Saturday, April 02, 2016

Which Road Will He Travel?

At 16 years old and in his junior year in high school, Matthew is beginning to think more concretely about his future.  His mom is trying with all her might to hold her doubts at bay.  Is she pushing hard enough?  Has she homeschooled him well enough that he will be well prepared for the life ahead of him?  Does taking the road less traveled make sense, or will it lead to...the "f" word..."Failure"?

As his peers are anxiously sitting for the SAT's, beginning the Great College Search, and tirelessly working and reworking those essays they will soon submit with applications, Matt's attention is on tinkering, reading, and flying.  

The other day, as we were sprawled on my bed during our literature class, it was clear to me that reading was not going to happen, but that the time was ripe for conversation.  Matt needs space and time to talk, slower to speak and more thoughtful in response than some of our "Chatty Cathys", and our time alone is both precious and paramount for our connection.  I asked him if he had been giving any thought to his post-high school direction, and he said he indeed had.  He admitted it was a little hard to stand by and listen silently as his friends at Civil Air Patrol, many juniors like himself, talked about college and all they are doing in the chase to the finish line of their senior year.  I asked him if that meant he had changed his thinking about attending college, and if so, we needed to immediately shift some gears.

"No, mom, not at all.  I know that is not the way for me, at least not right now.  What is hard is I don't know how to say what I am doing." he replied.  He added, "I would feel so trapped in college."

"Can you explain that?" I asked.

"Mom, I don't want to spend another two years studying everything I have already studied...more history, literature, and science.  The thought just kills me."

Watching him carefully, I said "Then clearly, that is not what you need to be doing.  So...tell me...what calls to your heart?"

Instantly he sat upright and became animated.  "I want to build things, I want to explore every area of computers and maybe even programming.  I want to work on projects, learn networking, and cutting edge drone technology!"  Oh my, he was on fire!!!  He went on to further explain, "I want time to learn everything I can learn.  The hardest part is going to be figuring out exactly what I really do want to eventually do, because it is all so interesting!  I am using all the math I learned with the 3D printer, so I might need to take an additional math course, but maybe not."

"I want to build the drone I dreamed about two years ago, I want to build it from the ground up, design my own plans, print my own parts for it, learn how to add in a GPS system to it, and learn everything the way I did with the 3D printer because I really, really learned because I needed to so I could accomplish what I wanted."

His eyes lit up, his excitement was contagious.  I realized that THIS is what I knew was inside of Matthew LaJoy that day the second week of 5th grade when I walked in with knees knocking and voice quavering and disenrolled him from public school.  THIS is what we have been working so hard to develop in all the kids...a craving to learn more, a desire to jump right in and explore, a work ethic that will allow them to use that intellectual curiosity to its fullest.

We talked about language he could use to describe his post-high school plan, which will include self-directed study and project based learning. Matt wants to obtain certification in a wide variety of computer areas.  He wants to work toward his CompTIA certification as a repair technician, a
networking specialist, a server specialist,  and possible a fourth certification with mobile devices.  He wants to earn the professional certification for AutoCAD.  He wants to perhaps learn some programming.  He wants to achieve the goal of getting his pilot's license.  No single one of these would be an easy route, all of them add up to a pretty ambitious plan, certainly nothing to sneeze at.

How is he going to do it?  His own way, and I trust him.

Yesterday morning at our Morning Meeting we had a long discussion about doing things differently, following your truest self, not letting the cultural expectations pull you off your own course solely to fit in.  Olesya always reinforces for us that we are "Uniquely Developed" as a family, and that reminder is an important one as our kids begin the slow process of moving out into the world.  Looking into the eyes of each of my children, I urged them to be courageous, and emphasized that we would be standing alongside them no matter what path they follow.  Angela was deeply disturbed recently to read something online about how life starts "after high school", and passionately explained why she thought that was demeaning and demoralizing, as if her life in the here and now didn't matter.  We all agreed that whether you are 5 or 15 or 25, all stages of life have great meaning and the essence of who you are needs to be continually fed, not ignored until you have suddenly "arrived", or you might never recognize yourself when you finally do "arrive".

A couple of weeks ago, we had finished our textbook for the year and decided to do a few book studies, so I asked Matt what he'd like to read fully expecting it to be a business biography of some
sort.  I had set aside a book I ordered on Amazon for my own review, The Road to Character by New York Times columnist David Brooks.  Matt saw it and asked me what it was, so I handed it to him to look at  and said I had found the premise interesting and wanted to explore it.  After reading the preview, he looked up at me and said, "How about this one?  I'd really, really like to read it."  I was surprised, but pleased, and agreed to that one along with a couple of other titles we selected for the remainder of the year.  He asked if he could have my copy, and wait for a duplicate for myself.  I said sure, and off he went, and read three chapters by lunch time, returning to me to tell me how it was maybe the best book he had ever read.  Hmmm...

This morning we read more and talked about what had been covered so far.  The depth of conversation we had, the yearning our son has to be a person of integrity, and his willingness to speak so openly about that yearning with me was a blessing I realize so many moms of 16 year olds never experience.  Matt shared that when he was younger he almost never felt much compassion for others and it bothered him a lot, but that as he grew more aware and more mature, he realized the key to relationship was putting himself in the other person's shoes for a bit, because you almost couldn't help but have compassion if you could see things from another's perspective.  When we came to a paragraph about the need to continually want to improve yourself, I was reminded how Matt had often shared quotes of Benjamin Franklin's and his ongoing pursuit of becoming a decent, moral man, and I asked Matt, "So who does this remind you of?  Who do you recall always worked to better their moral character?"

Without hesitation he looked up at me and said, "You."

What???  Me???  Now that was totally unexpected and not at all where my mind was going.  I told him that I had been thinking of Benjamin Franklin, and he said, "Oh yea, him too."

I said I was humbled he saw me in that light, but I thought others did a much better job of building character than I did, and tried to move the conversation back toward Benjamin.

"Wait Mom, no really.  You don't see yourself right sometimes.  You are always trying to improve yourself.  You admit mistakes and apologize, and better yet, try and work on it afterward.  You continually try to act lovingly even when it is hard because others are unkind.  You are always asking more of yourself than of others.  You read a ton and are always educating yourself about new things.  I think having a living example like you and Dad around is a lot better than a dead old guy who lived 200 years ago. "

Then he added, "I really want to try and live a life of character, everything else doesn't matter and is only about my ego.  The older I get, the more important that is to me.  I have the potential to be really self-centered, that is why I really wanted to read this book, to see how others have done it."

Listening to this young man before me, I realized that though he has a lot of experiences yet to have, he has already grown up.  He has a self-awareness of an older, more mature soul, and a heart that strives for excellence.  It matters not what road he travels, he will be exuberant, he will be open-hearted, he will be listening for the Spirit's leading.

Most importantly, he will be a good man, a self-made man, a hard working man.  Any road he takes still leads there, for that is already apparent, and it is all I have ever desired for him.  

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