Wednesday, February 21, 2007

coming of age

Last week, I read an article called, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.” The article was about research that has shown that kids who are praised for being smart perform at a much lower level than kids who are praised for how hard they worked at something. Basically, the statement, “great job! You must have worked very hard at that!!” produces many more great jobs, while, “great job! You’re really smart!” results in stagnation, and even fear of trying something that the child doesn’t think they are already good at.

Though I have always believed that to be true, and generally do a good job of pointing out the cause of success and accomplishment as the result of hard work, you’ll notice from my last post that I sometimes fall. Fortunately, my direct praise usually speaks to character and personality. Sometimes my amazement simply is manifest by a dropped jaw, followed by, “you are so awesome.” I have to work really hard to realize that Will’s knowledge and abilities were not simply bestowed upon him, but that his Petabyte Plus gray matter is being filled by his relentless gathering of information fueled by his intense interest in so many things. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said, “HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?” I could retire and fund his research to reverse global warming, and create alternative fuels and even alleviate the need for fuel. So I try to remember to praise his interest and relentless info gathering. Assimilation is natural for him, and like me, every bit he acquires seems directly related to all the other bits. This explains why he can pick up a camera, and being shown where the shutter button is, frame and capture beautiful images that express what he was seeing, observing and feeling, and why he took the shot. His ears do the same thing musically, and his hands do the same thing artistically whether he’s drawing, painting, or writing. His heart beats on his cuff, and his poetry fuels every expressive vehicle.

Today at 4:30pm, he became a teenager. When I picked him up from band and Jack and I told him “happy birthday,” he said, “Now I can be all hormonal and pubescent and be terribly mean to the people I love.” WHAT? That sounds really funny coming from a 13 year-old birthday boy, but that is something he’s worried about for a couple years. “Dad, I don’t want to get all hormonal and out of control and treat people badly.”
Truth is, of any kid I have ever known, I can’t imagine him being mean. Will gives himself to others so completely that everyone believes he is the only friend Will has. Every hug, every smile is a life-long commitment. When Will wraps his arms around you and presses his head into your chest, his cells and being meld with yours and for a moment, he teaches you something you didn’t know before.

I love him for being, and above all else, I’m proud of him for his willingness to love. This is something that he doesn’t have to work out. It is who he is. But it takes a very strong man to be so vulnerable. He will constantly have to work at the strength to remain this way, pure and giving. As his brother observed at a VERY young age, “sometimes when you be nice to someone, they be mean back to you.” Yes, that is the way of the fallen world. People take advantage, exploit, misinterpret, and hurt you. Every time this happens, a potential brick is mortared into a fortress around who you are.

I pray constantly for the strength and courage Will will require to be who he is. These next years will be like a power lifter’s workout for him as he studies how Jesus’ love is misunderstood and rejected, and like Jesus, grows in wisdom and stature, and favor with those who need his kind of pure love.