Susie Csorsz Brown
Back to school letter to my boys
My dearest boys,
So excited! School is about to start! Admit it: you’re looking forward to a bit more structure in your day, right? Summer is a nice laid-back time, but … it is good to have a more regular schedule. I know you’re not excited for classes to start so much as you are to see your friends. What fun it will be to tell them all about your summer, your adventures, and your triumphs! So much and so little has changed.
One thing I know we ALL are hoping for is no more masks. Ugh, so TIRED of COVID already. I know wearing a mask helps protect you as well as those around you but … honestly, the world is so much better when we can go mask-free, when we can see the faces of those around us, hear voices clearly, not have sweat rings under the mask; I don’t know, I feel like all of my senses are dulled when I wear the darn mask. Well, things will hopefully continue to improve with COVID in our country and city, and we can hope that at least that little piece will be back to ‘normal’. It’s hard to know what that means, though, right? What will our new normal be for school and for work? Promise me this: if you have a question, please come to me first so I can make sure you have the information you need. We can never be 100% sure we are not going to be sick, and sometimes we have to take small risks to do important things. School is an important thing. Know this too: we made sure you three got your vaccines, but not all kids have been so fortunate. This is not the time to pass judgement on anyone about their decision whether or not to vaccinate; we do what we can, and let others do what they feel they can too. Let’s do what we can to mitigate our own risk and leave others to take care of themselves.
So the elephant in the other corner: the economic situation in our home country. This little island is struggling. The debt this country has amassed is huge, and the struggle to stay above water in payment has made things really complicated here. We are so very fortunate because our electricity, fuel and cooking gas are taken care of. Sure, we have to put a lot more effort into finding the foods we love in the variety we have become accustomed to, but again, we are fortunate because we have access to mail, we have access to the commissary, and we have enough money to pay the now-exorbitant prices for essentials like flour, eggs, fruits and veggies, and dairy products. Most Sri Lankans can’t say the same. Most are going hungry, having to be creative with their methods of cooking, having to wait in long, long lines for fuel and cooking fuel. Most have to choose between rice or power, because they can’t afford both. We do what we can to help, but it is a drop in the vast and deep bucket. Some of your friends at school may be struggling. Listen to their stories, hold their hand when they waiver, and be there to support them as we can. It is a hard hard time for this country; we are lucky to be here now, to see how determination and love of a country can help pull things together.
I so hope this year will include some sports. It’s been more than two years since you three have been able to participate in team sports. Sure, there were a handful of games last year (with O rocking that winning kick for the soccer tournament!) and sure, we’ve had some epic family basketball matches, created an indoor handball court of sorts in the house, and are getting really good at spike ball, but it just isn’t the same. I firmly believe there are huge benefits for you to participate in team sports, and I so wish that will happen this year. Wouldn’t it be great if you could be on the travel team? To go, represent our school at the international tournaments? Wouldn’t that be amazing if you could go together? Wouldn’t it be great to have that experience, further developing your team contribution skills and getting much-needed time for movement? I know time for schoolwork is important, and you’ll have even more homework this year, but with good time management (also an important skill to develop!), you will get it done.
This is our last year with all of you in the house. I’m not ready for that! It isn’t as though this is a surprise; high school graduation and heading off to university is not something that sneaks up on us! I am struggling, though, to wrap my head around the fact that L is graduating. Graduating and deciding where in the world he wants to start his next adventure. It blow my mind that we have reached this point; L, because it was a minute ago that we came home from the hospital, I laid you on the bed, and stared at you with all of the fear and awe and love in my heart; I did not feel ready to be responsible for another human being… and now that human being is ready to go out and do things on his own. We still have a ways before that happens, and know that I will likely nag and remind you too much to do the needful for applications; this comes from the same fear, awe, and love because all that I want for you is now part of a different adventure that won’t always include me. And as much as that breaks my heart, I know that is exactly what needs to happen.
We’ve been peaking over the hill at the factory that is the University application process for a while now; this year we will really get into the mud. How getting into and going to university has become such a complicated process, I’ll never know, but here we are and this too we can figure out. Forms, and tests, and tours … oh my! I think we can wrestle this beast (a.k.a. the college admission process) into submission, but wow, does it ever feel daunting. Understand that it doesn’t matter where in the world you end up for university so long as it is a place that helps you continue your learning journey, applauds your curiosities, and enables you to discover your path. Maybe it won’t be your forever path; maybe there will be twists and turns. That path, though, should inspire you to continue exploring, continue forward, continue learning. Take a more challenging option, understand that through struggle, we learn valuable lessons.
