You’re growing up so fast, but before you do, listen up.
It feels like just moments ago that I reflected on the things I wanted my daughter Grace to know, deep in her marrow, before she turned 10. But now it’s Whit who’s staring double digits in the face. In less than two months, he’ll be 10, and there won’t be anyone with a single-digit age in our house anymore. Just as with Grace, I keep thinking about the values and truths I want Whit to know — the things I wish I could make him as certain of as his own heartbeat.
Even as I think about and write these things down, I know that I can only do so much to impart them to him. I know that what I do is more important than what I say. I know that I’d better have been modeling these themes already, since, with 10 years under his belt, he’s already picked up and internalised a lot of values from me.
With a desperate hope that I’ve done an OK job helping to exemplify and teach these messages, here are 10 things I want my son to know before he turns 10.
1. Treat other people with respect. Women and men both. The headmistress of your school and the homeless man outside the subway station are both equally deserving of your kindness. You do this already, instinctively, but please, never stop.
2. Rowdiness and physical activity are both normal and fun. Roughhousing is OK. I know I sometimes shush you more than I should, because my personal preference is for quiet, but I’m working on that, because being physically active and even rambunctious is totally fine. There is a line, however – because violence is not OK. Learning where this line is is crucial.
3. No means no. Period. No matter who says it and in what context.
4. Don’t hide your sensitivity. You feel everything tremendously deeply: time’s passage, memory, wistfulness, love and loss. Don’t let the world convince you to stuff this down. You can be strong and feel a lot at the same time. In fact, feeling a lot makes you stronger. That’s true regardless of whether you’re a boy or a girl.
5. You can’t make another person happy – not me, not Dad, not Grace. Nobody. Furthermore, that’s not your job. I know this – we all do – and I hope you always remember it. You are responsible for your own self and for the way you treat others, which can surely impact their moods. But nobody should ever make you feel responsible for his or her happiness. What makes me happy is knowing that you are thriving, challenged, enthusiastic, joyful, aware.
6. Pay attention to your life. There is so much to notice in the most everyday moments. The other day you told me, before bed, that "the things you hate are the things you wish you had back." I asked what you meant, and you said, "Well, like in Beginners, we had nap, and I didn't like it, and now I would love to have rest time every day at school!" But then, after a few moments, you added, "Well, at least I feel like I noticed it. That's good, I guess." And it is. I haven't figured out how to stop time, but I do know that paying close attention to our experience rewards us with full days and rich memories.