Monday, August 22, 2005

letter to Mike

Last week, prior to moving into a dorm and beginning classes, Mike and a couple hundred other UA freshmen spent 3 1/2 days in the mountains outside Tucson attending Bear Down Camp, a freshman orientation camp offered by UA. Part of Bear Down Camp tradition is to have parents write a letter to their son or daughter. Parents are free to write whatever they wish; the letters are mailed to UA ahead of time and are presented to the campers on their last day at camp. I thought it was a terrific tradition, and of course I wrote a letter and mailed it off.

This afternoon, in catching up on journal entries that I was unable to read while I was on my trip (no computer, which was fine with me), I discovered that the topic of Judith Heartsong's August essay contest is "I believe...". Coincidentally, that was a topic that I'd specifically addressed in my Bear Down Camp letter to Mike regarding my thoughts and feelings about his beginning college.

With Mike's permission, here's the letter that I wrote him, which is my entry in Judith Heartsong's essay contest:

Dear Mike,

Congratulations! I’m happy and proud to be writing this letter to you. All your hard work has paid off; you’ve been accepted into and are about to begin your freshman year at the University of Arizona. One of many terrific things about the University of Arizona and Beardown Camp is that it’s given me the opportunity to write you this letter, an opportunity that might otherwise have escaped me.

I remember the day I put you and Chris on the bus for Hamilton Park for the first time. More than enrolling you in kindergarten, putting you on that bus made me suddenly aware that you were moving out of the sphere of my protection, and going off into the world on your own each day. You seemed much too small and young to do that, and it was a hard thing, to put you on that bus. Thank goodness you’re considerably bigger and older now, and much better prepared to go out into the world on your own. It’s an exciting but bittersweet moment, to be on the brink of adulthood, knowing you’re leaving childhood behind.

There are a few things that I want you to know as you begin this new phase of your life. First, and most important, there hasn’t been a single day since you were born that I haven’t been happy and proud to be your mother. I remember one day when you were just three years old; you came and stood in front of me and solemnly (and correctly) spelled "ocean" (thank you, Speak ‘n Spell!). I was amazed and proud of you that day, but I want you to know that I’m even more amazed and proud of you now, because although you’re young, you’ve already learned what some people never learn: that there are plenty of times in life when growth comes from not being successful, but from learning to pick up the pieces and persevere through tough times.

I've realized in writing this letter that although I seldom voice them as such and have never delineated them, I have a strong system of beliefs that guides me in my daily life. Among the most important of these beliefs is the idea that children are to be respected and to learn to think for themselves. Because of this belief, I used the Socratic Method to parent you. For the most part, I think that worked well for us, but it occurs to me, in sending you off to college, that although I’ve had almost 20 years to parent and influence you, I’ve dispensed very little actual advice. NPR recently invited listeners to share the beliefs that guide them in their daily lives by submitting essays entitled, This I Believe. As you begin this new chapter of your life, it seems appropriate for me to take a cue from NPR, and to tell you...This I Believe:

I believe that when you're faced with a problem, it's important to remember that problems can be divided into two big categories: those that can be fixed by money and those that can’t...and of the two, those that can’t be fixed by money are pretty much always the worst kind.

I believe in friendship. Be a great friend (and I know that you are). In addition to friends from your childhood like Jon and Dan, you’ll make new friends in college with whom you’ll remain friends for the rest of your life. Make time for yourfriendships; nourish and sustain them; they are an essential part of happiness.

I believe in manners (and I know that you mind yours, and it’s another reason that I’m proud of you). People tend to like and remember a person who looks them in the eye, has a firm handshake, and remembers to say please and thank you.

I believe it's important to do the right thing. This sounds so simple, but often, it’s hard. Be honest with yourself and with others. Remember that you have to look yourself in the eye when you’re shaving each morning, and it’s up to you to decide what you can live with and what you can’t.

I believe in being generous. You’ll always be happy you were.

I believe in always trying to have empathy for others. Remember that life has a way of blind siding everyone, sooner or later.

I believe it's important to realize that life is unfair, but I don’t believe in wasting time worrying about it. When life knocks you down, chalk it up to tuition in the school of hard knocks, take a lesson, and move on.

I believe in forgiveness. Remember that you can’t change the past, but you can change the future.

I believe in volunteering. We all become better by giving of ourselves.

I believe in living in the present. Wherever you are, really be there. Remember, "Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans" (John Lennon).

Freud was wrong about a lot of things, but I believe he was right about this; he said three things are required for happiness: work that you love, someone to love, and things to look forward to. Re finding work that you love...find what you’re passionate about, and follow that course, but remember to keep your perspective. Sometimes that’s very hard, but it’s essential to keeping some sort of balance in your life. Re finding someone to love...remember that includes friends. Re having things to look forward to...well, it’s my observation that if you have the first two, you’re pretty much guaranteed the third.

I believe in choosing happiness, always. Abraham Lincoln (among others) said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Lincoln was right.

I wish I could say that I’ve successfully followed all of these beliefs, but although I’ve tried, there have been many times that I haven’t succeeded. Also, I’m sure that as soon as I’ve printed this out and put it in the mail I’m going to think of important things that I didn’t tell you. That’s OK though (um, I also believe in not sweating the small stuff...)

It’s OK because it’s inevitable, and also because the most important thing of all is not to give you advice, but simply to tell you that I love you very much and I’m proud of you, both for the little boy you were and for the fine young man you’ve become. You’ve always been a thoughtful, funny, and terrific brother to Chris, Katharine and Alex, and from his birth you’ve been a wonderful uncle to Xander, and you’ve always been a caring and loving son to Dad and to me. I hope that you’ll always think of yourself with as much high regard as we all think of you. Know that no matter where you go or what you do, you are dearly loved by your family, and we are all very, very proud of you.

Much love,



V said...

{{{ Hugs }}}

Lily said...

Oh lol That made me want to cry lol Good letter lol... You also happened to use two of my all-time favorite quotes lol...

You're a good mom to write something like that. Not everyone does, but everyone should. Your son's lucky to have someone that supportive.


Shaz said...

Utterly brilliant letter .....wish every mother in the land would read it and send one off to thier children ....its so important to know these things

Kelly said...

what a great mommy you are! thank you for sharing this with us -Kelly

Mrs. L said...

This is wonderful!!! Every parent should write one to their children on their way to college. Mrs. L

Chris said...

Wow. That was really great and special. What a wonderful thing to do!


Judi said...

what a beautiful letter and I am so glad that you decided to share this entry. Profound and witty and touching...... he will keep it for a lifetime, and we will remember it. judi

Paul said...

Am I too old to adopt some of these eloquent beliefs?

Sam said...

This is a really nice entry. A wonderful letter you sent your son. Thanks for sharing it with us.

emmapeelDallas said...

What a lovely letter. If I received it, I would have cherished it.

Robin said...

What a GREAT letter. I think I will steal most of it for my own children.

Judith said...

Lovely! Mike is a lucky guy to have you as a mother, and we are all lucky to have you as a friend. Beautiful letter!