A family friend posted another status update online. It was a photo of her husband sleeping on the couch, with their newborn baby sleeping on top of him, rosy cheeks puffed up on his chest. That got me remembering the same kind of photo I had with my son 13 years ago.
I could still remember his sweet newborn smell, his warm, soft embrace, and the occasional smile he would give as he played with tiny angels in his baby dreams. I often wondered what someone who has not seen or experienced anything could be dreaming about that would make them smile. How could a mind so innocent and new be processing things that they have no awareness of? But there it was: a tiny smile on a tiny, chubby face. A sight so contagious you couldn’t help but smile with him.
So how did he go from the soft, fuzzy, chubby, cuddly baby on my chest 13 short years ago, to this fully-formed young man who is almost as tall as his mom? Granted, he is a bit delayed in some areas, but he is a young man nonetheless. He has the temperament of a young man, he has a crush, his voice has deepened, and he’s starting to value his privacy. The years crept up on us really quickly, and without us even noticing it, he’s now a teenager.
I always feel a little sentimental over big birthdays, but this is extra special because he has been our baby for a long time. Even after his younger brother came, we still thought of him as a baby. I guess it’s time to realize that our baby has grown and we will not always be beside him to make decisions for him. So as he moves from the elementary school right beside our house to the high school a few blocks away, I would like to offer 13 things I want my son to know and remember for his 13th birthday.
1. The more you want privacy, the harder it is to achieve it. With smart phones, the internet and other social media come bullies, hackers and all kinds of predators. Be smart. Do not put too much out there. The less you upload or share about yourself online, the better it will be for you.
2. Accept who you are and all the special things you have to offer. We are all different in our own ways, and we are special in our own ways. Find out who you are and what you are good at, and keep at it. These coming years won’t be the easiest. This will be the time to figure out your place in this world. Hopefully, it will be eventful and colourful with lots of funny and delightful stories to tell.
3. Personal hygiene is paramount at this age. Shower lots, brush your teeth at least twice a day and practice your great smile. You used to smile a lot but it’s getting harder to come by these days. Please don’t lose that. People who smile easily make friends more easily. (People who smile but don’t brush their teeth, not so much!)
4. Sadness is a part of life. We are here for you. Your mom, dad, sister and brothers will always be here to listen and comfort you. When you are sad, do not keep it to yourself. Find someone to share your sadness. Just letting someone know helps.
5. Study hard. Others might learn faster than you, but do not stop learning. Do not compete with other kids. Compete with yourself. If you can read and spell better that you did yesterday, then you’re winning. Win again tomorrow.
6. Things will not always go your way. Other people may want the same things you do and they may get it before you do. That’s okay. There will be things for you too. When mom and I were looking for our first house and we didn’t get the one we liked, we just said okay, and found a better one. Everything works out in the end if you’re willing to be patient and never give up.
7. Sports, like your taekwondo, are good for you. Do not stop because you feel tired or bored. It’s all in the mind. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Keep yourself active and get your face off the monitor longer than five minutes. If you can, get out and enjoy the sunshine.
8. Be flexible, but not too flexible. Don’t compromise yourself for other people. Be flexible enough to change with the changing world, but not so much that you will let other people take advantage of you. If you are unsure, ask mom, dad, your siblings, or any person you can trust; we will not steer you wrong.
9. Change your decisions if you need to. It might be irritating to other people, but allow yourself to change your mind when new information comes in that affects your perspective on things. Do not stick to something just because other people think you should. They have their own agenda and the decision is not for them to make. If you want the banana, eat the banana, even if the monkeys are telling you to eat something else.
10. Words are powerful. Work on your speech above all else because this is how you’ll be able to express yourself to the world around you. Speak slowly, enunciate and pronounce your words clearly. Your words might be clear in your mind, but what matters is that it comes across clear to the person you are talking to.
11. Girls are just like you. They have feelings, insecurities, and needs. Treat them with respect as you would treat your mom or your sister. I understand you feel certain things about them that you never used to feel. Ask us if you want to understand them. We have been there. Your friends might think they know, but they don’t. They are just as confused as you, so don’t just take them at their word.
12. Manners will always matter. Girls still appreciate chivalry. Boys may want to look cool by talking tough to you, but when they talk to their boss or to their customers, they will always be polite. Open doors for people, say hello, smile, shake hands, say thank you and excuse me, and watch your words. Never lose your kindness.
13. We will always love you: absolutely, completely, unquestionably, unconditionally. Nothing will change that. There will be some things that we will not agree on, but our love for you will be forever.
That’s it: 13 for now. There is so much more to say, but there will be many more birthdays to come.