To my John-John:
Happy 9th birthday! Now stop making me feel old. I can remember almost every day of my pregnancy with you, and certainly the two weeks before your birth (which, incidentally, was two weeks AFTER your due date): I saw "Garden State" in the theater with your paternal grandmother, and we both cried. I did yoga every day. I didn't own a computer or laptop but somehow taught an online "Rhetorical Grammar" class through Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth. I even remember having a phone conversation with your maternal grandmother in which I encouraged her to bring board games to fill in the gaps of the long days after your birth. (And she did, though she knew it was futile.)
But perhaps most importantly – since we were living in Minnesota at the time – I took walks by the Mississippi River and thought about these lyrics:
and the Mississippi's mighty
but it starts in Minnesota
at a place where you could walk across
with five steps down
and i guess that's how you started
like a pinprick to my heart
but at this point you rush right through me
and i start to drown …
(Surely you don't need me to explain that this is Indigo Girls’ brilliance, right?)
Lordy, John, do you rush me! I am slammed daily with the whole of mighty you. And though I work to make the experience simply curious, surprising, or interesting, I confess that more often than not, I act as if it’s shocking, embarrassing, or – worse – boring. Sometimes, I do start to drown, I’ll admit.
(Oh man. Look at that last paragraph – a high-tide of first person. Let me try again.)
Goodness, John, are you blossoming these days! You are bursting with eight-year-old boyness, yet somehow brimming with maturity. There are entire days now where I don’t feel the need to actively attend to you, so independent are your personality and abilities. Occasionally, I do begin to understand you, I’ll admit.
Recently, I wrote this essay about you for your 3rd grade teacher, who
naively remarkably asked all parents to write an “All about My Child in 1,000 Words or Less” essay. Bless her heart. Does she know who she is dealing with? I am not even the problem. If you can imagine such a thing, there are parents of your classmates who are even more neurotic eager than me.
John Becker, 3rd grader
John Emmett Becker arrived in September of 2004 nearly two weeks after his due date. This tardiness – unfortunately – was no indication of his proclivity for being late about other important life events, such as waking up in the morning. John hops out of bed with the sun each day (even weekenddays) when we
want to disown him are happy to help him to discover what the day holds. If he does not know what we have on the family agenda, he will say, without fail: “What are the plans for today?” He is hoping that the answer will involve Wii or Kindle Fire time, a play date with one of his many friends, a visit from his beloved grandparents or cousins, an outdoor adventure with his father (kayaking, camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, going to batting cages/shooting ranges, etc.), or a “Mom & John Day” (playing mini golf, eating sushi, riding go-karts, shopping for something he wants, having bookstore time, watching movies, etc.). He also tolerates takes piano lessons and enjoys team sports, specifically, baseball in spring, soccer or flag football in autumn, and basketball in winter. He has one brother, Sam (3½), who, for John, is a source of both amusement and devastation, depending on the day. Sam, on the other hand, worships his big brother John, and generally their father and I agree that our oldest is a good role model for our youngest. The four of us live in a small house near Ellington Agricultural Center, where we begrudgingly patiently share one bathroom. All of these family members, life experiences, and interests have shaped John into a loving, fiercely-competitive-with-a-side-of-perfectionism, energetic–yet-focused, curious, dramatic (e.g., in first grade he wrote a story entitled “Diary of a Dramadic [sic] Kid”), happy, and responsible almost nine-year-old.
|JEB, 3rd Grader|
|With his newest Wimpy Kid book|
John is motivated by rewards and a sense that he and those around him are being treated fairly. We have found that negative consequences typically anger John or cause him to act out further, though of course we
occasionally LOSE IT and yell uselessly in his general direction are sometimes obligated to use them). He shows much more progress when given an explicit goal to work toward while being rewarded in small doses along the way. For example, his piano teacher has a marble jar system. When he corrects himself or focuses well during his lesson, she puts a marble in the jar. If he fidgets a lot, has a bad attitude, or becomes negative because he is not performing perfectly, the teacher takes away a marble. When he gets 10 marbles, he gets to choose a prize. This system, which we like because it encourages him to eliminate negative behaviors and increase positive ones, works very well and also gives him a sense of accomplishment. If his parents were more organized, they might consider implementing a similar arrangement at home.
When he grows up, John hopes to join the Air Force like his paternal grandfather. He wants to fly jets and
blow things up free persecuted people while having mid-air, upside-down adventures. This makes us feel bittersweet pride and terror, yet perfectly represents his personality, his desire to understand physics and sociology, and his spirit of adventure. We can only hope that he uses his time in 3rdgrade to enhance his many positive traits, build maturity, grow academically, and, of course, have fun. May the force be with him, his classmates, and, most of all, his parentsteacher.
(Author’s Note: This is only 800ish words.
You’re welcome. J If anything is unclear, his motherparents will be happy to elaborate.)
Author’s subsequent note: Said teacher never even acknowledged receipt of the email with this attachment.
And so Love, after three pages, I’m not sure what else there is to say about you on your 9th birthday. Except maybe to remind you that recently you said you had changed your mind about the Air Force thing on account of the fact that you “can have way more adventures creating things as an engineer than risking your life in a fighter jet.” This is very sound argumentation, dear. I would fully support
only the decision that keeps you the safest either decision happily.
However, I do have something to say to you, Love: Please at least try to think about your, um, way with your
girlfriend special friend that's a girl. Today we took your 2-year crush (let's call her "L") to play mini-golf and ride go-carts as part of your birthday celebration. As we got out of the car at the Fun Center, you said to her (a person who had just given you a gift certificate to an independent bookstore!), “If anyone asks, we are related.”
Then later, when we were back at home and y'all were looking for a soccer ball, don’t think I didn’t notice that you asked her to “hide”while you went into the neighbor’s yard to inquire about the lost ball. I found her crouched beside the Subaru, (so dutifully!), because she seems to LIKE you despite all of this and your incessantly dirty cheeks.) John– our neighbors (who have two daughters) are happy that you even have a friend that is a girl.
Sweet John, I know that I occasionally digress, but what I most want to say to you on your 9th trip around the sun is that I am constantly amazed by your wit, intellect, and compassion. God is
totally getting me back teaching me challenging lessons via you … lessons that cannot be learned any other way … not even by, say, attending an ivy-league school, or keeping an essay about one's child less than 1,000 words, or stepping down into one of the longest/largest rivers in the world.
You are loved and liked, Love. Always.