Jake's teachers gave us an assignment on Back to School night. We were to describe our children in a million words or less, telling them anything we thought they should know about our kids. I did the assignment the night before, and this is what I came up with (it's long . . . I was inspired!).
From the 24 anguished hours we spent until we had the ultrasound that told us the test results for spina bifida were wrong to his arrival about a month early due to my dangerously high blood pressure and his lack of response on a stress test, Jake did not come into this world easily. I left for a routine doctor’s visit, papers I was grading strewn around the table, and came home five days later with a newborn. A very tiny newborn who looked like he was swimming in his preemie sized outfits. Our journey into parenthood was off to quite the start!
Jake’s first year was one of almost constant sickness from him, starting with one quarantined stint in the hospital when he was six weeks old. Some things never leave you, and the sight of the nurses donning scrubs and masks before our entering our room is one of them and the sight of him, tiny and connected to tubes and barely able to breathe through his coughing is another. But the image that I focus on is that of his pediatrician, coming into our room three days later in regular clothes, holding Jake up, and telling us he looked fine and to take him home and enjoy him. And enjoy him we have . . . and I hope you will too.
I tell you his beginnings for no other reason than I have to begin somewhere. Jake was an adored baby, the first grandchild on my side, and the first boy in two generations. Our lives revolved around him as much as they could as we balanced our jobs, growing up (we were 25 when he was born), and enjoying our baby more than anything in the world. Like all first time parents, we did too much for him, bought him too many toys, and took hundreds of photos each year.
Content to sit while I read student papers to him as I graded, Jake would stare at me as I talked. He would study the toys on his bouncy seat bar with an intensity that I didn’t know babies could have. He was a very serious baby. He smiled and laughed but not constantly and only if something was really funny. He was very attached to us, and he liked a calm and peaceful environment. We read to him all the time, and he loved dancing with me in his room to Irish lullabies before he went to sleep. As a young toddler, he would spend hours with blocks and balls and books, and there were times he was so quiet we’d almost forget he was there. There will be times in class that I’m sure that he’ll seem to be not listening or in another world. Know that he does it at home, too. We always call him back to earth but have come to understand that he usually does not mean disrespect when he does this. Not that it should go uncorrected but know that it comes from his tendency to totally lose himself in what is interesting him in the moment. We parent using natural consequences (except in cases of harm), and there are many walls that bear Jake’s imprint because he was too busy thinking about something or talking about something to notice they were there and walked right into them.
Jake talks a lot. I’m sure you will notice that—probably already have. Once he started talking as a toddler, he didn’t really stop. Know that we’ve worked with him for years on not interrupting—and still do. And know that he will most likely interrupt you or get so worked up with what he’s talking about that he barely takes a breath. Tell him to be quiet or tell you later . . . in his own world, Jake might not notice that you are in the middle of coordinating activities with 16 other students when he starts talking to you about the different levels of biological classification. He can talk extremely fast if he’s particularly interested in what he’s talking about—he’s no stranger to being told to SLOW DOWN AND TAKE A BREATH.
Jake never really liked preschool; he merely tolerated it. He was content to talk to the teachers but had a hard time connecting with the children. At the time, I thought he was showing signs of autism. Now, I realize that the kids couldn’t talk to him like the adults could and he couldn’t relate to the kids. He had friends at school, but he didn’t really play with other children outside of preschool—even his cousins. In kindergarten, Jake blossomed socially. He made friends and came home talking about typical kid things every day. We were thrilled, and to this day, Jake’s friends are very important to him. They accept him, and means a lot to Jake. He is loyal to them and protective of them.
