Friday, October 17, 2008

Senior Retreat Letter to James

Daniel & James in the Jacuzzi Outer Banks, NC

(Sweaty) James trying to hug his Dad after a Cross Country Run

James in Scrubs (after the NLYF in Medicine Conference) Hugging his Mom

James and Daniel with Grammy

James, Cousin Steven and a Jelly Fish

James (3) at his YMCA Swim Lesson

James with newborn Kellan

James with "Jasmine" at Disney World Summer After 8th Grade

Now that James has had his Senior Year Retreat and opened the letters from his family I can share a portion of the one I wrote to him. Even though, I'm sure my sons appreciate these letters, I'm afraid that they will lose them!

It's my job to chronicle. So, here they are (the prior post was my letter to Daniel in 2003). And although it might seem that in comparison James needs much more guidance than Daniel (due to the length of this letter), I can say with confidence that this is not the case. They are/were pretty similar in their behavior and development at this stage. I've also dug up some of my favorite pictures of James in the last few years.
Above are the pics. Below is the letter.

"Dear James;

This is your mother writing: The woman who bore you and who has been your greatest fan, and in the last year or so, I’m afraid, the person who has been your greatest critic. We have been lucky, you and I, in that we have now, and really always have had a very special relationship. I don’t know many mothers that have the kind of relationship with their children that I have with you. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without you. What a loss that would have been for me!

You have been one of the bright lights of my life.

I thought that maybe I ruined our special relationship when I left you for 3 months to go to Sri Lanka and India when you were a youngster, and also when I went to Duke University for two years, nearly 5 years ago. But, you have stuck by me through thick and thin, even though I haven’t been the perfect parent. (Maybe the greatest good that will come out of those absences will be that you’ll realize that ‘mothers’ and ‘wives’ have dreams too. Your future wife will appreciate me for those forays much more than you have or will.)

As you have stuck by me, I have stuck by you. I have stayed with you through your travails in life. Lately, this has meant: Sleepless nights, multiple phone calls, signing up for and learning how to text message, incredible frustration, and nail-biting worry. It’s a wonder that parents don’t stroke-out from the whole experience of raising teenage children. But, you know what? It’s taught me some great lessons, the most notable of which is surrender. A great gift.

Growing up is so painful, not only for the person doing it (you) but for the parent watching it. However, these difficult times have begun to bear fruit: I have seen such growth in you in the last 6 months or so. You have found your balance, have been moderate in your behavior, and have direction. You’re a great friend, a wonderful uncle and brother, and a very special son. Please, keep going. Don’t sell yourself short. You, more than most people, have the potential to have an extraordinary life.

What I want you to know is that mistakes and pain are often the precursors to great growth.If you’re like your mother, you will go through such growing-pains again, probably often throughout your life. Your job is to find the lesson from these experiences, grow and improve. In the process, try not to hurt the people you love. It’s not their fault.

This letter is supposed to be sage wisdom and a recounting of the special times in your life. So first the wise advice: If I wasn’t going to be around for the next 18 years, here are a few of the things that I would want you to remember:
As your Grandfather Marvin always said, "moderation in all things."

As Grammy says,“I never promised you it would be easy.” And as your mother says,“it won’t be."

On the really big decisions, pause before you act. Look before you leap. But then follow your gut.

Stay close to God in all things, in whatever religion you choose, or not.

I’ve learned over the last 50 years not to follow a 5 or 10 year plan: Have direction but then follow the opportunities that God presents to you.

A person’s kindness and ability to love is more impressive than the depth of their intellect or the amount of money, possessions or power they have.

Appreciate what you have. The grass is not always greener.

Most important things can not be measured in dollars.

Looks are not the most important thing, which is related to another truth which is "Looks can be deceiving."

There is no substitute for spending time with your children and spouse. You can never recoup that time.

Don’t let familiarity take the joy and surprise out of your relationships. Don’t be cranky or pick on the people you love. Be creative in your relationships.

