It will be 10 years this October since Luke began his journey into rhino conservation. It all started with a simple birthday party request: “Please bring donations for rhino conservation in lieu of gifts” was the odd phrase that graced Luke’s party invitation that year and many years to come.
Yes, you read that correctly — a 5-year old boy (turning 6) decided “No, Mom, I don’t need more Legos — let’s help save my favorite animal from extinction instead.” …Totally normal!
Fast forward to today, July 12, 2021 and I am sitting on United Airlines flight #UA188 headed to Johannesburg, South Africa with a now teenager by my side. We are traveling to Johannesburg to work with “Endangered Rhino Conservation”, the organization to which our company donates. We will be trimming the horns of rhinos to increase their survival rate by 85% and working on the reserve with the scientist gathering research and helping with a controlled fire burn. We have raised over $17,000 for rhino conservation, and it is all because of Luke’s selfless soul. We are making this international journey amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic. Arriving during a “Level 4” lockdown, alcohol ban, and the most dangerous time in recent South African history, as the citizens are rioting their government in protest. To top this all off, we will be greeted with a cold front when we arrive. All because of Luke, or as his two brothers like to say, at the fault of Luke.
Since the moment Luke was born, on October 19, 2004, weighing a whopping 10 pounds, this “little” boy has changed my life. I never would have predicted that he would grow into such an active, inquisitive, intelligent, selfless, argumentative, ‘bull-in-a-China-shop’ young man. He has challenged me to learn, to grow, and to think further outside of my comfort zone than I ever could have imagined.
Now, if you spend any amount of time with the ragtag, marching band that is our family, you will see in the first 10 minutes that Luke walks to the beat of his own drumline — complete with snare and cymbals. He often has his brothers (or the dog) in a headlock, and he can throw me over his shoulders, running through the house while I yell to put me down, unconvincingly due to my immense laughter. But, I wake up everyday inspired by this 16-year old, 5-foot 11-inch, 195-pound, size 13 shoe, adolescent. Luke’s strength and energy brings so much laughter to my soul — who cares if the kitchen is clean or the den is tidy? I have learned that joy, laughter and growth from lessons learned from my kids is really what it’s all about.
Luke does not eat his vegetables, which, as an all-natural food manufacturer, drives me bonkers! Playing chess with him is a humbling reminder that his intelligence is far superior to mine. Note: he once beat me in three moves, while reading a book on his phone. He challenges everything I say, and when he is not debating with me, he chooses to ignore my repeated requests to do anything (i.e., take out the trash, tidy his room, do his homework, and let’s not forget my biggest request: “Turn in his homework!”)
The homework request is ignored pretty much all the time. Until just before the end of the grading period, which results in an increased level of stress that certainly keeps my life interesting! I find myself saying (screaming?) “Luke!!” at least three times as often as his brothers’ Ayden and George’s names. Luke is my middle child, so you would expect him to be the easiest to manage, since he is sandwiched between two examples of how to behave. Yet, he is forever getting lost, misplacing his things, busy reading books online, or preoccupied with video games. He by far has been the most challenging child to raise out of my three boys.
However, he has also been the most amazing teacher. I am not sure whether it’s God, the Universe, or my Guardian Angel mother who may be responsible for sending me a living, breathing lesson in “Things are not going to be perfect, Mom” and “Let’s live the change NOW!” but I wouldn’t trade it for a single moment.
As a mother, my children have truly made an imprint on my soul. Who I am and who I am becoming as a woman and head of our family business, is proof that my kids are more teachers to me than I am to them. And yes, I have coached them in everything from football, to church choir, to soccer, to theater. I taught them to walk, to read, to eat, and all the other essential life skills that fall into our job description as parents. But, if we are being honest, I think we can all agree that our kids always teach us, too.
Out of my entire ragtag, marching band, Luke has been my most unexpected Guru. The lessons he has taught me have all made me a better person and mother.
His selfless and empathetic nature have led to a thriving small family business. Through Luke, I have learned patience, empathy, compassion, and life lessons I will never forget like “The world does not revolve around you Mom” or “Perfect is boring!” Most importantly, I’ve learned to live by the motto “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
As I write this, Luke is sitting next to me in Row 39, fidgeting because there is not enough room for his long legs (no we did not pay for the extra leg room). I look over at him, brush his hair out of his eyes, hand him a snack, and thank him for bringing us to South Africa. Luke replies with his sarcastic, witty sense of humor, “Mom, we’re not there yet, so technically I haven’t really brought us to South Africa! Besides, I think you may want to thank the group of pilots who are flying in the middle of a storm, but let’s first see if they are successful.”
Fighting a big laugh, I reply, “Yes, sweetheart, we’ll thank the pilots at the end of this flight.” With a kiss on the cheek and a side hug, I imagine all the adventures awaiting us alongside Luke’s favorite animal, The Great Chubby Unicorn, AKA the rhino.