Our oldest son is turning 15 years old this week and is behaving like a true teenager. These days he walks around the house with his noise-cancelling headset on to listen to electronic music. He usually doesn’t hear us calling out to him and would talk loudly back at us because of the on-going music in his ears. He doesn’t seem to walk anymore but dances happily to the music while moving around the house. It’s not easy to get Jacob to do certain things these days and he is extremely territorial about his room. Only his little brother and Liam, our cat, are allowed anytime in his room. He knows his parents’ visit would usually lead to them admonishing him to tidy up, which has been a source of frequent conflict between us and him. We ask him to tidy up out of fear (irrational?) of him growing up into a messy adult with a messy life. He resents us telling him what to do with his room since he feels his room is the only place where he can exert control (or rather a lack of it). We kept telling him that although tidying-up is not a big issue in the large scheme of life, it still matters because our attitudes towards small things lead to our views and performance on big things. But I think he will need more steady discussion about why that is so.
I feel this is a turning point in our relationship with Jacob. He is no longer our sweet, obliging little one who would go along implicitly with our opinions on matters even though we still definitely have a great influence on him. He trusts us and talks to us about what he thinks and we encourage him to be honest about his opinions. Jacob has proven to be more opinionated and judgmental than we thought him to be. Knowing him to be sensitive, we have been making an effort not to nag him too much and often, especially about such matters as the state of his desk, bookshelf and room as well as personal hygiene. However, the job of parents is unavoidably challenging because, while emotionally sensitive to criticism and prone to angry outbursts, teenagers need a lot of guidance and a firm hand from their elders. As Erma Bombeck aptly noted, children need their parents’ love most when they don’t deserve it.
Thanks to his sweet and sensitive nature, we have always been able to enjoy light-hearted, cozy family time with Jacob. We were so smitten with baby Jacob when he was born because we were brand-new parents and utterly enchanted by our little creature with his big round eyes, fresh milky smell, chubby face, tiny fingers and toes as well as gurgling sounds. I still remember vividly our first night at home with baby Jacob. He didn’t like the green night light in our bedroom and wouldn’t stop screaming while trying to claw his face with his long fingernails. I cried helplessly out of sheer exhaustion and cluelessness as to what to do. Thankfully my Mom and David were there to help hold Jacob so I could calm down and rest a little bit. My Mom rushed to give me a glass of warm milk to try to calm me down. After the first few months, David, Jacob and I started settling into our new family routine and enjoying our time together more. All the baby clothes provided by Great-Grandparents Huntley, Grammie and Auntie Karen helped make Jacob look fresh, fun, and adorable every single day. When Jacob was 6 months old, we discovered the British show Keeping Up Appearances which we enjoyed watching together almost every evening. I think our family tradition of watching British shows started then, when Jacob was 6-months-old in St Louis, Missouri.
Fast forward a couple years when Jacob was a toddler. We lived in an apartment in the suburb of Saigon, Vietnam. We had such a sweet time as a young family. Toddler Jacob was the special glue that bonded David and me in our parenting responsibilities and joyous moments. He spoke both Vietnamese and English and delighted us and my family to no end with his funny manners. As the first grand-child, Jacob drew all the attention from his Vietnamese family people. His grandparents and aunt visited him and us every Sunday when my Mom would bring along food she had prepared for our weekly family meal. We liked taking him out in his stroller everyday for exercise and entertainment. He would play at the playground in our apartment complex every morning and toured the neighborhood with us (in his stroller) in the evenings. We would visit nearby neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds together. Life with a small child presents simple and unambitious tasks to accomplish since one’s routine revolves mostly around the child’s care. We were primarily focused on our basic needs of feeding, bathing, resting and some entertaining. Every evening before bedtime, we would sit together in our living room, and toddler Jacob would have a bowl of raisins as a snack before being taken upstairs for getting tucked in. Afterwards, David and I would order sweet milk bubble tea to be delivered to us to sip when we watched some TV to unwind before going to bed ourselves. Life was satisfactorily uncomplicated.
