As I look back on 2010 and think of all the changes our family has undergone, it's no wonder that I still feel a little off balance. I mean, I know life never stands still, but this past year has been fraught with so many dramatic shifts that have profoundly affected us all, it is amazing we made it through intact. I realized today though that another change occurred that was gradual and more subtle, and requires saying good bye. At this time last year, Matthew was still solidly a boy. I felt it, he felt it, and while he was showing great responsibility in many areas of his life, he was definitely classified as "boy" in my mind.
Somewhere along the line this past year, I now think of him as leaning far more towards "man" than boy.
Today he went to work with Dominick, not like in years past where he would trail along and help out in whatever ways he could like all the kids have done. Today he went to work on the clock to earn a real paycheck. He is going to work one day each weekend as a dishwasher, and Angela will try it out tomorrow and see if she is ready to work the other weekend day. He came home exhausted this afternoon, having gotten up at 5:00 AM to go in with Dominick and he even put himself in bed at around 10:00 last night leaving the party behind, without any encouragement from us, so that he would be well rested for the day ahead. Dominick reported that he did a fantastic job, worked harder than most of the twenty-somethings he usually gets for this position, and kept up the frantic pace without complaint. I was not at all surprised.
He is only 11 years old, and still giggles over silly little things, runs around having Nerf gun wars and still believes in the magic of Santa, and yet he is as solid as they come, more responsible than many adults I have met, and is someone who can be counted on through thick and thin. Over the past couple of months I have come to realize that I am not mothering him any longer, I am guiding him. As he has grown over 5 inches in less than 12 months, I now look almost eye to eye at him, his voice has deepened, and so has his soul. My role in his life has changed considerably over the course of this past year, almost without me even realizing it.
I don't ever ask him to go take a shower these days, I don't ask him to clean up his area of their room, I don't have to remind him to brush his teeth or do chores around the house. The trash cans get taken out, his dishes get in the dishwasher without me putting them there, his school work gets done without me asking, and he will often do little helpful things around the house for me than come put his arm around my shoulder for a wordless hug.
I didn't expect to say goodbye to my little boy at only 11 years old, I didn't expect the man to appear so soon. And he is becoming quite a man.
Oh, I know the little boy will remain inside, probably forever if I look really hard, but during this year of transition on so many levels of our lives, Matthew has been a constant source of encouragement and stability for both Dominick and I. He has earned the respect of everyone in our family with his gracious acceptance of his new sisters, one of whom definitely gives him a run for his money in the Maturity Department. His gentle kindness with the younger boys in our life warms our hearts.
It is an odd contrast though, and I have tried to explain it to others in "real life". He is so very mature, and yet homeschooling has allowed him to remain innocent and hang on to childhood longer. Sounds odd in this post about his growing up, doesn't it? He still knows how to "play", and bounces between the two worlds of adulthood and childhood with great ease. I love this for him, for all of them. None of our kids is being forced to grow up in the ways the world seems to classify "mature". They are not jaded, they are not sexualized too early, they are not worldly and yet are not naive either. Our decision to homeschool at the time it came preserved something for Matthew in particular, it preserved what remained of his childhood. It allowed him to mature at a pace that made sense for us and for him.
I asked him several weeks ago if he felt he was missing out on anything. We drove by what would have been his middle school where the first dance of the year had been held for his old classmates. I wondered if he was having inner regrets and not having that experience or others that would soon follow. His response was very Matt-like..."Mommy, everyone there thinks they are cool for doing that stuff. Remember in Mr. Truitt's class (in 4th grade) when some of the kids were talking about having boyfriends and girlfriends? That made me uncomfortable. I don't think a lot of the kids really want to be that grown up yet, but they don't have a choice...if they don't they will be made fun of. I don't have to worry about that now."
I then asked "What about as you grow older? If we continue to homeschool through high school, do you think you will miss not going to football games and dances?". His reply was "Not at all, not one bit. I don't think I am meant to live that kind of life, Mommy. I'll never fit in since I don't care about sports, I don't even like football or basketball! And you know Kenny and Josh are like me that way too. I don't want to feel forced to do the things kids in school do or not fit in. I want to meet a really nice girl some day and do things with our family, and I am not sure that kind of girl would like those dances or the things kids do there anyway."
When did my son gain so much wisdom?
We are so thankful to have the children we have. We see the same sense of responsibility developing in Joshua as well, and it won't be too long before my "baby" is following in his brother's footsteps. It is rare these days when I have to tell him to go take a shower or brush his teeth (The back of his hair is another story! Haha!), and when the time comes to pitch in and get things done around the house, he is right there doing as much as the bigger kids...cleaning bathrooms, taking the garbage cans to the curb, cleaning messes up after the dog, vacuuming...and I can count on him to get his schoolwork done without nagging too, something I am growing to realize is a real gift with all our kids as I hear other homeschooling mom's complain that they simply can't get their kids to do their work. Thankfully, despite all the other challenges we face, defiance in that area is something we have never encountered with a single one of our kids...they love doing schoolwork and often ask for more. It is actually super easy to teach them as they are all enthusiastic about whatever they are doing.
So today I write this in celebration of impending manhood, of anticipation of the first real earned paycheck. We have often thought that we needed to come up with some sort of right of passage as each of our kids approached adulthood, something to signify a turning of the page. It looks like we need to put our heads together to come up with that something sooner than we thought we would.
My little boy is almost gone, but the man who is replacing him is really something special. In fact, the emerging adults in all our kids is someone whose appearance I eagerly anticipate, for they will each be the kind of folks I would select as friends. To be able to say that and mean it is quite a gift. To begin to experience it is one of God's little rewards for parents.