Yesterday, our little neighborhood streets were lined with cars as family and friends from all over joined in high school graduation celebrations. In a moment of reassuring jubilation, I reminded myself our guys still have a decade or so to go before those cars unload in front of our house. Reassurance is always fleeting, though, and in the very next moment I was tormented by old man time, who, in caring wisdom, or maybe out of a sick sense of fun, made sure I felt like it was only days ago that we were changing diapers on our future graduates. I fly by quickly, he said.
A dear friend of mine recently went on a cruise to the Western Caribbean. In her reflections after the trip, she offered these two points as part of her recap:
1. Life is short. Take the trip!
2. When you take the trip, get off of the boat! Explore the surroundings! It's a beautiful world out there!
Her words got me to thinking. As our boys continue to hold up first and last day of school signs, they are really flagging us down, human ports, calling us to get off the boat, explore our surroundings, pause long enough to take a few pictures. One of life's greatest tricks is in giving us an inflated sense of control over this collective journey we're all on. How many of us are clinging to fake steering wheels, motoring forward with a delusional belief we have some meaningful say in where we're actually going. I know there are days I go to sleep with a white-knuckled grip on that wheel. And those are the days I fail to see and exercise the control I really DO have. To let go of the wheel and grab a camera, get off the boat for a minute and explore my surroundings.
So excuse me life while I get off the boat for a few moments. I promise, I'll be right back.
Elliott just finished up second grade and will now move on to a new school to start third grade. I remember 3 years ago when one parent friend after another told us how much we were going to love Henry Clay Elementary School. They told us how much the teachers and administration and staff there cared about kids. And after Elliott's three years there, all I can say is: WOW. Were they ever right.
At this weeks school award ceremony, Elliott received recognition for getting good grades. (I didn't even know you could get "grades" in second grade). We're certainly proud of him for that. I have to confess, though, when I look at the picture of Elliott holding his certificate, I don't get nearly as emotional, nearly as proud, as I get when I reflect on the number of times his teachers have told us the last several years that Elliott genuinely cares about his classmates. Because the way I see it, if you have a heart for the people you're sharing a journey with, you'll probably have a lot more opportunities to see it's a beautiful world out there. You'll likely take more pictures.
Now don't get me wrong. I do value our kids learning. When Ian headed off to Kindergarten this year I knew he could learn. I just wondered how excited he would be about it. Or, should I say, I just wondered if he'd be as excited about learning his spelling words as he would be about learning what makes each of the friends in his class laugh.
On one of Ian's early report cards this year he got a satisfactory in all areas but one. Talking. I asked Ian about this, "Ian, you know how to talk, why would this say you need to improve on your talking?" Ian, with a mixture of pride and a little don't worry I've got this dad, told me, "my teacher says I'm a great talker, I just need to learn when to do my talking."
The truth is Ian did get excited about learning this year. A lot of it is trying to keep up with his older brother. But Ian loves showing off how much of a street sign he can read or how quickly he can solve simple math problems in his head. A spark has definitely ignited.
I guess that will always be my measuring stick for the boys as far as academics go. The spark. Not how much they are learning or the grades that reflect how well they are learning, because believe me, grades are one of those delusional steering wheel things that make kids and parents alike feel like they're in some sort of control, but rather how excited and motivated they are to learn. Even if it means I have to listen to Ian warn me of the inevitability our family will be eaten by a Megalodon on our next beach vacation.
So it was a great school year. I'm glad graduation day isn't right around the corner. I'm even more glad the corner we're currently on is such a beautiful world to explore. It's true, I can't stop life and plant myself on this corner, but I can tap the brakes. And take a few pictures.