During the first week of fifth grade, my newly-minted middle schooler learned how to use email. His social studies teacher set each student up with an account linked to gmail through the school, and she showed them the basics of how to manage the technology, encouraging parents to send their kids a message using this platform. Eager to take advantage of the opportunity to communicate to one of my children via email for the first time, I carefully modeled a format that I’ve spent a long time considering, wondering if he’d use mine as a sort of boilerplate and respond in kind or whether he’d develop his own interpretation of salutation, closing, content, and tone. When I opened my email that evening to discover his response, what I found was easily the single most magnificent email I think I’ve ever received.
I love it so much that I even resisted the urge to point out the homophonic misapplication in that last line, instead reveling in the fact that he hadn’t copied my style but had borrowed from it what features he preferred, combined with his very own approach to punctuation, syntax, layout, and structure. It is truly a thing of beauty to behold this very concrete evidence of a young person’s growth and personal progress, to see his voice take on its own individual dimension, to witness the manifestation of so many efforts in the production of a single message, to see it spelled out in black and white but with a countless catalogue of elemental color hidden there between the lines.
And what’s more is the postscript that occurred in our house that night: my middle-school son followed through with the laundry, and the next morning he even took it out of the dryer, put it into a laundry basket with the mesh bags of clean masks on top of the pile, and brought it downstairs for folding. The kids may still be in their first full week of the school year, but I feel like I just graduated.