So we’re dropping my 11 year old son, Levi, off at overnight camp in Northern California, (We should all be so lucky), and I find myself lamely trying to instill upon him every life lesson I can think of in the two hour time span it takes us to drive from Oakland airport to Sonoma.
“Levi, this is Berkely, California. This is where UC Berkely is. It’s a great University; a bastion of political liberalism though. You know it’s important to educate yourself on the issues and never blindly follow anyone else’s rigid political agenda.”
“Levi, are you going to scale that huge climbing tower this summer? Remember, just one foot in front of the other. Even trying something that terrifying counts as a success. You have to constantly push your boundaries. Only by stepping outside your comfort zone can you ever truly grow as a person.”
“By the way, make sure you write back at least once to everyone who writes to you at camp. People need to feel like their efforts are appreciated. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to securing the behavior you want to encourage.”
“And I did mention that your body is yours and yours alone to control, didn’t I? You’re a very handsome young man and you look much older than 11. No one should ever touch you in a way that feels weird or uncomfortable.”
“Don’t forget to share your things with your cabin-mates. Never let someone else go without when you have more than enough.”
I think I blathered on incessantly the entire ride up to camp. I’m pretty sure I threw out a few sincere “Don’t worry about anything!” and “Just have fun!” comments from the window as we were pulling away. About a mile up the road I started weeping inconsolably. After my husband reminded me that this was why he normally did camp drop-off duty solo, I managed to pull myself together.
“Do you think anything we try to teach him will ever matter?” I ask, not knowing whether or not I really want to hear the answer.
“Yeah,” my husband assures me. “But we just don’t know which lessons will stick. Some will mean a great deal and save him a lot of pain and heartache. But there’s no way to know which ones will resonate and which never penetrate the surface.”
I suddenly think about my own dad and all the things he taught me. How to accept everyone, no matter what they believed or where they came from. That it was always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. That what was sexy was what wasn’t revealed. Never to salt your food before tasting it. Read ingredients in medications. If they’re the same, choose the generic. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s always okay to ask for what you want, as long as you do it with grace and humility. Be true to yourself. Mix your wasabi into a smooth paste by adding drops of soy sauce slowly while rapidly mixing with a chopstick (some pharmacist mumbo jumbo about solvents/solutions). Never let the weather discourage your adventures. It’s always darkest before the dawn…
The list goes on seemingly forever. I think it grows exponentially as I narrow the gap between my middle age and his final 68th year. I suddenly remember the Mark Twain quote he recited at my Grandfather’s 70th birthday party.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Parental wisdom surely grows stronger with age. I just hope I live long enough to see my boys recognize and acknowledge some of my own.