Dear Benjamin,

So. We just had a 4 minute conversation about time travel, alternate realities, and the consequences of traveling into the past.

Can I just say how happy I am that you’re my son?

Seriously.

Also, you got a cookie cake for your birthday, which was always my favorite, and you want to write your own message on it, “because, you know, I’m 9 years old now.”

Yes you are!

You’re so clever, Benjamin. So much more clever than I was at your age. I look at you and I imagine I probably feel how my parents felt; how your daddy’s parents felt.

Proud, and completely out of sorts.

You’re smarter than you should be, but… at least, when I consider what things should consume a 9 year old, I see many of the hallmarks of our culture. You’re positively obsessed with Legend of Zelda. You love playing outside. You absolutely love ice cream.

You hate chores. Of course you do, why wouldn’t you? They’re awful. But, you do them, eventually.

I hate to tell you, but we’re setting you up for a hard life. Right now things are easy. So, so, impossibly easy. They don’t feel like that, but what do we say? Feelings are liars, and always need examining. You’re clever now, but you won’t always be the cleverest. And… That’s ok.

But it won’t feel okay. You’ll feel like a failure. You’ll feel like you’ve let us down, like you haven’t achieved the greatness you think you’re destined for. You’ll feel like you were meant for more than the life you’re currently living, whatever it is. If things go the way I’m planning, you’ll read this on your 17th birthday. You will be approaching your senior year. Are you planning on heading off to college? Did you decide on the military? A trade? A trip around the world? A job you love? A girl to chase? (are you completely overwhelmed with the options and afraid of making the wrong decision?)

Honestly: those aren’t the questions that I need answers for. The questions I have are more simple. Do we still talk? Really talk – not just “how was your day” or “what do you want for dinner” but questions about life, the universe, and everything. I hope you’ve read that by now, and if you haven’t, go read “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” It’s brilliant.

We’re reading the Hobbit right now. I’m hoping to start on Lord of the Rings by fall, but who knows. Life has been crazy lately.

Spoiler alert: life is ALWAYS CRAZY.

Anyways. As I was saying. Your Dad and I were always smart kids who were a little wiser than our peers. There are a lot of reasons for that – one of them is the burden of being the oldest child. Some of it was intentional, your Dad and I always approached parenting like we were raising a future adult, so we never downplayed or “babied” our language when talking to you. We have always discussed big ideas.

So I suspect that when you read this, you’re smart enough to know your whole life is ahead of you. You’re wise enough to realize the things and the decisions you make now can impact you for your entire life. And you’re enough like your Mom and Dad to be absolutely terrified of letting people down, not realizing your assumed potential, and/or making some huge mistake.

Allow me to give you permission, now, at 9 years old, to fail.

Your Dad and I, neither one of us, are living the lives we assumed during our teenage and young adult lives. It took us a really long time to realize what you do is not tied to who you are.

You work in fast food? Awesome. Be the best, hardest working, fast food worker. You want to be a writer? Fantastic. Write every day. Send your words out to the world. You have no idea what to do? Totally normal.

When you have these moments where you feel the weight of your decisions, step back and remember who you are. Remember your value is not defined by the job you work or the money you make, or the success you have achieved (or not achieved).

Your value is in your mere existence. You are loved by the One who created you, you are loved by so, so many people around you, and your value is because you’re Benjamin.

And all the people who value Benjamin, the things we want for you are simple and not defined by success.

Do you love people? Are you kind? How do you treat the store clerk when you’re at the store? Do you yell at other drivers? Can you find something to chase after that you enjoy doing? Do you practice self-care? Are you aware of how important your mental health is? Are you willing to get help when you feel overwhelmed? Do you have core values, do you live by them? Are you not afraid to fail?

Here’s what I’m really trying to say:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late, or in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald

But enough about future you. Current you? Totally awesome. You just finished up 3rd grade, and your big project was on the life of an astronaut. It was super fun watching your passion as you explained to the adults around you how much you had learned. You loved pointing out how they get rid of their waste, and how shooting stars might be poop entering the atmosphere before burning up!! Your arms kept moving around (like mine do when I’m teaching) and I marveled at you. If you haven’t considered a career in teaching, I’d recommend exploring a career where you can teach people in some capacity. I think you love sharing your knowledge with whoever is willing to listen.

You’ve stuck with piano, although as promised we’ll be exploring another musical instrument since you continually played piano until you were 9. Probably voice lessons, because you love singing.

You’ve made friends with most the boys on the block. You spend most of your free time at Taekwondo, piano, band, or outside. You desperately love rules and structure, which doesn’t always work well with other rambunctious boys. Half the fights we break up are because you’ve gotten frustrated at someone not following the rules, cheating, or not playing nice. We try to teach grace, but I understand the internal conflict oh too well.

You love God. You have so many questions and so much curiosity and I love thinking big ideas about why we’re here and what we can do to love others.

We were talking about feelings today. About how some family members don’t deal with their feelings in healthy ways, about how when you don’t deal with your emotions they still exist inside of you. You made the analogy that when feelings are buried inside of you it’s kind of like a dead body, decaying you from the inside out. I said that sometimes when those feelings are buried they come out in ways you don’t expect. “Like zombies,” you exclaimed.

Wisdom, son.