Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fabulous Fourteen

My downstairs bathroom is a colorful place. Yellow walls, and a towel rack with five towels, each a different color, making sure you stay awake in there. It's a practical thing (each child has a different color so everyone knows which towel is theirs), but it serves another purpose for me, the mother of these towel owners. It reminds me that my children are really different from each other. Sure, that green and teal look pretty similar in a picture, but get up close and you can see a definitive teal and a definitive green. The same is true of my children. My two older boys are often thought to be twins, and many people cannot seem to tell them apart. As the woman who gave birth to them, as the teacher who has taught them phonics and sums, as their listening ear and their mentor and trainer, I could tell them apart in my sleep.

(Now, my children would want you to know that I still don't call them the right name, but that has nothing to do with knowing them and appreciating them as individuals. That's a problem of a different sort. Right?)

Well, my oldest son turned fourteen yesterday. I love it when birthdays come around; I get to see what is valued by each person. Is it a party? Presents? Quiet time with family? A special meal? For my oldest son, it was a real combination. We were able to have a party with friends last week-end, complete with car racing and apple cake. There was a particular present that was very important, too. It took two grandmother gifts, all the money that was being saved for a ski pass, and our little contribution, but he was able to purchase a digital camera. It came on Tuesday, the day before his birthday, and he has already been hard at work documenting sunsets, frogs in the backyard, and friend's faces. Each feature is being attempted, with special emphasis being put on whether or not he has a better camera than his mum. There is currently a disagreement about that, and it may need to remain that way. Yesterday, the actual big day, we had a lovely time as a family. We had a light school day, loads of special food, and ended the evening watching

Shenandoah. It seemed to be a perfect celebration for him, our renaissance man in the making.

This past year, many of my son's interests have changed to passions. As a Boy Scout, he has worked hard on advancement, hiked far and high, and camped with great enthusiasm. He LOVES the outdoor life, and being a Boy Scout has given him monthly adventures that are big highlights for the year. The most surprising thing learned about this boy from the campouts? He can talk with his friends ALL night, given the chance. He seemed like a man of few words; I was wrong!

He has also grown to love his piano music. Switching instructors, to someone who loves to teach improvisation and more creative expression, has really helped. Movie soundtracks (LOTR, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, and others) have been listened to with earphones, as he works on the keyboard or the piano to sound them out. He has a keen ear; another fun fact I didn't know until this year.

What seemed like a casual interest in borrowing my camera has obviously changed to a passion about photography. There are many advantages to digital cameras, but allowing a newbie photographer to click away without fear of paying for a bunch of blech pictures has to be one of the greatest. He is becoming well-acquainted with his camera (nicknamed Riley -- think National Treasure) and, thanks to the Birthday Book tradition, he now has some interesting reading to do as well.

Food wins honorable mention this year as well. Having been a bit of a picky eater earlier in his life, he is now growing and starving. Therefore, the perfect birthday included a lot of food. We had our usual Dutch baby breakfast, enjoyed by all, but the fourteen-year-old stomach was growling just an hour or two later. I think I need to get used to this; it is a daily occurrence. He likes to cook (especially Mexican feasts) so I can set him free to fill his stomach, as long as I won't be looking for beans or other tostada fixings later in the day. They'll probably be gone.

It was a conversation with this young man, back when he was eight or nine, that led us to a classical approach to homeschooling. I was reading The Well-Trained Mind , but I was hesitating about getting started with any implementation. I didn't realize that his discontent with school reflected that he needed MORE rigor, not less. His honesty was what I needed to understand. It was an important lesson, and our journey into classical education has been incredibly rewarding. I thank him for opening my eyes. He asks the right questions, is bugged by things that are good to be bugged by, and can see through falsehood in a New York second. He makes me a more honest person, and he expects nothing less for himself.

As this man-in-the-making looks me in the eye these days, stomach growling and camera ready for the perfect shot, I can begin to see the future in his eyes. The passions grow, the distinctives become clearer, and the meals get bigger. It promises to be another exciting year. Happiest of birthdays to you, son.

Our front yard, courtesy of my new staff photographer

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