There have been only two times in my son's life as a student that he has expressed even a modicum of enthusiasm in his studies.
Once, he was in sixth grade. His Social Studies class was learning about ancient Egypt. "Learning about ancient Egypt is cool," he said one evening. And before he could say Cleopatra I was grabbing a pencil and scrap of paper. "What did you say?" I asked knowingly. He laughed. He knew that he rarely if ever exhibited enthusiasm for knowledge that didn't have do with baseball cards or football stats. I wrote it down, word for word. "Learning about ancient Egypt is cool." I added the date and made him sign it. I wanted proof positive that he enjoyed learning about at least one thing during his junior high days, and this was my vehicle. A signed affidavit on orange construction paper. At that moment I pictured him an archeologist digging in the desert in search of new and groundbreaking artifacts. That picture has since faded, but the memory of laughing hysterically and him signing the paper proving he had at least a passing interest in some history, remains dangerously in tact.
The second time was just a few weeks ago. My son was sitting at the computer he shares with his sister, his back to me, a mere five feet away at my makeshift card table turned desk. He was working on a book report for his Freshman Honors Reading and Writing course. "I like writing," he said. And he turned to look at me. Wide eyes and with a smirk I replied, "I wonder where you got that?" He laughed. It's a laugh deep in tone and pure of heart.
"How do you become a writer?" he asked not of me, but for himself. And he swiveled his chair around, again laughing, realizing what he had said, and to whom.
A few days later he handed me some stapled pieces of notebook paper. "It's a story I wrote," he said, "if you want to read it."
In a childlike fashion he handed it to me while I was cooking dinner and quizzing his sister on her vocabulary words. I asked him if I could save it for a time when I wouldn't be interrupted, but that I'd be thrilled to.
"What did you write it for?" I asked as an afterthought.
"Nothing," he said, "I just wrote it."
I glanced at the pages. Four college-ruled sheets, filled. Written in pencil with his neat penmanship. I knew that I would be reading this story sooner rather than later. And I did.
It was fiction...complete with vivid descriptions and the makings of character development. There was a plot with a beginning, a middle and an end. There was a lesson. And since we tend to write what we know and love, it was indeed a story about sports. But what I saw -- not between the lines but on them -- was talent. And even more so I saw interest. I asked my son if I could call his English teacher, or his Writing teacher, and he said yes. I want this propensity and momentum to continue. I want it harnessed and nurtured, because not only was my son writing on his own, he wanted to be read.
Weeks have passed and I've seen scribbling of more stories and read some of others. He is writing in notebooks when he's not playing Xbox or gallivanting with his posse of Freshman boys looking for social venues in small town America.
Today, I picked up my son and a gaggle of his friends from school and deposited them at the local restaurant. On the way, en masse they told me that out of thousands of submissions, my son's was one of six in the high school newspaper's sports section today. I glanced at him and he smiled.
A byline...and way ahead of schedule by my estimation.
"Copycat," I said jokingly, and bopped him on the head with the rolled up paper. Then when I dropped them all off I sat idled in the car and turned to page 18. It was a 50-word blurb about being at a great sporting event...and this is what it said:
"I was there when the White Sox won the World Series. Being able to go to their first World Series since 1959, nobody knew what to expect. Some sights were unforgettable; lines as long as you could imagine and faces brighter and more excited than you'd believe possible."
I felt a rush of emotion akin to pride, but somewhat different. I felt a sense of relief.
In 2005 when the White Sox made it to the World Series, the sun shone in my son's life for more than just a second. It was less than a year since his father had died. The winning season for the Sox brought my son indescribable 13-year-old joy, even in the midst of a diagnosed depression. I'd made a big decision the night before tickets went on sale that no matter what or how, he was going to be there. And he was. I purchased two tickets to Game One of the World Series at Chicago's Cellular Field, in good seats. I did not get the tickets through the lottery or by standard means. Through a broker, I spent over $2,000 for each ticket. I didn't bat an eye -- or tell anyone what I'd spent. And while on the surface it might have appeared indulgent and irresponsible, it was critical. I knew that I couldn't pin a price tag on hope.
So when I sat on my son's bed that morning, and told him that a family friend would take him to the game, he threw his arms around me. I told him I knew how important it was to him to see the Sox play, and that I wanted him to have a blast. And then I told him that I also bought the tickets so that he would see something else. I wanted him to see first-hand that good things – really, really good things -- were going to happen to him in his lifetime, even without his dad. And I hoped that this was proof, and the first step to believing.
It was not a callous statement, it was a statement of fact. He was too young to grab onto that moment and I'm sure he didn't believe me. But that baseball game was my promise to him -- one of normalcy, of brushes with greatness and of hope for a bright future -- that I knew would linger in the back of his mind.
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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