One day my preschool-aged son and I were playing with Play Doh, happily singing along with the Wiggles, U2 and the Beatles, building train tracks and going down the big slide at the park. His little hand fit so perfectly in mine as we walked together and talked about simple things like worms and clouds.
The very next day we’re standing side-by-side and there’s no need to hold hands anymore, unless of course I get the urge. He stands more than a head taller than I as we talk about what he’s learning about the stock market, and the businesses for sale that he researched online. This 14-year-old with quick wit and a head full of knowledge that at times surpasses mine never fails to astound me at how lightning fast he has grown.
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. But it sure feels that way. The fact that this is the summer before he begins high school is almost unthinkable to me. What’s worse is I can’t help think of my own experience. I didn’t enjoy mainstream high school and struggled through my freshman year. I pray he doesn’t have the same difficulties.
I had plenty of hobbies. I loved to read, write, act in the local theater group and take several dance classes a week. I even had a pretty cool boyfriend who played guitar. We started a rock band together and had a blast writing music and performing in battles and school dances. Yet, I was prone to depression and confusion about the meaning of life and my place in it. Thoughts of suicide drifted in and out sometimes like a quick breeze, and remained in the back of my mind as an escape if ever I needed it. Like most people, I had my struggles and torments, but nothing out of the ordinary. I always felt like I was different from the other kids. Looking back, I was different. I had the burning desire to create and even with all my outlets, it wasn’t enough. The only time I knew I was understood was in the company of other young musicians or writers.
Knowing what I know, it worries me to think of my beautiful 14-year-old boy, who is equally gentle and fierce, as misunderstood without a sport he loves or a band to play in. I have no way of projecting his future and it’s frustrating. I can only hope he exhibits enough enthusiasm so his teachers don’t mistake him for anything other than the brilliant spirit I know him to be. Still, I wonder how and where he will find his niche.
In my sophomore year of high school, a new program became available. All students were required to try out for one major---Writing/Publishing, Acting or Dance. I could have done any of the three, but I chose Writing/Publishing. Coming from a family of writers, and having written poems and dreaming of writing books someday, writing made the most sense to me. I submitted my poems and song lyrics, then met with the director, who asked me a series of questions designed to determine my commitment level.
I wore my bleached blonde hair spiked on top and a black jacket I preferred not to leave home without. I must have appeared to lack enthusiasm for life at all, and to top it off, my writing had little merit. The director was looking for prose---short stories, essays and even books. But at 14, I had focused mostly on music and hadn’t completed much prose to proudly present. If I was forced to remain on the mainstream track, I’m not sure what would have become of my mental health. My mother knew this when she pleaded with him to accept me. She might have even had to make some sort of threat. But whatever she did, it worked.
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to enjoy daily contact with other creatives that I had a reason to get up in the morning and getting out of the house felt worthwhile. Being accepted into the Fine and Performing Arts program at Howell High School gave me a goal, a reason to do well in school (because I had to maintain a B average to stay in the program). I have to give credit to my mother, who demanded I be considered even though my grades were sub-par and I appeared to have an attitude.
Both my parents were quite proud when in my final year of the program I was hired to write a couple of stories for daily newspaper. Then I was given a part-time job, then a full-time job. A year or so into it, I was called back by the program director to assist in choosing new candidates to join the program. I was even paid to do it! When the writing teacher decided she wanted to retire, I was asked if I’d like the job. Unfortunately, without a teaching degree, I couldn’t accept it. But the moral of the story is that at some point in life, everyone needs someone who believes in their abilities even if there’s little proof to back it up. I believe it’s called faith, something everyone deserves. I’m grateful my mother had faith in me, the same kind I have in my son.