|"Ride to the Roasters" (The artist's sons are portrayed in the window)|
Letter to my Sons
August 3, 2013
Dear Aidan and Blake,
I want to take a moment to tell you how special you both are and that life is not going to be easy, painless, or perfect, but you are always important. Never ever let people get you down; although they may discourage you and try to make you feel less than wonderful, do not let them. "Stick to your guns". What does that mean? It means that you figure out what you do best or how you can help the world, what you enjoy doing and what are your strengths, and then you go out there and use them to improve the world.
If people don't believe in what you are doing or try to put you down, ignore them- celebrate and join the ones that do care about you. This doesn't mean that you can't work with those people, because you will have to work with people you don't really like in your life, whether it's in a classroom, school play, on a team or at a job, you are going to come across people that will not always be on your side. Don't be afraid to go to the top and let them know what is going on. I have always told you if you have a problem on the playground, go to a teacher or a grown up for help; don't start a fight or try to take it into your own hands. This is really important as you go through your teenage years- many kids can be super cruel because they haven't yet learned how to behave and treat others with respect. Hopefully, they will learn, but even grown ups can be cruel and disrespectful. You just have to stay strong and don't give up.
I had a lot of mean things done to me and said to me in high school, and I took it to heart and hurt very much inside. Some of the things that happened were about sex and I didn't want to tell my parents, but I was hurting and I held that pain inside me. I would escape to the library during school lunches and recess to get my work done, or to the art wing to paint. These were good ways to get away from people that were not very nice, and I encourage you to use the library, resource room and teachers and people that do care about you when things are not going so well with other kids. Don't let pain get you down when we are here to help. Talk to me or your father or your grandparents. Talk to a teacher that you trust. Find someone to help you and never let feelings eat you up inside to the point of despair. Remember, you are important to us, your grandparents, your teachers and your friends. Your community is just waiting for you to help and there will always be a need for you in the world.
Already, at age eleven, you have both inspired us with your enthusiasm for life, stories, games, laughter, music and being together. You are "wondertwins" and together, activate theater, songs, dance and duets that have made us smile and cry tears of joy. Although you both started out in a special school for pre-schoolers with delays, you joined the regular kids your age in Kindgergarten, and have done very well and kept up with the other kids. I am so proud of you for your ability to keep going and not let your differences get you down. Stay strong. Make your disadvantages your strengths by finding ways to use the special talents you do have. Remember that you do have something special and unique to offer the world, and you will find your place someday. It may take 10 years or it may take 40 years, but don't let that stop you from trying. You can do anything you set your mind to, within reason, and we all can continue to learn and grow, especially as adults.
Right now, we are all in a time of change in that the technologies today are coming at us faster than we all know what to do with them. Many of us are spending so much time looking at screens, and not enough time outside. Knowing how much you both love computers, games and programming, I want to make sure you both find things you love to do outside or in the gym that can serve as your compass and keep you steady and headed in the right direction. For your father and I, riding our bikes is a big part of how we are able to relieve stress and get bad thoughts out of our heads. I can leave the house frustrated and angry, and come back from a bike ride with a wonderful idea. Part of this is because exercise gets your blood flow going, and you have better ideas when more oxygen makes it to your brain! We need to breathe to succeed. We need to take breaks and take time to take care of our health and bodies, and that in turn will help our minds grow strong.
You have had to grow up seeing the affects of one type of addiction in your family, and how alcohol can make a person angry and irrational. This year, I believe this family member is finally changing and taking steps to improve. This is not something I expected to happen, and I had given up hope, but I am really happy to see some improvement and it will mean a better situation for all of us.
You are on a trip traveling across the country with your Grandparents, my parents. They are wonderful people, and have taught me so much about living a quality life. In their retirement, they are active and busy people that volunteer, serve on boards, plant flowers and help their community. They are in book clubs and read the newspaper every morning. They don't spend a lot of time online, although they do email with important friends, relatives and the groups they work with. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are not things they waste time on, but instead, they send a holiday card once a year to all their friends that they pour their hearts into, and take the time to write a well written letter with photos of their year and family. They have survived and excelled for 70+ years without the technologies that you are going to be learning. It's okay to step away from technology when you need a break and need to get work done. There is no reason you have to tell everyone what you are doing every single minute of the day, even though you can. In fact, you will get more work done if you avoid these social sites for extended periods. I have to shut down my own computer in order to create a painting or clean the house. If I keep checking all the emails and tweets and Facebook alerts I get each day, I never get anything done, and then it is 3pm and I haven't even had lunch. These social tools can be very addictive, and we can feel like we can't stop because there is always someone responding to you and you may feel a pressure to respond. It's okay not to. It's okay to unplug for the weekend and go back to work on Monday. We have to set up boundaries so that we can take care of ourselves, eat, sleep, do the laundry, pay the bills. All the physical activities of daily living require us to shut off the computer.
When you come back from your trip, we are going to try something new. As a family, we are going to limit our computer "play" time to 1 hour at home only. We will not use our phones or iPods at restaurants or during bike rides or hikes. We will be present for each other. I am excited to make this adjustment to our lives for all of us. I see this as a simple step we can make that will help us enjoy life to the fullest, and not just inside a virtual game or world where we never really see or touch our friends, but only share with them in a virtual space. It can be very wonderful, but it is not the same as taking a walk, talking to your neighbor, or going into your real community and neighborhood and helping someone who needs your help. It's important to remember that the world is out there, from sea to shining sea and beyond, not just inside the computer screen. As you are taking this fantastic trip with your grandparents and seeing mountains and geysers and bison and many different kinds of people, you must understand and appreciate them all, and learn to appreciate that we are all different and that it takes many different kinds of people to make the world run. This means you won't agree with everyone all the time, but you will still have to learn to get along.
Getting along involves a lot of energy, patience, and learning how to respond politely when necessary, and to ignore or walk away when someone is doing something wrong. If someone is arguing with you and raising their voice and it doesn't feel right, that is the time to just walk away. No one ever deserves to be yelled at, in person, or online. On the computer, you can stop an argument by deleting someone's bad comments and blocking them from your site. You can also just "not respond". An argument can only stop when one side chooses to stop, and you always have the power to be the one to stop any argument. Walking away is a powerful tool. Just like not letting someone's words upset you and still believing in yourself.
I love you very much and I look forward to growing and learning right alongside you as you launch into Middle School this month!
Don't forget to say THANK YOU to your grandparents every day for taking you on this amazing adventure. They are the best people, and you can learn so much from them. Now is the time to ask them questions! They can teach you so much.
I look forward to seeing you next week, and I miss you both very much.