Monday, August 11, 2014

A Letter to Our Son on His Ninth Birthday

Dear Aditya,

As you know, your birth nine years ago today (August 7, 2005) made us parents. You shocked us with your arrival, early by six weeks, just as we were about to go shopping to get baby stuff for you. Your arrival changed our world.

I could go on and on about how you changed us, about how looking into that sweet face of yours made me want to change the world for you, about how your presence in our lives made ours a far richer, more expansive, and more generous world than anything we had ever experienced before. But, I suppose, that will have to wait for another day, for what I want to talk about now is how you yourself have changed over the last year, and what I've learned from you.

Your birthday last year kicked off our Great Sabbatical Adventure. We partied in Salt Lake last year not really knowing what was in store for us, and what we were really asking you and your brother to do.  We moved away from the place you'd lived in, the home you knew, and the friends you'd made, and whisked you off to a totally new place, then asked that you adjust to homeschooling and, when that didn't work out, to attending a new public school.  Just as you were adjusting and making good friends, we asked you to move again, this time to a new country, where you knew no one and didn't even speak the language. And each time we asked you to change, to adjust, to grow, you did: you did with a grace and ease and flexibility that surprised me, and captured my admiration.  You see, I'll let you in on a little secret: I don't like change. I don't adjust easily. I'll make a move, but I will long for what I once had. I cling. I howl at change. And I learned from you, and your brother, that change doesn't have to be an all-consuming, traumatic event.  It just happens, and you can roll with it: gracefully, even.

This year, you did a lot of new things: you decided to let your hair grow long so it can someday be worn in a pony tail (don't forget you agreed to wash your hair whenever your father or I ask you to as part of this deal!), you learned - and mastered - the schoolyard game wall-ball, you performed well in a very formal piano recital, you learned pottery, you bicycled on a road, with traffic, for kilometers and kilometers, you did a ropes climbing course, you started to write poetry (ok, so your Muse is strangely fixated on poop, but still ...), you learned to ride a Segway, you sat in on an hour-long lecture on sharks delivered almost completely in Danish, and nevertheless came away knowing several new facts about sharks, you learned to handle your very own Swiss army knife.  You invented all kinds of strange, remarkable creatures with incredible powers and came up with a couple of new worlds you named Pineappolia and Glostaakia. You also continued to pursue your past loves: swimming and writing stories and most of all, sketching and drawing.  You continue to be a great big brother:  My heart swelled when your brother was having trouble on the Banana Boat ride at Tivoli and you instinctively scootched over and put your arm protectively around him.  He hid his head in your lap until the ride stopped.

The achievement of yours of which I am most proud, however, has got to be how you handled the unpleasantness at school.  You were a new kid, and vulnerable to attack as many new kids are. Coming from a public school not known for much bullying, you were wholly unprepared for the gritty atmosphere in Berkeley.  Several words and taunts were unfamiliar to you, and my heart lurched each day when you'd come home asking me to explain the meaning of yet another crass word or phrase which had been directed against you or one of your friends. There was one particular child at school, who had posed as a good friend at first, and whose later betrayal really stung. Once he realized your skills at drawing and humor were winning you friends, he made your life miserable for several weeks with his taunts and jeers and mean little tricks. It got to the point where you told me in a small voice you no longer wanted to go to school.  But when I told you to fight back, you said sadly, "It's hard letting go of a friend."  My heart broke.

Just as with adjusting to change, you and I reacted completely differently to this new challenge.  I went on the warpath, all the time wanting to throttle this school for allowing this to happen, and screaming for blood. I spoke to the teachers, the playground coach, the boy's parent. I did everything I could think to do from my end. I exhorted you to do the same: fight back. But you didn't want to fight.  You wanted to be left alone. You wanted to make friends, to be seen as the nice guy, to make people laugh. Ultimately, your strategy won out.  You gently told this kid to stop it. You made other friends, who loved to hang out with you, and who shared your love for art. Eventually, you formed the "Pixar Club" -- a bunch of your friends who decided, thanks to your initial enthusiasm, to all work for Pixar together some day.  Now instead of sitting alone and being ignored or taunted by this so-called friend, you'd spend your lunch times with the Club, talking about Pixar and making up comics. And you were having so much fun that one day, that kid asked if he, too, could be part of the Club. And you let him in.

Every time I see your generosity of spirit, your father and I are so happy and humbled and proud to call you our son.  From starting the family's Shishu Mandir Project (which ended in your visiting and contributing to a school for impoverished children in Bangalore) on your own, to handling the meanness of a peer, I am amazed and awed by the young person you have become.

Thank you for changing our world. Thank you for making it better, brighter, and filled with more laughter and wonder than we ever thought possible.  Thank you for being who you are: one remarkable, creative, thoughtful, intelligent, generous individual.  Happy Birthday, dear Aditya.

With so much love,

Mama and Papa

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