Umberto turned 13this summer. We pulled him out of school for the final time when he was nine. He still wasn't reading much, and he seemed to be so far behind academically that he would never catch up. But he was also unhappy in school. He wasn't catching up either. I was told by a couple of teachers that his problem was simply that he had a low IQ and that my desire to make it something else was wishful thinking. And I just realized that if I left him in school that he was going to be ground down and destroyed. We pulled him because, really, we had come to realize, this shit just didn't matter.
"Why prepare our kids to hate life?" H said as we lay there one night discussing what we should do.
And for the most part, I was able to let go of the fear of him "succeeding." When I started to feel scared, or worried, I remembered swimming. How they all learned to swim by playing in the pool summer after summer. By watching their father who is an excellent swimmer. I remembered sitting under the darkening sky, as the pool lights flashed on, sending ripples of light over the water, as their smooth bodies dove again and again beneath the shining water. How they swam with such confidence and such grace. They had not needed lessons. Yes they lacked precision, and professional polish. But they didn't want to win a race, or prove anything to anyone. They swam because quite simply they loved to swim.
[Later on, this holding of memory would serve me as I struggled with not being accepted into a Ph.D program. I would remember that perhaps we should do things for love not for fame, not for recognition, not to get ahead, not to get a job. That, though, is another story for another time.]
A couple of years ago, H and I did start to have conversations with Umberto about his future. His goal at 11 was to work at Gamestop. A dream job to a boy who loves his Xbox. I admit to trying to push a little towards game design or some such career. But he was resistant to that direction of conversation. A few times he said "Yeah I'd like that...I'd like to go to college" but when we tried to work with him on college prep material, he was not interested. We would fight. Frustration would set in, and I would remember the swimming. I would remember how we once tried to pressure him into being on a swim team and how for a time his love dimmed. So I backed away.
This summer we assured Umberto that we would respect any decision that he made with his life. I had been doing a lot of re [thinking] about success, intelligence, etc. I had to reevaluate my own priorities and expectations. So much of my insecurity derives from never feeling like I'm good enough. There has been too much sadness over the things I thought people expected me to do and too little joy over what I already had achieved. I realized at some point, that I often did things not because I love them but because I thought that these were the things expected from me.
And Umberto announced to me one day, "I want to go to college." And he didn't let it go. He made it clear that he wasn't sure what he wanted to do in college but that he could see that as a goal someday. We talked about some different curriculums, and books to read. Umberto loves history and science. He started talking about writing game ideas down, and he loved how he could work history into those ideas. He wants to work on writing fiction--something I never expected from him.
Each morning he gets up, and he's ready to work. He's getting things now that he didn't get last year, and things that left us both in tears, he sails through. Today he was reading to me some interesting (aka gross things) he had learned about cells, and said "I'll have no problem writing about the interesting things today." And I said "You know Umberto whenever you find something really interesting we can put this other stuff on hold while you pursue it." He looked at me and smiled "I know."