To My Son the Compassionate
A letter to my nine-year-old as he returns to school and faces life again
You were the child I was so determined to have that at forty I became a single mother by choice. For the past nine years, you have shown me every day how smart that decision was. You’ve gone from having me all to yourself to being a wonderful son to your new father, and an incredible brother to your little sister. You’ve absorbed the traits and talents you got from me and made them better, and you’ve found new ones I’ll never have.
You’ve heard me tell you I love you. You’ve heard me say I am proud of you. But you’ve never heard me say I envy you. And I do.
I envy your resilience and your grace.
Your whole life has changed — the shutdown, the masks, the Zoom classes, the new school with the smaller class sizes but none of your friends. Yet every day, your jokes and goofy tricks help us so much. You are so great about eating healthy food and doing laundry; you clean your room, the bathrooms, and the hamster cage every week. Yesterday you cooked your own eggs for breakfast and asked me if I needed anything.
You’ll tell me this is so you don’t lose your skate park privileges, but being thoughtful is second nature to you. Somehow, through your nine-year-old eyes, you can see everything not as connected to one person, but as a whole. You know where you fit in, and you understand what people need from you. This is something that took me years to learn, and I envy your instincts.
I envy how you show your emotions.
When I tell you that my family was smuggled into the country, that I always had to wear dresses my mother made, and that my only toy was an old Barbie doll, you cry. When you went to your grandfather’s funeral you cried hard, and even today, you cry when you think about him. When I told you I was going on a business trip to London, you told me you will cry when I’m gone. People will tell you that boys shouldn’t cry, that they should be tough and strong, but the strongest people are the ones who can express their emotions.
I never learned how to do that. Even when my father, (your other grandfather, whom you never got to meet), died so suddenly; even when his mother formally disowned us because she didn’t want to be responsible for a widow and four children, we didn’t cry. My mother wanted everyone to see how strong we all were, but I learned later that true strength comes from showing who you are and how you feel. You laugh all the time. You are so passionate about who and what you love. When you get older, you will find other ways of showing your emotions besides crying. But you are open in a way I still struggle with, and I envy you that.
I envy your artistic sense.
This might have something to do with showing your emotions, but you have a wonderfully artistic eye, something else I never had. You picked the rug for the family room because you could see how well it matched the coffee table. I didn’t even notice. You do such incredible designs for your Boss Scooter company. Remember your Mona Lisa drawing? What a masterpiece. For me, working in the factory as a child meant I never had time to draw or paint, but even so, I don’t think I ever had what you have. Remember when I taught you the Mari Kondo method of folding and organizing? Even at age three, you could color-coordinate all your outfits down to your socks and underwear. You just think it’s fun, but you could always put your clothes for school together, and that saves me time. And I appreciate that you’re teaching your sister how to do it!
I envy your compassion.
I’ve always taught you to be kind, and to think of others first. When I was growing up, my family was struggling to get by; we took care of ourselves and had no time for anyone else. I never wanted that for my children. But thinking of others comes naturally to you. You always bring two extra scooters to the skate park because your friends don’t have their own. You always help Chloe do her homework and are careful about what she eats. You always pack us snacks and drinks for the park, and you make sure we’re having a good time too. You are bigger than yourself, and there’s nothing more valuable than that.
I envy your work ethic.
Maybe this one you got from me — after all, at your age, I was working in my mother’s factory. But I worked hard because I had to; you do it because you want to. Every day at the skate park, you do your jumps, your flips, and whatever else over and over again until they are perfect. I see you study Jon Reyes’ YouTube videos and say you want to be just like him. I see you applying this same concentration to your schoolwork and improving every day. You think it’s just about having fun, but skating the way you do improves your focus and concentration. These life skills will shape your entire future.
What are my hopes for you?
This is a strange time to be a nine-year-old boy, and the pandemic is just part of it. Men around the world that have spent years doing terrible things to women are finally getting punished for it. Everyone is talking about what makes a good man — especially mothers with sons. What makes a man grow up to be kind and helpful, like you? You don’t even think about it, of course, but I do. A lot.
I hope that you keep your fine sense of compassion and respect, and keep treating everyone the way you treat us. Of course, when you can relate to people in a kind and compassionate way, you will do well in business and own as many super cars as you want. You can start off with the Lamborghini Aventador you always talk about!
I hope you always choose the right role models. Your father has shown you what a man should be, and your instincts are almost always right. But remember that just because the older boys at the skate park can do better tail whips than you can doesn’t mean you should follow their behavior. I saw Liam be mean to a little boy who admired him, and Luke is living here with his dad because he got in trouble in Florida. Always remember that kindness and compassion are life’s most important gifts, and admire those who think so too.
I hope that you can always accept life’s challenges and find solutions for every problem. I hope you continue to work on your reading and writing, that you give them the same attention you do your scootering, because these life skills will take you as far as you want. They will open up a world of joy and learning.
I hope you are always as brave as you are today. This morning, you took your little sister on the school bus even though you were nervous about coming out of lockdown and starting a new school. I knew you wanted take care of your sister, and I thank you for that.
I hope you are always the kind, sweet, young man you are now. I hope you keep treating your family the way you do every day. I hope you are never too old to hug Mommy goodnight.
I hope you always know how proud I am you are my son.