You challenge me! You challenge me in ways all 16-year-old sons challenge their mothers, but it’s so much more than that! You also challenge me in the ways only an absent-minded professor challenges and confounds everyone they meet. While you miss obvious and practical realities staring you in the face, you’re more awake to the most real and deeply meaningful realities the rest of us miss. I can’t possibly recall every time you’ve said or done something that completely changes the way I think about the world and the people who inhabit it.
In elementary school you insisted I stop asking who you sat with at lunch. You said, “If I’m not sad sitting alone, why should it make you sad I’m sitting alone.” Who knew it was by choice, and not because you had no one to sit with. You enjoyed a few moments alone with your thoughts. I realized it might not be the kids who I took pity on in high school that needed sympathy. It was me I should have felt sorry for! It was all of us who cared so much about what others thought we’d choose to do something we did not prefer, simply to be accepted. What freedom to be completely comfortable with who you are and what you enjoy apart from the acceptance of another.
Then there was the middle school retreat where you had a bottle of Gatorade poured on you after falling asleep. Of course, you never said a word about it to me, and chances are you’d forgotten by the time you got home. I’m so thankful for the boys who found you a dry sleeping bag, told that kid to shove it, and then reported it to their moms so I would eventually know what happened. I’d spent many sleepless nights worrying about you being teased or bullied so this felt like my biggest fears coming to pass. It’s no secret you’ve never quite fit in with your peers and no one (especially a middle school boy) knows what to do with an absent-minded professor trapped in a child’s body. After drying my momma bear tears and calming my temper, I sat you down to talk about the “Gatorade Incident”. You assured me you were fine, even as I tried to convince you that you were not! I brought up the concern you frequently shared for one of your nerdy friends at school who was often sad after being picked on. I pointed out you have some things in common with this kid, and I asked you to consider if unbeknownst to you maybe people were picking on you too. I could not stand the thought of you being the brunt of other people’s jokes. Without batting an eye or skipping a beat, you said “sure that’s possible…but mom, does it really matter? If I am happy, if I am safe, and if I am kind, why should you care if other people’s kids are being mean.” Oh! Right! Thanks to your words of wisdom, I managed to quit caring just a little bit that day. Afterall, it was true my son was the happiest, kindest, and most eccentric young boy I’ve ever known! What’s so sad about that?
Then your first year of high school came around, and there has never been a squarer peg being forced into a round hole. Still, I was determined to guarantee you a successful future hence my incessant pleading you care something about your grades. I was trying to convince you it was imperative to set aside your insatiable desire to think, know, understand, solve, and create to make the grades that promised a successful future. Your brilliant response again left me without any chance of rebuttal. “Mom, why exactly do my grades matter? Just so I can go to a good college…so I can get a good job…so I can make a lot of money…so I can buy a lot of things? But I don’t care about things.” This is the truest thing you have ever said. You care about numbers, ideas, meaning, truth, beauty, and your family, but you absolutely do not care about things.
Of all the things I’ve learned from you, the lessons I’ve learned watching you live with and love well the sisters God has given you might be the most profound lessons you’ve taught me yet. When we found out your youngest sibling was a third sister instead of the brother you desperately longed for, you were one devastated five-year-old. Once Lacey was born however, any desire for a brother melted away. Turns out sisters eat junk food, play dragons, race matchbox cars, chase ice cream trucks, beat you in video and board games, binge watch Stranger Things and The Queen’s Gambit, and get destroyed in chess as well as any brother ever could.
None of us were surprised when your big sister opted to follow an unconventional path after high school graduation, and we were thrilled about her decision to take a gap year to see the world and serve others. In the days leading to her departure, she scheduled in final goodbyes starting with dinner with Dad on Tuesday. Since she would miss Lacey’s birthday at the end of the month, she woke her on Wednesday to a surprise birthday breakfast, and then brought lunch to Hallie at school. I know you’ll never forget the Thursday she came to meet you at Rice University where you are currently spending your own gap year doing research with the Department of Theoretical Biological Physics. I loved hearing how proud she was seeing her little brother’s office and meeting your team.
