My 13 year old went for a 3D2N camp with his school last week. It is his second year and the camps get tougher and wilder each year. This year they were brought to a remote part of the island and they slept in a 8 men tent for one night. It was hot and humid and he didn’t sleep well. On the second night, he had his turn to sleep on a bunk bed and he told me it was good to have a bed to sleep in. The camp was tiring but he had fun.
Last year, the camp was part of his Secondary 1 school orientation and parents were invited to join in for the campfire. I was impressed by how the school managed to bring a bunch of rowdy boys together within such a short period of time. The boys hardly knew each other but I witnessed unity and camaraderie when I watched them perform and chant their cheers. I fell in love with his school and it was a wonderful feeling to know that your teenage child was in good hands.
Recently, during our Western Australia trip, we climbed one of those giant Karri lookout trees. We did the 51m tall Diamond tree at Manjimup. The only way up was by a “spiral staircase” that snaked around the tree all the way to the top. The “spiral staircase” was essentially made of meter long steel stakes driven into the side of the tree. You climb the staircase like a ladder. There were no handrails, no safety nets, no harnesses. One slip, you will probably fall to your death.
The sign said “To climb at your own risk” but it also claimed that so far nobody had died doing so. This boy took a good look around the tree, mumbled something to himself and made his way up. He reached the top in a single attempt on his own. My husband and I were awe struck.
I made it up during my 3rd attempt but with him accompanying me because he was worried that Mom would freak out! (Geez, I wonder who’s the parent!) Every step up was more mentally then physically exhausting. The final step onto the platform felt amazing. I was so proud of myself having conquered my fear. Even prouder to have my child who actually encouraged and ‘took care’ of me all the way up.
He is still very much the quiet boy but now with enough courage and confidence to scale a 51 meter tall tree.
He has an appetite for adventure and values deep friendships over brief acquaintances. We joke that he’s like an old soul trapped in a 13 year old body.
He competes in an individual sport in school and goes for training 3 days a week. The training is tough but it is one of those things that makes him look forward to school.
Like most teenagers, he enjoys playing video games and is good at it. He has his idea what makes a good game and a good gamer. I must say I now have a newfound respect for gamers who work constantly at improving their gameplay.
At times, I do wonder whether the choices and decisions we have made as parents have shaped him into what he his today.
He pretty much has a mind of his own since young. All the art and crafts we did with him didn’t make him love the arts more. But he did turn out to be pretty good at making things that require precision and a good understanding of physics and mathematics. I realised that it was because of his innate interest in numbers and logic.
We tried sending the 2 boys for soccer lessons when they were younger. It was interesting to see how differently they behaved during the games. While his younger brother was running around the field tackling the ball, this fellow preferred to observe the game and watch how the ball was being passed.
We learned that while it may be good to send them for formal lessons with professional coaches, knowing their characters and interests can help save a lot of tears and struggles. My husband and I decided to go easy with such formal coaching.
We do outdoor activities as a family. The money that would have otherwise been spent on formal lessons were splurged on holidays instead. To date, both boys have experienced hiking in diverse places – from muddy hills to rugged coasts with rocky trails and steep sandy paths. With each peak they climb, they learned the value of perseverance and determination.
When we returned this time to complete the Bald Head Trail after a failed attempt 2 years back, we hope they learned about bouncing back after a setback and fighting stronger after failing. To walk and sustain a good pace for 5 hours under the scorching sun, they learned about keeping on a difficult task over a sustained period of time. These are valuable lessons that we hope that will help them in life.
So was it Nurture or Nature?
I guess we can never be sure but I think parenting without an understanding of the child is like fighting a war without knowing the enemy.
Every thoughtful action as a parent is like dropping a seed into the garden of time. We don’t exactly know when and how it will grow, if it would even survive. Sometimes one of the seeds will blossom into something that we never expected.
The ultimate beauty that the seed brings to the garden may never be fully known, but I do believe that the more care and attention we give to our children, the more likely they will grow up to become happy, well adjusted individuals, successful in their own right.