When he was about 3 or 4, he asked me, "Mommy, if I'm holding your hand when you die and go to heaven, will I be able to go with you?"
He's always been this intense, special, old soul: wise beyond his years, sensitive, headstrong, outspoken. So bright, it's scary. The kind of kid who would question everyone around him all the time---his teachers, his friends, his parents--not out of disrespect, but simply because he was probably seeing some loophole in their rules or suggestions that did not make sense to him, and he, quite frankly, just wanted to know why... We have spent years trying to teach him how to keep that self-confidence and sharpness, but not step on the toes of those in authority (too much). There have probably been an equal number of days in our parenting lives in which we have had to say "Damn it, you're right," and "Damn it, 'cause I say so." So often, he is the one calling us out, making us look at a situation in a different way, bringing us together as a family in the midst of an argument or a disagreement or a moment of discipline. Sometimes when he is driving me craziest, I have to laugh and shake my head and remind myself: "Mannnnn, this kid could rule the world..."
He and I are so alike, it's startling. There are countless times when we notice the same exact detail about something, make the same comment, understand each other's thinking in a way no one else can. How often does Hubby say "You two are exactly the same person." And so, we have a bond that's unique and comforting. But when we clash...you can almost see the energy surging around us. I imagine we must look like two fighters literally dropping the gloves and coming at each other, or those bighorn rams you see butting each other on the heads on the nature channels...but we come at each other with our words, usually powerful, often sarcastic, and always indignant. It scares me, sometimes, how alike we are, how connected I feel to him, but the true beauty of it is when we come out of it on the other side: the battles usually end up bringing us closer.
And now he's about to finish up his elementary and middle school years. He is "graduating" from 8th grade and crossing over to being a High Schooler. (How in the hell did I become the mom of a high schooler?!?) He has spent the last 9 years at the same school (the same school where Hubby and I teach). From that kindergarten first day when he pretended to be all grown up meeting his teacher to this final year, he has excelled. (Did I mention that when he earned his first B on a report card in 3rd grade, he literally threw himself on the floor of our kitchen crying? When we tried consoling him, he sobbed: "Well, maybe it's good enough for you, but it's not for me!" Luckily, he's loosened up a bit through the years...) He's made every honor roll and been inducted into every honor society. He's won competitions in his STEM classes. He's missed (maybe) one or two homework assignments the entire time. This year, he took the award for Top Algebra Student (I can't even add tip to a restaurant check, so this is the one area in which we are absolutely nothing alike). But the ending of these years is not only special because of his academic achievements. He's made friends. Good, tight, special friends. He's played football. He was on the jump rope team. He built robots and made award-winning paper-mache masks. It's been a really, really good 9 years.
And now he's closing this chapter of his life and is the only one leaving the area's school to go to his neighborhood high school. He's excited. ("I want to do ALL the activities!" he whispered to me at the high school's open house.) He's ready. We all are. This school will open a whole new world for him---one that includes not only academics, but sports and socializing and learning who he is in isolation of all those kids he's literally grown up around.
But--it wasn't supposed to end like this.
Like so many other parents, students, and teachers, we are heartbroken by how this pandemic has affected our school lives.
He spent the first three semesters of this school year busting his butt to complete not one, but two, online high school classes so he could "play" in phys ed the last semester with his best friends. The day the last semester was supposed to start, we were already in quarantine. So here's this kid---my kid---who made the responsible choice for himself: "I won't take phys ed on my last year with my buddies, even though I really want to, because I should get high school stuff out of the way, but I'll make sure I get it all done early so I can have those last 9 weeks to hang out and enjoy myself..." and...nope. He was supposed to go on a graduation cruise with his best friend. There was a 3-day field trip he was especially excited about to the state colleges. Two trips to Orlando parks for the honor society kids and the graduating class. A graduating ceremony. He had already picked out his tuxedo (John Wick style, thank you very much) for his 8th grade prom.
That's how it was supposed to happen.
But as we know, nothing is as it's supposed to be these days. Nothing.
And so we have done like so many other families: we have made the best of a terrible situation with small socially distant gatherings with only his best friend and his grandparents...with car parades with posters and balloons and honking horns...with promises---oh, how we've made promises--of future trips and sleep-overs and beach days with his friends...all his friends...any of his friends....as many things as he wants to plan when this is "all over" (whatever that means).
Of course, he has handled it all beautifully. Remember, he was born an old soul. Wise and sensitive and sharp. He understands he can't complain about a canceled field trip when there are people dying around the world. But somehow, that makes me hurt even more. Because--and I know I'm super biased here-- I feel like: Man, if there ever was a kid who deserved to go out with a bang, it's this one. My boy.
Congratulations, Ben. Words cannot express how proud we are...not just of your school achievements, but even more so of the young man and amazing soul you are. We love you.