My thirteen-year-old son, Nicholas, walks into the house, leaving the door swinging open behind him, and announces, “Mom, seize the carp! I’m going to DFC (a local bike shop). I’ll check in later.” I know that “later” means sometime before dark and that his travels may start at the bike shop but may extend to the coffee shop, the wildlife refuge, two or three friends’ houses, and the nearest park with decent makeshift bike ramps. This expression, seize the carp, which he extracted from a movie, has been adopted by Nicholas to humorously remind all in our household of a very important life concept. It was derived from the Latin phrase, Carpe diem, which means, “Seize the day.”
I need to tell you about Nicholas in order to fully convey the magnitude of what he is teaching us. Academically, he is just about as average as a student can be. He understands concepts presented to him and can study to a test if forced to, but he has never presented much more than mediocrity in these pursuits. At an early school age, Nicholas would have been a prime candidate for medication in a public school setting. He had more wiggle and seeming inattentiveness than my constitution often could handle.
But, now enters the stage, Nicholas as a young teenager. What a cool kid! He has determined that his life will be filled with experiences that must be capitalized upon when they present themselves—for tomorrow may be too late.
He lives in a little four-man tent in the backyard, which he has named “The Hut.” He moved into it in early spring because he wanted to see how long he could last. It is now fall, and he has no immediate plans to move back into the house. He watched in childlike wonder when he sprouted bean seeds between two, wet paper towels and then planted them beside The Hut.
On a whim, two weeks after moving into The Hut, Nicholas crawled into a pickup with his grandfather and traveled 300 miles to the ranch to work cattle on horseback, from sunup to sundown, for the next two weeks. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of his young life.
Nicholas backpacked fifty miles over the Pecos Wilderness this summer and over Guadalupe Peak last summer.
He is a hunter. At twelve, he shot his first buck. At thirteen, he killed a wild turkey—something of which many seasoned hunters cannot boast. He speaks fondly of sitting on the hunting lodge porch with his daddy, watching the wildlife parade before them.
He is now the youngest regular volunteer at the South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where for the last two years he has helped rehabilitate injured wildlife for release back into the wild. They have just asked him to consider working with the birds of prey.
Nicholas essentially apprenticed himself to that bike shop I mentioned at the beginning of this article. He conveyed to the owner and full-time personnel that whether it was taking out the trash or helping to build or repair a bicycle, he was a willing learner and worker and wanted to be there. He has built two small ramps for BMX biking. He is asking for permission to design and build a much larger system.
He enrolled himself in two classes at the nearest public junior high school for this year because he said that as a home schooler, he had never experienced a classroom setting.
He and his guitar teacher just cut a CD with a song he wrote and played. We never knew he had learned enough to do that, because he plays only to himself when he turns introspective. How many of us take to time to listen to our thoughts and create in that way?
Nicholas is teaching us what may be the most important life lesson ever. He is telling us, in various ways, that academic pursuits have their place and will have an even more important role in his future, but not at the expense of life experiences in the here and now.
He is my third child. I am now able to see what I wish I could have seen from the beginning. He is right. Formal academics can be quickly caught up later, especially with myriad rich life experiences upon which to draw, as points of reference to make theoretic academic concepts come to life. However, the process cannot be reversed. To put off life experiences so that academics can take first place means to lose those life experiences altogether forever—a tragedy indeed!
What is on your heart and in your mind to pursue right now? What is on your child’s mind? Does your student want to build a fort out of video tapes or maybe climb up on the roof with a blanket and his guitar? Is it a little risky? Is it worth the risk? Carpe diem! Seize the day! Or, in Nicholas’s beloved play on words, “Seize the carp!”