At the end of the academic year, eighth grade students at the middle school will present their writing portfolios to their families. Each portfolio is prefaced with a letter from someone who knows the student well. The letter is supposed to express who the student is as a person, at this point in his/her life. My eighth grader, Benjamin, asked me to write his letter. I’ve included it below.
I’m sharing this with you because it’s rare in life to have an opportunity to say a few nice words about someone we love, and I hope it sparks something for you and yours.
It’s true that as your mom I can hazard a guess as to who you are as a person at this point in your life, but one of the many things about you that is so impressive, is how well you actually know yourself.
From the time you were a little boy, you had a clear sense of the things you enjoyed doing and the things you did well. You have always been precociously verbal, incredibly creative with your writing and cartooning, and of course – an avid reader. We both share the love of reading and it has been a joy for me to watch you, over these years, get utterly lost in the pages of a good book. I remember the summer several years ago when you humored me and – at my request – read The Old Man in the Sea. Together we discussed the old man’s journey and explored Hemingway’s writing style. I remember being incredulous and thinking: “He gets it, he gets Hemingway.”
Among the things that define you as a person is your interest in listening to and creating music. When you were little, Dad and I would introduce you to different songs and artists and then – almost overnight – you developed your own musical preferences. It wasn’t long before you were introducing us to the likes of Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, and Mac Miller. I may never fully appreciate the rap genre, but I definitely appreciate your passion for music and your desire to master playing the guitar.
Speaking of rap music, I am still awed that you wrote and sang rap songs at two middle school dances last year – the first on your thirteenth birthday. There was so much about that experience that made me proud. That you wrote the song, worked on it for days, partnered with a backup singer, and stepped forward to perform it publicly at a middle school dance ... I am still wowed by the guts and verve you possess.
It’s sweet to see how generous you are in lending a hand to your friends – especially with homework assignments. You willingly provide help to anyone who asks with kindness and humility. Sometimes it’s a little more challenging for you to be as generous with your younger sisters, but you are often a most tender elder brother and it’s clear you care for your siblings, as they care for you.
There is so much I could write about who you are and the gifts that you possess – clearly, you are curious and creative. You are also a sweet, kind and honest young man.
As inspiring as it is to watch you pursue the things you do so well, it also brings me joy to have watched you stick it out with the things that don’t come as naturally for you. That you played soccer for five years (that’s ten seasons), learned to ice skate, and then gave basketball a shot (pun intended) really makes me proud of you too. You are humble about your strengths and at the same time have gracefully accepted those areas that do not come so easily. That’s why, every Saturday, you don a basketball jersey, take to the court and support your team; it’s hardly your natural element, but you do it anyway.
Well, I will end this letter about the person you are, with words written by you, about you:
I am from Green Day and Kanye West,
Rap, rock, pop and all the rest,
Cartoons and comics, books made by me . . .
I’m from who I am, who I was, who I’ll be.
As your mom, I value with all my heart where you are from, I truly, madly, and deeply love who you are, and I absolutely cannot wait to see who you’ll become!
And in the words of a band we both enjoy:
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.
With love always,