Children dream different dreams than their parents. I discovered this early in the life of my son. The challenge for me as a young parent emerged in the letting go of what I valued as possibilities as I came to realize my son was capable of creating his own possibilities. I’d always thought of myself as a successful teacher, but I began to understand that the work I needed to do really well as a parent was about standing aside more often than not. Figuring that out as a parent helped me become, I believe, a better educator of other parents’ children.
I know it’s also allowed my son to venture beyond boundaries and horizons that might have held him hostage otherwise.
I should have known when he was four that he wasn’t destined to belong to the country. We walked one day under a canopy of oaks high above the brush-deep field. I can remember the dapple of light and shadow on rocks hugging an ancient path to the top of the mountain; the smell of decaying leaves and the cough of a crow reverberating in the distance. He was less than entranced with it all. When we paced our way back to the field, he asked, “So why would a person want to walk in the woods anyway?”
I’ve never known a country kid so comfortable on his own in cities- traveling through Paris, Madrid, London, Rome, Mexico City, Athens, New York, LA – it didn’t matter, he just dropped into spaces as if he was born to streets not to rolling hills. When he chose to stay near home in college, no one was more surprised than me.
At ten, he asked for a shower curtain stamped with a map of New York subways and a street map for his room. His first laptop in high school ran a banner with a recurring stream of three letters … NYU… NYU… NYU. When he selected an AP studio art portfolio theme centered on architectural elements of the city, we sent him off to gather images.
I’ve always known it was just a matter of time before this world became his world – and time came due this past Friday.
I have to say that the global network we call the Internet has some responsibility for his ease of movement within cities. As he says, his phone means he’s just a text away from a friend, information he needs to negotiate and navigate uncharted streets, and me. It makes me feel better knowing that the tech tools we have today are available to my son as he transitions into becoming a city dweller. I feel closer to him, too.
As a parent who loves the country, was raised in the country, and lives in the country, I’ve done a lot of suppressing of urges to behave over my son’s love of the city. My attitude of “why would anyone want to live in the city?” has changed as I’ve observed cities through the eyes of my son. I’ve bought picture books, coffee table books, city guides, and maps- and that shower curtain – for him. He’s collected coffee mugs from various cities, 20th century black and white posters of NYC, and the feel, smells, tastes, sounds, and imagery of cities everywhere. When I was lost in a London tube with no idea of how to be found, he found me. In Paris and Rome and Barcelona, he interpreted our movement through restaurants and museums and street scenes with ease. When I’m baffled by turnstiles in city subways everywhere, he helps me overcome my lack of spatial intelligence so I’m not always stuck on the wrong side of where I need to be.
I will never be comfortable in my own skin in a city. I need to be able to see the sky without a multi-story building obscuring the view. Walking in a forest sans the cacophony of taxis and emergency vehicles always feels safer than venturing deep into Olmsted’s well planned Central Park woodlands.
I’ve grown up as a parent while observing my millennial grow into an adult. I feel he’s learned some important life lessons from me, but I’ve also learned many critical lessons from him as well. I learned the power of Skype when he lived in Valencia, Spain. I learned don’t call, just text when he spent time in Mexico City. And, I learned to experience, not reject, buildings, people, sidewalks, dogs, parks, graffiti, museums, sounds, smells, and the sky of cities.
After all, what’s a mother for?
* 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 8th (J’s work)