Elsewhere on Shestories I have written a great deal about what students teach their teachers. Children also teach their parents. I had not fully grasped how much my sons taught me till I paused to check the weather on my phone while I was out in our shed one late afternoon.
My oldest son, Brian, had a small black and white television in his bedroom that was always tuned to the weather channel, with the volume turned very low as he did his homework….or at least I had hoped he was doing his homework. Brian was closely monitoring all aspects of the weather on the east coast so as to better gauge whether there would be surf the next day in Virginia Beach. Born and raised in Virginia Beach, he, like many teen-aged boys in the area, took to surfing. However, Brian took to it with a diligence that at times kept me awake at night. A colleague once took me aside and told me that if I did not step in on this, my son would wind up a surf bum.
My second son, Brendan, spent countless hours in the shed in our back yard playing a set of drums he bought for himself. When he was not playing his drums, he was painting. The first painting of his that he asked me to come out to the shed to see was an illustration of Dante’s inferno. Brendan was 12 years old. The summer he turned 13 he landed a part in the Virginia Beach Summer Shakes production of Hamlet. Every summer on, Brendan was memorizing his lines for yet another play by Shakespeare, while filling the shed with his paintings, and keeping all our neighbors abreast of his progress as a drummer. The drama teacher at his high school requested he audition for the school play, but Brendan responded with a pithy No.
Middle school and high school are not easy. Having something to call all their own helped each of my sons navigate through that difficult time. Covid 19 is also a difficult time. My two sons taught me something about difficult times. Each evening as I get ready for bed, I check the weather one last time on my Ipad. Specifically, I am checking the wind, because if it is out of the north, I know tomorrow is a no-go. But if the wind is from the east, south (the best), or west, I am on the beach at 8 am for a one-mile open water swim on the Chesapeake Bay. It does not much matter what happens the rest of the day if I can spend this hour in the water with the ospreys soaring above me and dolphins in a line heading out to the ocean. Later in the day, around four or five, I make my way to the shed where I have my paints and brushes and canvases and I attempt to paint, perhaps, that sky I saw that morning or that flower just blossomed in my garden. Dinner is often late.
Brian still surfs on his days off from flying search and rescue missions for the United States Coast Guard. Search and rescues are typically undertaken in horrendous weather. A pilot has to have an almost innate understanding of the weather to fly in those conditions. Brian loves his job as much as he loves watching the sun rise astride his surfboard. Brendan wins the prize every Christmas as I open his present which is a painting done just for me. I always weep with joy. Brendan went on to self-teach himself the electric guitar, the acoustic guitar, the Irish Bouzouki, the accordion, the tin whistle, the bodhran…..His apartment in New York resembles a music store as his instruments are hanging on all the walls. Brendan works with middle schoolers in New York City‘s neediest public schools in programs that bring these students the arts -be it drama, art, or music.
Don’t get me wrong. Swimming and painting do not solve all my problems. Not by a long shot. Nor does surfing or playing the bouzouki solve all my sons’ problems. But cherished activities give a respite from it all, allowing us to clear our heads and take on another day in this tough world – be it high school or Covid 19.