Looking back as I look toward my son's graduation day

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

You will, I hope, forgive the nostalgia that floods this week as I look ahead toward my son's graduation from the finest communications program in the country.  He'll leave that campus emboldened—by adventures and friendships, by classes and professors, by his four years as a news writer and content producer for the student-writer TV station, by his two semesters with the great writer, Dana Spiotta.  He'll leave with a major in Advertising and a minor in English and Textual Studies.  He is, already, missing this place that had welcomed him so completely.  He speaks of all he has learned, retells his adventures, promises that he'll be returning, soon.  On my end of the phone, I listen.  Yes, I say, I understand.  Because leaving is the hardest work we do.

Today, while writing about the role of prologue in memoir for Handling the Truth, I stopped to re-read my own prologue to Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World, the book I wrote about the power and place of the imagination in children.  I had wanted, I had written about my then-nine-year-old son, wisdom over winning.  I had wanted him to channel his talents toward passions of his own choosing.  I'd wanted happiness for him, room for his own dreams.

It strikes me now, as I read these words, that my boy grew up into the man I had fervently hoped he would be.  He has everything I'd wanted for him—moral wisdom, deep joy, remarkable friendships, an extraordinary education, a career he cannot wait to seize, and a habit that still sits him down at a desk to write whatever he wants to write, when other pressures ease.  He remains my trusted reader, my confidante, the guy who always asks, no matter how busy he is, So how are you doing today, Mom?

He'll graduate on Mother's Day, and while that seems (to me) to be right and good, it is also important, on this day, to feature this image, above, made by my son's father, who is also my husband, who loves this kid just as much as I do. The image is, of course, one of two in a series, the first of which I showcased yesterday.

I want to raise my son to pursue wisdom over winning.  I want him to channel his passions and talents and personal politics into rivers of his choosing.  I’d like to take the chance that I feel it is my right to take on contentment over credentials, imagination over conquest, the idiosyncratic point of view over the standard-issue one.  I’d like to live in a world where that’s okay.
            Some call this folly.  Some make a point of reminding me of all the most relevant data:  That the imagination has lost its standing in classrooms and families nationwide.  That storytelling is for those with too much time.  That winning early is one bet-hedging path toward winning later on.  That there isn’t time, as there once was time, for a child’s inner life.  That a mother who eschews competition for conversation is a mother who places her son at risk for second-class citizenry.
            Perhaps.  But I have this boy with these two huge dark eyes who thinks and plays and speculates.  I have a boy who is emergent and hopeful, intuitive and funny, somewhere between childhood and adolescence.  How will he define himself as the years unfold?  What will he claim as his own?  What will he craft of the past?  What will he do with what he thinks, make of what he dreams, invent out of the stuff of all his passions?  It is my right—it is my obligation, even—to sit with him for a while longer, imagining tomorrow. 


Serena said...

So wonderful...I'm at a loss for better words

Missy K said...


I have only recently discovered your blog, but I read Seeing Past Z just after Christmas in 2006, when my sons were only six and three. As I read your words, I felt both the resonance of "meeting" someone else with my same misgivings about the high speed track of do more be more childhood, and the hope that there was a way to do things differently.

Fast forward five and a half years, and I have a fifth grader and a third grader in love with stories, with building and making, and with a keen desire to feel the margin around their lives that makes space for these essential things.

I've always wanted to say thank you, for the kinship and confidence your words extended to me.

Your book on memoir is eagerly awaited from this family room in South Carolina. Congratulations as you celebrate not only this milestone and accomplishment with your son, but also the man he has become.

Thank you,
Missy Kemp

bermudaonion said...

What a bittersweet day but what a wonderful way to spend Mother's Day. Congratulations to your son!

kelly said...

"he graduates on Mother's Day" is a five-word novel. :-)

And then my left brain kicks in: who scheduled this? what were they thinking?

double :-)

Sarah Allen said...

So beautiful, and huge congratulations! And don't worry, I know about nostalgia weeks. My sister just got married last Saturday!

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

patti.mallett_pp said...

Dear Beth, I believe you know by now what this book, "Seeing Past Z..." means to me. Before you mentioned it in the above post, it was on my mind. There is one particular incident, well, probably more a conglomeration of moments that have joined into one in my head, that I always see whenever you mention Jeremy. He's stretched out on the floor, pencil in hand, working on a story. And the next minute he is on his feet, pacing back and forth as he tries to figure out what is to happen next. (And this process goes on for some time.)

By the time I read the book, he was already five or so years older. Time is a funny thing, and it threw me off to discover his age, in the past year or two. But I have loved every tidbit you share, and always, always I go back to those days you and your husband were defying the cry of the world-at-large and allowing your son to be and discover himself!!!

Bravo!! You and your dear husband have so very much to be proud of and thankful for. (Please, excuse the tears and blubbering. But you must also take some of the blame, for being the kind of writer that makes what is real, so real to your readers.)

This will truly be one of the happiest Mother's Days of your life!!! (We'll be thinking of you and waiting for pictures and news.) Thank you, too, for being the kind of woman/author who allows her readers to love her from afar. xoxo ~Patti

Sarah Laurence said...

Congratulations to your son! And to you 2 proud parents as well.

Becca said...

I have the greatest faith in the power of the imagination, and believe we are committing a horrible wrong if we don’t allow children ride the waves of creative thought.

My son spent hours and hours of his childhood on the floor with paper and pencil, or speaking stories into a tape recorder, or making films with a child-sized video camera. His imaginary life was full and consuming and exciting to him, and gave him so much pleasure. I never considered asking him to forsake that for anything else. I’m hoping he feels the same way about his son, now six months old and starting out on his own creative journey into the imagination!

Lilian Nattel said...

"my boy grew up into the man I had fervently hoped he would be." - no better tribute.

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