May 8, 2010

May You Stay Forever Young

My son, Ian needed a photo for a bio so he and my photographer daughter went out in the garden for a photo shoot. He picked a different photo for the bio, but I liked this one the best.

Seventeen sounds so much older than sixteen. Seventeen sounds almost adult-like, and rings of moving on, moving up, and moving out. Our eldest son, Ian, turned seventeen earlier this week. He has one more year of high school, and if his plans work out he and his guitars will head to a college in Vancouver that has a renowned jazz program. He can't wait to get to the city where he was born.

He wasn't raised in the city, though - far from it. When he was but a week old, we bundled Ian up in his car seat and moved to Cranbrook in the East Kootenays, where my husband had landed a job with BC Parks. Ian was a chubby, bald little fellow, generally happy and mild mannered, a little mischevious with a stubborn streak. All of that still holds except for the chubby and bald part, and the mischeviousness has grown into a great sense of humour. I was 23 when he was born and I used to tell people, jokingly, "This is my son, Ian. We grew up together." While I took to motherhood like a fish to water, I found that, like most younger moms, I still had a lot of my own growing up to do, too.

Ian has been what I have termed a 'serial passionist'. It started with trucks and tractors, moved on to dinosaurs, then wild animals. With each new passion he would read and study everything there was to know about the subject exclusively. After the wild animal phase was done with he decided that hockey was 'it', but we put him in soccer - a game much better suited to his lanky frame (and our sensibilities as parents). He still plays competitively and enjoys the game very much in general, but once he had his hands on a guitar, music completely took over unlike any other passion he has ever had. I had decided even before I had children that they would take music lessons. Ian was not interested in the piano so he picked the other instrument we owned - an acoustic guitar. He took lessons for a few years but soon branched out on his own. His second music teacher taught him how to read tabulature (a number system for guitar, instead of music notes) and, thanks to the internet, which is chock full of 'tab', Ian has taught himself, by practising for hours and hours, how to be an accomplished guitarist. When he was starting to show real promise, at about age twelve, I played him Dire Straits' 'Sultans of Swing', to show him the famous Mark Knopfler guitar solo. "I'm going to learn that," he said in his firm, decided way. And he did. We began to share a real interest in music and it's so (I can't think of any other word to describe it) neat when he calls me into his room or over to the computer to show me a new artist he has discovered. In turn, I sometimes will be heard saying things like, "You should really hear Nina Simone sing that song," or "Can I borrow your Miles Davis album?"

Ian plays percussion for the wind ensemble in his school, and guitar for the jazz ensemble. He's already an experienced performer, with some coaching from his dad on how to conduct oneself in front of an audience, and has a rock/folk/alternative band that practises in our garage. Thanks to one musical cousin in particular (professional musician James Lamb) he is making connections in the music world already. He was invited to audition for the Youth Ignite Arts Festival in Vancouver, was accepted, and will perform in a couple of weeks. There's nothing lazy about Ian when it comes to music (and a lot lazy when it comes to cleaning his room), and I am so excited for him.

Accomplishments aside, I have come to trust the judgement of my level-headed steel-blue eyed first born. We have good talks in the kitchen when I'm cooking supper, about teenagers, about art and music, about how life is going to be when he leaves us. On Tuesday, about four in the afternoon I got inspired to make Ian a birthday card. I looked through a box of old photos and found one of him, at age eight, climbing one of the many wooden ladders on the West Coast Trail, and I immediately thought of Bob Dylan's song, 'Forever Young'. While I pasted the photo on the front of the card, I wiped away a few bittersweet tears pricking the corners of my eyes. Underneath the photo I wrote, "May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung." Inside the card I pasted another photo of Ian at age seven, perched atop a large tree stump at the lodge where we used to live (in both photos he is wearing a hat, just like now), and under that I wrote, "and may you stay forever young". I printed out the words to the song and pasted them in the card, too.

Later, when we were eating the coconut cake with chocolate ganache that he had requested I make for his birthday, we all gave him his presents. When he read my card, he looked at me with those wonderful eyes and said, "Mom, thank you. I really like the card. It's the best." Inside, fireworks of happiness were going off in my heart, but I didn't let it show too much - Ian doesn't like fuss. But I think, somewhere inside him, he knew how I felt, and he was grateful for my love, and for the love of his dad, and for all our hope and belief in him.

"Forever Young" by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
may you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
may you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.


  1. It might be an idea to put the bit in green 'under' the photo, it detracts from the impact of the essay for you are left wondering at the back of the mind, is it/isn't it, for you mentioned a few back that you were a bit of a boyish dresser for part of your youth.
    Your story about your son is truly lovely.

  2. Thanks, Vince. I think it works better the way you suggest, except the words did that funny thing they do and I can't be bothered to change it again!
    I was a boyish dresser, but by seventeen, I certainly looked like a girl! :)
    And thanks for your last comment.

  3. I was moved so much by this. Your son sounds a boy to be proud of - I'm already viewing Ed's growing up as a mixed blessing. I love him so passionately I can't imagine him up and away, but your post sums up what I hope our relationship may become in times to come. Beautiful. And as for the Dylan lyrics. They always say exactly the right thing.

  4. I really like the term 'serial passionist.' It's a worthy goal for all of us. How wonderful to read about his musical interests.

  5. Hello, Rebecca!
    I just stumbled on your blog. This was such a sweet post! I love what you wrote in the card. I'm sure he's going to treasure it forever.

  6. Oh, Becca, your post had me all sniffly. Such a beautiful photo, and really well-articulated momma-thoughts. On Saturday evening, we attended a farewell for a student heading off to graduate school, and despite the fact that her daughter had already left for college once before, the mother was a fountain of tears. I turned away else I start bawling too, and my eldest still has 3 years left of HS. Isn't it so impressive and astonishing to see the people they're growing into?

  7. Ian sounds like a wonderful young man. How thoughtful of him to thank you for your heartfelt card. He shall do well in the world, and you shall be proud.

    My Jonah is also a serial passionist, so we must be careful what we expose him too. For awhile he was on about zombies. That went over well at Sunday School. :)

  8. Kate: Yes,I agree, Dylan is amazing. I grew up on his music. Ian and I had our share of battles when he was younger, but we are good friends now and it really does make me very happy to be able to say that.

    Paul: I come from a family of musicians, so it is in his blood for sure. The serial passionist thing? I'm not so sure where that came from! Maybe my Dad.

    Sarira: I hope he will treasure it. He's not the sort to keep things, though.

    Val: watching my kids grow up is impressive and astonishing indeed! When I have time to think about it :)

    Tracey: That's so funny about Jonah and the zombies. They are a pretty 'hip' thing to be passionate about. I saw a book recently called Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies.

  9. Such a beautiful post -- so moving and open and true. You have captured exactly how I feel about my own son when he shares with me his world about a song or a story he's heard, or (best of all) a story he's written. Your connection will last a lifetime, outlasting any distances he travels. Lucky you! And lucky Ian. Happy Birthday to him!

  10. I could see a lot of myself/my eldest son in this post. My 17 year old's taste in music is far more radical than mine (hardcore/punk/heavy metal), but listening to him play is a joy to me because he's found his passion and he's really good. He plays four instruments but has decided to focus on bass guitar as his main instrument ... and graduates in a month. YIKES!

  11. Barbara: Thank-you, and I am glad you could relate to it. It is lovely to know that our connection will last, too, as yours has.

    Andrea: Glad you could relate, too. I don't get excited about every band Ian introduces me to, but as you say, it's such a joy to observe their passion. It's after all, what we want for our kids, isn't it?


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!