Be gentle with your family and people you know. People are fragile.

Often the best first course of action is to listen and shut up.

Learn from all people, regardless of their educational level or level of income. There are a lot of idiots and evil people with degrees and money.

See the magic in everyday things. Know you aren't the center of the universe. Find the humor in the absurd. Decide to be happy.

If you make a mistake, say you’re sorry. Reverse course if necessary.

Talk and stay close to your parents.

Stay close to your brother. You need each other. Believe me.

A partner is a man’s best asset. Men don’t belong alone. They need female energy.

Don’t pick a spouse who is tortured or who you have to ‘fix,” even if she is the most interesting and sexy thing around.

Don’t forget that you were named after my father. He was a great man, even though during his later years you may not have known that.
Finally, I want to close this letter with snippets of things I remember from your life, that I will cherish always.
You hopping on one foot on a chair reciting the names to 1000 dinosaurs in our State College basement when you were 18 months old.

Making colored cake frosting with dye made out of beets, because you were on a “no artificial color or flavor diet.” And you never complained.

Reading books, any books and you saying, “More!”

You running after me wanting “breasting” at 3 years old!

You and Daniel rolling like a couple of squirrels on the floor and me wondering whether you were going to maim or kill yourselves doing it. And I couldn’t make you stop!

As a young child, you telling me that although my trip to Sri Lanka would be very hard for you, you "wanted whatever I wanted and whatever was the best for me."

Our trip with you to Disney World to toast the end of your childhood (the summer after the 8th grade). You chose the rides, the hotel movies, and the time we got up and went to sleep: which of course meant that we went to bed at 2 a.m., got up at noon, and went on the scariest rides during the hottest part of the day!

Our sailing trip on Lake Pontchartrain for dad’s and my sailing class graduation. You loved the speed, the waves and the wind as much as we did!

You taking me to the movies to see “Knocked Up” because I was stressed. I was the oldest person in the audience by 3 decades! It was so great to spend time with you.

Our trip to Atlanta to visit Emory. You drove the rental car even though you weren’t authorized to do so because I was such a nervous wreck in the Atlanta traffic. You said to me, "if you were an animal you would be shedding." I had such fun.

You coming into our bedroom and playing silly, “Flight of the Conchords” songs for me. You make me laugh!

Your beautiful poems to me and your father. My favorite was “you hath clothed me and you hath loved me.” It hangs on our wall.

You throwing Kellan up in the air and yelling,"Duuuummmmbledooorrrre!!”

Your always smiling face. Your big heart. Your love of your friends and their families.

Helping your Grammy ‘on demand’ in the garden!

Your interest in cooking.

Us cooking together!

You encouraging me to write anything, but mostly a cookbook!
I can’t wait to see what happens during the next 18 years!

I love you James;



  1. Denese - I love your letters to your boys. What a gift.

    James - you are a senior already.... how can that be? I sure enjoyed reading your mom's thoughts and memories. I so remember the dinosaur phase that you went through. It was so amazing to hear that language coming from the mouth of the tiniest little boy. I also fondly remember that Mark and I had some asparagus growing in the backyard but we NEVER got to eat any because you'd pick it and eat it the second it was tall enough for you to grab on to. Another funny memory is that you stealthily swiped an english cucumber off the kitchen counter one day. You took it behind a chair and started eatinig it - unbeknownst to me. You then complained that it tasted bad. Well, it was shrink-wrapped in plastic and you were eating it plastic, peel and all. You so loved all food and I bet you still do!

    I hope you enjoy the rest of your senior year. I enjoy keeping tabs on you and Daniel through your mom and her letters/pictures.

    All the best.

    Love, Bernie

  2. Bernie,

    Thanks for leaving a note of your memories for James.

    You were such an important part of his life in State College, PA. I am certain he spent as much time at your house as at home.

    Do you know that I still cook dinner for anyone that's home almost every night? And James is almost always there. The first thing he does when he gets out of school is he'll call home and ask me what's for dinner!



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