Jake did relate to his preschool peers when they were sad, however. If there was a new child or a child having a bad day, he would sit with them and read to them or just sit and be near them. His teachers said it was very sweet to see, and to this day, Jake has an immense amount of empathy for people. He is very loyal, and he has a very strong faith. He feels things very deeply, though he doesn’t often show it outwardly unless at home. News of disasters and deaths hit him hard, and while he may not show it at school, he will at home. In the past few months, he’s lost a great-grandfather and a grandfather and been to both funerals. It was not easy on him. He’s had an uncle in Afghanistan and his aunt is currently serving in Kuwait. He worries about them and their safety, and I know that he’s much happier when they are on American soil.
Jake tends to get very anxious. Part of it is probably our fault—as first time parents with the beginning we had, we were probably too protective and over cautious. All through his childhood, Jake has been an extremely cautious and sometimes overly-timid child. Sometimes this manifests itself as helplessness (in kindergarten, he had the girls tie his shoes for him rather than do it himself) or anxious tics. Know that we work with him at home at finding ways to alleviate his stress and anxiety, but you may see some effects of it (eye blinking, nail biting, shirt tucking).
Jake is very bright. We never really thought much of it until kindergarten when his teacher asked me if I worked with him at home. I had no idea what she meant and she told me he was very smart—one of the brightest kids she’d ever met. Honestly, this was a surprise to us. Jake was simply Jake, and he was all we’d ever known. Teachers continue to say they same thing, as do many people who meet Jake. His grades are very important to him. He loves to take standardized tests every year, and he takes great pride in his scores. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, he loves sharing what he knows with others—sometimes to the point of over saturation. Jake has been very much a read it, learn it, and take the test kind of student. As an educator who is more philosophically aligned with performance based and authentic assessments, I find this interesting—and perplexing. Even this soon into the year, however, I’m noticing that he’s learning information and applying it to his world and the larger world around him in different ways. We’ve had some great talks about what he’s learning, and I’m sure we’ll have more . . . middle schoolers are fascinating people!
One area that we feel he needs to grow and develop is his creative thinking and problem solving when it comes to certain types schoolwork. Learning content and facts is not an issue for him. At home, I try to help him see the forest through the trees—understand the bigger picture and why he’s learning things and doing projects. A pretty stringent rule follower, Jake tends to get anxious with project guidelines and rules, doing only exactly what is asked. We work with him to get past that and to use his projects as ways to creatively show what he knows about a topic. Give him a box of KNEX or LEGO (his obsession), and he can build you an arsenal of Marine weapons or a bridge. But give him a book report that allows for creativity, and he clams up and gets anxious. We encourage him but also let him know that not everyone is good at everything and it’s okay not to like a project or feel totally comfortable with it . . . but there is always something to be learned and applied to the bigger picture.
I hope this has given you some idea of what Jake is like. I know it’s long and I can get wordy, but I want you to have an idea of who the whole Jake is—at least as we see him. Now to the part that feels a bit braggy . . .
We think Jake is an amazing kid. He has his faults and as our first child, I’m sure some of them are our fault. He’s smart, engaging, and he has a wicked sense of humor. Though we are firm in our roles as his parent and not his friend, we are honest with Jake and talk to him about whatever he wants. We encourage him to think and question and explore. He loves to read, and I love having a son that thinks it’s cool to sit and read with me, each with our own book but in the same room. He reads almost non-stop actually, and we think he has a near photographic memory (especially with non-fiction). I call him our family historian because he can often remember details about events that I cannot (this can be annoying too . . . some things I wish he’d forget!). He is fun to be around (when he’s not being an obnoxious preteen, of course), and we are so proud of him that words cannot adequately express how blessed we are that he is our son. We often look at ourselves and wonder how we managed to create such a person. The world is a better place because he is in it.
Enjoy your year with him. Take him down a notch when he needs it and demand nothing but the best from him. Know that he loves school and learning, and you will often see him in what we call the “Jake Zone.” His eyes tend to widen and he often gets really quiet and takes everything in intensely, and you can almost feel his brain working. He reads and loves LEGO and plays video games and still laughs at Spongebob and if we’d let him, he’d eat us out of house and home. He is excited to be starting middle school, and we are thankful that he is a part of our lives.