We enjoyed traveling together as a small family. We would take Jacob halfway across the world from Vietnam to visit our American family. During those trips, we loved staying in and visiting Seattle when we landed on the West Coast before flying onto the Midwest. Once in Seattle, we had a grand time watching the Winter Olympics together in our comfortable hotel room. Jacob was fascinated by all the Winter Olympics activities and by the space needle near downtown Seattle which we could see out of our hotel window. Such a treat to be able to take a pause during a long, exhausting international flight and do some fun activities! From Vietnam, we also took Jacob to Singapore a few times to visit one of my cousins who was studying there. On our first trip to Singapore, we walked around everywhere while David held toddler Jacob in his arms. That time, we covered so many miles on foot in Singapore that we felt we must have walked around the whole surface of this small city-country during our four-day stay. Our last trip to Singapore took place when I was pregnant with James. When James was a baby, we took our kids to the beach in Thailand, where Jacob first discovered his love for the ocean waves and beach vacations.
Fast forward 10 years; we are now living in Kentucky, USA. We have continued to follow our family traditions of watching British shows and comedies as well as traveling together. We have endured one more international move from Vietnam to the U.S. and some major career changes. I wouldn’t say that we have managed to get through such giant changes unscathed, but we have managed to retain and revive our family rituals at mealtimes and bedtimes, our humor, and some enthusiasm for the future. Introspectively, I must confess that added responsibilities, certain disappointments, and just the sheer vicissitudes of life have caused David and I to be a lot more weary of the world outside the walls of our home. Thankfully, our children have kept our feet firmly grounded on God’s marvelous Earth while also contributing to our maturity, patience and growing spirituality. I suppose with children and age, one loses youthful vitality and a sense of easygoing fun, but, on the other hand, one gains in wisdom and grace in the long run if one plays one’s cards right. No matter how good one’s parenting strategies though, parents’ joy would oftentimes be mixed with a certain degree of exhaustion, worry and guilt.
These days Jacob’s personalities and tastes have revealed themselves more than ever before. He has become a great help to us with domestic chores. Yay! He loves his home, his family, the outdoors, electronic and light rock music, his books about history and science, and the Simpsons. He has a good sense of humor. He enjoys spending time with his brother, traveling with us, telling us about what he finds funny in the Simpsons as well as what he learns through independent reading. He is especially mesmerized by the Harry Potter and the Chronicle of Narnia series. As regards music, beside electronic music, he likes Daft Punk, Billy Joel, David Bowie, R.E.M., and Cold Play. At one point, he seemed quite addicted to Daft Punk. Whenever we are in the car together, I would have Jacob listen to some classic rock songs David and I enjoy (Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fleetwood Mac for example) with the purpose of trying to bridge the generational gap in artistic tastes. Needless to say, I don’t always succeed. He doesn’t care for Elton John music which David and I adore but has taken to James Taylor whom we all would enjoy listening to in the evenings at home. He doesn’t care for Norah Jones who is one of my favorite singers. Electronic music is seemingly his favorite kind of music right now.
No one can stop the onward roll of time and the tide of life. Jacob is growing up and will need a lot of help in finding his place step-by-step in the world at large. Such a task is both daunting and exciting for all of us. I have a vision of Jacob being a scientist one day. Jacob is quite interested in learning about the natural world, especially about the ocean. He actually told us once that we humans know more about the surface of Mars than about the ocean. I sometimes think oceanography is an appropriate field for him, but I can be completely off-the-mark here. Besides, as my experience is that life often doesn’t conform to our expectation and plans, he could end up doing something completely different. As his parents, all we can do now is to enjoy life with Jacob (when there is not too much conflict), to maintain our family rituals while he’s still home with us and to let him know we care for him, especially when we’re upset with each other.