To my son, on his 11th birthday:
A few weeks ago I had a minor meltdown while prepping a new recipe for dinner.
You sat nearby, independently completing your math homework as I banged dishes around, fuming at my own incapability. I was frustrated with how my day had gone so far and was letting my lack of kitchen expertise get the best of me.
“I don’t know WHY I try new things. Seriously. I always mess up,” I raged, partially so your dad would feel badly for me but mainly just in a moment of self-loathing. Before your dad could reassure me, you spoke up.
“You don’t always mess up. You tell us to try to new things, right? You can’t get it perfect every time,” you said, before looking back down at your math homework. A few minutes later, you ate the meal I made and told me that you liked it. I wasn’t even sure if I liked it but you ate it, and asked for seconds.
I don’t say it enough and I should say it more: You’re a good kid – a great one – and I’m proud of you.
As your parents, we see so much potential in you and so we push you to do your best — to make good grades, treat people respectfully, help out around the house, and stand up for your little sisters. Some days it feels like I’m correcting you more than I’m encouraging you, and most of the time it’s for minor things. Like any 11-year-old kid, you aren’t perfect in all areas all the time. As adults, we are far from perfect too. Please know that I’m trying to not only speak up when I see something you could improve but to speak up when you’re showing good judgment and character — which is most of the time. I’ll continue to work on that.
As you’ve shown greater independence over the last year and demonstrated responsibility, I’ve had to take a step back from hovering and allow you to own this phase of your life. After years of making all your plans for you when you are with your dad and I, and looking through your backpack every night, and micromanaging your tasks and time spent in the family, I’ve had to make a concerted effort to just back off a little bit. I’ve had to be okay with you forgetting things and acting (mildly) immature with your friends. You can’t be straight-laced all of the time. I can’t be with you every second of every day. You need freedom to explore who you are — knowing that your parents are here, ready to step in when and if you need us.
So while working hard in school, treating people well, helping out around the house and being a stand-up big brother ARE values we will all continue to instill, they aren’t prerequisites for your worth as a person. You are, already, pretty wonderful. Any path you take in life will be the right one.
As we forge ahead in this monumental decade of your life, I look forward to letting you take the lead on who you will become. We’re always here to guide you though – and you’ll never be alone.
Happy birthday Ferris. Thank you for being such a great son.
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