story of this boy. I could tell from the look in his eyes that this story was hitting home for him. I told him that even if he didn’t get accepted to Duke, that it was ok. He had some amazing options available to him and for the first time in our lives, we needed to give “fate” a chance. He looked relieved. I then told him that if he got into biomedical engineering and it was impossibly difficult or stressful, that it was ok to switch majors. He could still do cancer research as a biochemistry major. And as much as I love the ideology of youth, I gave him permission to not drive himself into the ground to find a cure for cancer. If it were easy, someone would have already done it. I saw a sense of relief in his eyes. I know he won’t take advantage of this talk to drop out of school, live in my basement and play video games because he is a very driven kid. I just wanted to give him permission to remove some pressure from the years of expectations we have placed upon him. We all want our kids to be successful and happy, but I haven’t always been successful or happy so why place this burden on my kids? We want our kids to have a better life than we did, to take advantage of the opportunities we missed, but part of this journey of life involves missteps, heartache, disappointments, and unfulfilled dreams. These are the things that make us stronger, more resilient, and more appreciative of the love and joy we find. I can’t rob my kids of this by smoothing out their paths. He may get accepted to Duke and he might not, but no matter what, Aaron will be ok. Permission granted.
You are something else, my daughter. How did you get so bright in your young life? Some people live four score and ten and never have the wisdom you have shown with your kids. Love you and I know a lot of parents need this insight.
And that my dear Sarah is the best gift you have given to Aaron . He will shine in whatever he does:)
Sam is in the process of ranking the OB residency programs he interviewed with over the past six months. We had “the talk” about this time last week. He was welcomed at the top programs in the US, and he wants to get into the best, but thankfully, he knows that God will put him where he’s supposed to be. I’m so proud of Aaron, and proud of you and Tony as such good parents. The man who started the Jason Foundation was in divinity school with Sam’s dad in the mid-1970’s. He didn’t finish, but decided to go into the insurance business. He’s a great guy, and I felt so badly when his son committed suicide. For kids like Aaron and Sam, we have to give them permission to fail because they set the bar much higher for themselves than we ever could. You’re one smart Mom!
Wonderful message, Sarah.
This brought tears to my eyes. You are an amazing mom. I admire your wisdom and your peaceful spirit.
That was beautiful, Sarah. What lucky kids you have!
You can imagine what my dad thought when I changed my major from Geochemistry to Music. After some brief misgivings, I thank my parents for sticking by me. I am a lucky guy.