It's been seven years and nearly a lifetime of events since my divorce. It was my nephew Malcolm's mom who insisted that my son and I move in with her family, which included her husband and two children: Malcolm and Olivia. Malcolm was 10 years old and proved to be a lovable cousin and an example for my son, Zion. He even volunteered to let Zion sleep with him for nearly a week when Zion was 3 and I’d reached my threshold with breastfeeding. Night feedings had become the most difficult to stop—it’s hard to resist anything at 3 a.m. when you’re dirt tired. After a week in Malcolm’s bed, Zion was weaned, and though Malcolm had missed some sleep, he seemed happy to be able to help with such a crucial event for a mother and child.
As adults, we cannot know who the children in our lives will become. I’ve found that one of the most gratifying experiences of being a parent and an aunt is to witness children grow into independent, courageous trailblazers—people who look life in the face and ask, what is possible?
My nephew Malcolm Gossett (pictured below with his family) is a young man who drinks life up. It seems he never turns down an opportunity to discover more about himself and the world around him. Having known him nearly all of his life, I can recall the steps he’s taken to forge his identity. I remember the summer he spent reading what felt like a new book every other day. These were not assigned books, but rather pleasure reading for a 9-year-old boy. The sheer size of the books left me in awe of his ambition, and his speedy consumption of them made me curious about his thirst for knowledge. He’d spend entire days glued to his bed with his head in a book. It seemed he only moved to eat or when asked to participate in a family event. Eventually, he’d find his way back to the room, where his bed and his current reading would take him to places where Greek gods and sea creatures clashed and his mind traveled through time.
As a cousin, Malcolm (pictured below, left) has been solid and supportive. He shows up willing and playful, and it makes all the difference, because Zion has Down syndrome. Malcolm is steady in his example as he helps teach Zion desirable behavior choices, without treating him like he’s different in any way.
A few years ago, when I decided I wanted Zion to learn to surf but felt uncomfortable sending him to surf camp without a person I trusted to shadow him, Malcolm agreed to attend camp each day all day, simply to help Zion navigate any issues he might experience with other children. For me, the best part was taking both boys to lunch after camp to debrief and connect over food and events that happened during the day.
I have watched Malcolm become a young man. I’ve seen him start a cookie business that thrived because his pastry-making skills and his work ethic lie deep within him. When his mother started a new business and money was tight, Malcolm didn't sit around feeling sorry for himself. He is so ambitious to experience life that he recently spent an entire semester as an exchange student at Chewonki in Maine, living off the land and learning to run a farm.
Now Malcolm is off to conquer the world in yet a new and exciting way. He is planning to embark on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2,650-mile hike starting on the Mexico-California border and ending in Manning Park in Canada, near the U.S. border. His high school in Los Angeles encourages seniors to do a project where they immerse themselves completely in a project that runs for an entire semester.
They aren't required to attend classes, allowing them to give their attention to the project. Once they complete their chosen endeavors, they will graduate. Although Malcolm's hike is not directed by his school, it has been approved as his senior project. After hearing about his trek, I called his mother to share my pride and celebrate her son. When she explained that Malcolm would be hiking alone, I asked, "How did you say yes to this?" "I didn't say yes, but I couldn't say no," she responded. In that moment, I could feel a world of emotions rushing between the phone line. The joy of raising powerful children and the fear of letting them go off into the wilderness—literally.
This is an incredible adventure for anyone, let alone someone who is 17. Malcolm will be hiking for six months alone. This is an adventure of a lifetime, and he's just starting his young-adult life. The entire family is proud of what he is willing to do in order to find the best within himself. As a parent, you can’t ask for more than children who are willing to take on the world and blaze trails you’ve never imagined possible. We want our children to find a way to be themselves, ways to generate happiness on their terms. Malcolm is doing this, and it’s awesome to witness.
He has created a GoFundMe me page to raise funds for his incredible, life-changing adventure. If you feel inspired to donate, I’m sure he’d appreciate it. I hope every young person can find his or her way, and experience the joy true self-discovery can bring.