Friday came and it was my turn for lunch with the big sister, but the swirl of conflicting emotions stole both our appetites. I realized as your sister and I drove away from the house that ever since she’d gotten her driver’s license, we’d never driven around together without an agenda. It reminded me of you kids in carseats, and always needing to fill extra moments with playground stops, shopping sprees at the thrift store, or a drive threw the shaved ice shack. Before I knew it, we were in our old neighborhood, driving past the house you were born in. We stopped at the park and slid down the slide, sharing memories along the way. With shaved ices in hand, we drove home discussing how unusually different she is from each of her four siblings. You must admit it’s hard to believe the four of you have the same parents, and you all grew up in the same home. Kori Jane with her insatiable need to be around people, throw parties, make music, write, lead, and create. You and your fleeting obsessions, reclusive tendencies, and mathematical genius. Hallie with her servant heart, relentless determination, and entrepreneurial spirit, and Lacey with her persuasive wit, captivating charm, and passionate intensity. Kori Jane then said something I will never forget. She said “I think we’re all so different because you and Dad have always parented each of us so differently. You’ve given us permission to be different and encouraged our different interests, passions, and paths.”
I’d like to think parenting has something to do with the amazing people you are becoming, but she gives us far too much credit. For many years I tried to fit all my children nicely into boxes, but someone (usually you) always messed everything up. I wanted to be a soccer mom but despite my best efforts none of you were the soccer type. I wanted to be the family who spent their summers at the pool but despite innumerable lessons you never could pass the swim test, nor did you ever get comfortable with the feeling of your head submerged in water. I wanted all my kids catching the bus to our neighborhood school and bringing home honor roll certificates each semester, but after one too many parent teacher conferences and 504 meetings, we ended up with four children in four different schools. It was during that chaotic season you were obsessed with human personality, and made your sisters the objects of your research. After personality typing each of them and much careful consideration, you decided the Spaulding children would be a powerful force if they ever went into business together. You explained that Kori Jane, our dreamer, would come up with all the brilliant ideas, and you my son (our thinker) would figure out how to make the ideas work. Hallie (our doer) would see the hard work gets done, and cute, little Lacey (our charmer) would be in charge of marketing. Time will tell if there is a business venture forthcoming, but to be certain the four of you and the love and appreciation you have for one other is a force to be reckoned with.
I finally realized there’s not a box big enough or strong enough to contain the Spaulding children, and decided to give you permission to be different. I cannot possibly take credit for your unique passions, gifts, and interests, but I am thankful that Dad and I made the conscious choice to let you each pursue paths that matched your passions, gifts, and interests. Even when that path seemed too dangerous, too unconventional, too bizarre, or too narrow.
There were lots of hugs and tears the Saturday your big sister walked away from us ready to pursue a path all her own, knowing it would be many months before we were reunited. Right before she stepped past the security threshold, you chased after her sobbing and begging her to not go. I’ll never forget that tender (albeit slightly embarrassing) moment when you drew much attention to us all, or the look on your sister’s face as she took in your rare display of affection with both sorrow and joy. Once she was out of sight and we finally turned to walk away, you wrapped your arm around me and said “I am really going to miss her. She is my best friend.”
Having such an intimate view into your unlikely friendship with your sister has given me a brand new vision for what the bible means when it calls us “the family of God”. You and your sisters are about as different as people can possibly be, yet there is a closeness and unity there that no other relationship will ever be able to replace.
It is tempting to think of unity in terms of uniformity. However, I am learning it is in the full acceptance and appreciation of our diversity, and in the brotherly affection for someone so unlike yourself that true unity exists in all its fullness and beauty.
You don’t need me to remind you that in our home siblings fight! You disagree and argue, and you hurt and annoy one another. You all have such different passions, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. Your differing values, preferences, beliefs, desires, and motivations are constantly bumping into each other and causing conflict and chaos. If given a choice way back when, you’d never have chosen the sisters over having a brother, and some days when you’re craving a quiet house or an empty bathroom you would likely choose not to have any siblings at all. Lucky for you we don’t get to choose our families! By God’s good design, it is no different in the family of God. Though we are one in Christ and though we all have the same Father, we could not be more different! Not only has our Father given us freedom to be different, but He is the one who created us uniquely and He delights in all the differences among His children. Different gifts, abilities, passions, theologies, politics, and personalities. Different races, backgrounds, strengths, languages, preferences, and nationalities. A diverse people who have been called, not to uniformity, but to unity!
Your best friend finally came home this month, a couple months earlier than you expected, and the surprise airport reunion was as much a sight to behold as that sad goodbye so many months ago. The airport tears and the hugs were a convincing picture of a beautiful love shared between the Spaulding siblings. A picture of the kind of love that I long to experience with my brothers and sisters in the family of God. A love and a unity that shows the world we have a good Father.
Thank you, son, for caring about ideas, meaning, truth, beauty, and your family more than you care about stuff! Thank you for all the ways you challenge me to care more about those things that really matter most in this life. And thank you for being such a wonderful brother to my girls.