Also, valuable life lessons are everywhere. Take care, sure, but know that sometimes taking too much care (read: being too wary or too careful) leads to not trying hard enough. Be open to learning. Be open to making a mistake. Be open to trying again and again and again until it feels more right. And then maybe trying yet again.
Remember how lucky you are: you have two people in your school space who will by your side no matter what. Siblings are awesome that way. We have another year here, and it’s comforting to go back to the classroom, back into the security and casual acceptance of your circle of supportive friends. I hope you can extend a hand and an invitation to the new kids we know are coming; that new child, they, too, have something to offer. They, too, want a circle of acceptance. Be brave and share yours. One can never have too many friends. Reach out to the new kid. We have been there, right? Let's make the first lonely day easier for someone. I know it can be hard, too, to be the one to approach the new faces on the playground. You never know: Are they going to be kind in return? Are they going to smile and reciprocate? Are they going to accept? You can’t know without trying, but that first step can take so much courage. If we are not face-to-face, and you only see the new kids on the screen, it takes minimal effort to engage them in a chat. Help them feel included, make that connection. Take that first step, reach out a hand.
Three words to remember, my boys. 1. Kindness. 2. Compassion. 3. Bravery. Embrace these qualities, my boys, and be the force that embraces rather than rejects. Use those big hearts of yours, be aware, and don’t let bullying happen. Be watchful for those who are not as compassionate; reach out to those who might be ill-treated. Sadly, on every playground, on every school yard, there will be one or another who pulls others down. It doesn’t matter why it happens; don’t let that happen on your watch. Be brave and stand up for what you know to be the higher path. Use peer pressure to bring about positive change. It takes a lot of bravery to stand up against one of your peers, to call them on negative behavior, but know this: Positive peer pressure can make a difference. Don’t stand by and let negative words wreak havoc. As the saying goes ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ It is not your job to fix their hurt, but sometimes, just acknowledge their place in the world, show them that you see them, and do not respond with negative behavior.
Tough conversations, maybe a dispute or two, how you handle these situations, and how you try to exemplify goodness, this becomes the standard by which you stand and measure all of the other encounters you have. Acknowledge the goodness you see in other people, too.
Boys, another suggestion, if I may. Be the example kid in class. Be the one that your classmates go home and tell their mom and dad about at the dinner table because they admire you so. Be the kid that other kids want to be. And be that dinner-table-conversation-topic kid not because you are the smartest or the coolest, and not because you are the fastest or the funniest. Be that kid because you are the kindest. And because you reach out and you include. To be known as someone who is kind is one of the greatest compliments a person can garner.
We hear often about community and the importance of being a positive and contributing member of said community. Words and intentions – however well-meaning – can get tangled up and twisted. Remember: a person is a person because of other people. Find ways to contribute to the community, build up those around you, to enhance rather than beat down. Sure, not everyone is going to reciprocate, or be like-minded. Those who do, they will gladly smile back. Those who don’t, well, maybe they need your positivity more than anyone else. There is no beauty but the beauty of action. Thoughts and words may be enticing but it is our actions that hold the real reward. Our actions have the power to change the world around us and inspire others in our lives to get up and take action too. Make your actions positive, and make them count. Think about what you can do to take personal responsibility. Not just for you, for your own body, but also for your actions and each other. Embrace a collective mindset: look out for each other. If something happens to one of you, it happens to all of you. This is about finding how much ‘us’ we can build into the world, and including as many people in that ‘us’ as possible.
My boys, this school year that is about to open? So many adventures await you. Embrace them. I can’t wait to hear about each and every one of them. May you wake up every day, enthused for another day of learning, of being amazing boys, and of making the most of the opportunities you are lucky enough to enjoy every single day.
It’s a privilege to be here, a privilege be present. The farther you venture from our own little corner in this world, the more you may feel as though you are on your own; know that I always have your back.
I love you all, with all of my heart, more than you will ever know.