On Teenagers and Life

July 23, 2013 in Education

Cover, designed by Grammy, in Canada.

Cover, designed by Grammy, in Canada.

Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up singing.

It’s our tradition to sing to the birthday child before he’s even out of bed, and it sets a joyous tone for the day.

Tomorrow I become the mother of three teenagers, as Elisha crosses into that magical half decade of teen-dom.

I have a confession to make:

I adore teenagers. I loved babies. Toddlers were an exhausting riot. School aged kids were an adventure a minute, but teens are my favourite stage so far. I love their brains, their passions, their sense of adventure and all of the potential that just pours out of every pore the poor darlings have! (Yes, I did that on purpose!)

You might think that because we’ve chosen not to send our kids to school and because we travel so much, we are trying to keep our kids isolated and controlled in some sense. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. We want our kids to meet the whole world, and we’ve always sought community for ourselves, creating it with our own two hands if we have to, in order to expose our kids to as many different people and ways of life as possible. We rely on those many other people who love us and love our kids to speak into their lives and help put them on a productive path towards adulthood.

I wrote, a couple of weeks ago, about a book that we put together for our kids as they turn 13. It’s a Life Book, of sorts, in which we invite those who love them to contribute their wisdom on life and living as the young people enter what my Dad once told me was “the most dangerous period of your life.” The decisions faced and the potential consequences of the choices made between 13 and 20 are huge. Our kids need all of the wisdom they can get. We’ve chosen to ask for that, in the tangible form of letters, from as many people as we possibly can.

I’ve assembled Elisha’s book this week. Entries have arrived from four continents and many countries. I thought I’d share some of the highlights here, as in inspiration to us all and in gratitude to the many folks who’ve given time and careful thought to what a 13 year old man needs to know as he saddles up for the long ride through manhood.

“Continue to train yourself in the ways of being a man, being strong, defending the weak, loving fiercely, giving without expectation. Always find ways to add adventure to your life. It keeps your fresh and alert and keeps life new.”

“Lesson 1: I think that having heroes can be just as dangerous as having enemies.”

I will always be proud to call you brother.”

“Your days are numbered, Elisha, be an example. You only get once chance to make a first impression.”

“No matter how the winds of the world will blow in your life, always remember that you control the sails.”

“Time is your most precious commodity, you can get more of everything else, but time marches forward regardless of our talents or our wealth… Spend yourself on something eternal. On earth, no one will likely know us beyond three generations, what deposits will you make that will have eternal value?”

“Living is all about growing and changing–whether we want to our not. The world is big and life is big. there are lots of choices along the way for you to make. I don’t pretend to be wise, but I have lived long enough to know that ther is not necessarily one right choice or one right way, but the consequences of some choices are easier to live with than others….”

“As you are on your way to becoming a man, respect and honor your parents at all times, even when you don’t understand them.”

“… I remember when we used to push each other off of the end of the dock.”

“We are exceedingly pleased with you Elisha. You have been a very good and amusing boy and are rapidly becoming an exceedingly fine young man. You are a credit tot he family.”

“… I received one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. Your parents invited me to be present at your birth! Having never birthed children… somehow your Mom and Dad knew that this was to be a life-changing event for me… I was elated, to say the least.”

“Continue to be everything you can be, explore everything you can, learn and go forward with he confidence that you’re creating a most remarkable young man. We love you. Happy Birthday!”

“1. Cultivate Happiness. 2.Do hard things.”

“Which will you be: A man of honor or a man of weakness? … Elisha, a man of honor doesn’t care how tired he is, he will still be the one to carry someone else’s load. He doesn’t care how badly outnumbered he is, he will stll stand and fight to protect others. He respects a woman, no matter who she is or what she has done. And most importantly he loves God more than his own life.”

“You are stardust…”

“Translation: Elisha, all these black things are snow!” (on a drawing from a very young friend)

“You went cross country with us and helped us nurture our dreams… one thing I know for sure is that we will have the best neighbors and the best friends in the world, no matter where you are!”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed growing up with you…”

Of course my Dad’s gift was 25 pages long, the whole of his Wisdom File, collected over the last 50 or so years of his life and curated for posterity. He didn’t figure I’d print the whole thing out, long form, for inclusion, but I did. Grammy designed the cover for his book, as she has for the other children. We’ve included 14 pages of color photos of his childhood.

It’s not exactly a surprise gift. He’s seen the other two teens receive their books and pour over them for hours, days, weeks and months at a time. He wondered aloud the other day if he’d be getting one, but then supposed that we were too far away.

He’s getting some lego, and one of the contributors, a 17 year old backpacker we’ve picked up on both ends of the North American continent sent him a book. His brother got him a dart gun. There will be fun things to open and I’m making cake, but when all of the singing has passed and the balloons have popped and the toys have passed away, as an old, old man, I suspect this book will be found on his shelf. It is my hope that the wisdom it contains will become one of his life’s treasures.

Would you like to add to it? Leave a comment with your wisdom for our boy, and a note about who you are and I’ll copy down every single one and add them to his book.