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Today I watched you grow up a little bit more. That’s how it seems to happen. Not in gradual ways that seem to slowly evolve, but in quick and sudden bursts. Shocking me each time you enter a room and seem completely different from the boy who walked out of the room moments earlier.

Today I watched you walk across a stage and say good bye to Middle School. They said your entire name with emphasis on each word. Giving me a little shiver as I thought of your uncle Todd who is your namesake. I watched you accept your certificate with a firm handshake, the handshake of a confident man. And you sauntered back to your seat with a quiet and easy smile on your face. Your gold tassle honor roll chord draped around your neck. My heart was full of pride and my eyes were full of tears as I swallowed nervously and tried to keep my emotions in check.

In the past year I’ve watched you grow roughly five inches in height and miles in maturity. I’ve seen you develop close friendships with some really nice kids. I’ve watched you shrug off the trappings of popularity in exchange for real friends. I’ve seen you offer to help around the house and help take care of your little sister. I’ve watched you take responsibility and ownership of your school work. The honor roll tassle you wore on graduation day was earned all on your own.

I’ve seen glimpses of the man you’ll be.

And he’s amazing and beautiful and good.

I’ve watched you get angry at the injustices that flash across the evening news. I’ve seen you question things that are happening in the world. I’ve seen you take an interest in things well beyond the little bubble you’ve been so fortunate to inhabit all these years. I’ve answered your thoughtful questions about these things. Questions that speak to your depth of understanding and your concerns. I’ve seen you care about things and people you’ve never met and who are different and far removed from your world.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

But I’m also scared. In a few short months you will be taking a huge step to more independence and autonomy. You will be walking through the halls of high school for the first time. You will getting your driver’s permit. You will be starting to plan for college and life beyond that.

And you will be coming up against some pretty big road blocks. Temptations. Peer pressures. Stress of tests that carry more weight than ever before. Girls. Love. Heartbreak. All of these will be distractions from everything you’re working towards. Some of them are worthwhile distractions. You should have fun with your friends. You should start to flirt a little with romance and love. You should push the boundaries a little. Just a little.

As you start to move a little more away from your dad and me, as you start to become a more independent person making decisions big and small, I’d like to share a few things with you. Before you shut out my advice and my words, please listen to a mother’s desperate attempt to squeeze all the wisdom and love and fear and happiness she is overwhelmed with, into a few words.

Remember what matters. You are the only one who can decide what matters to you. And once you do, don’t let anything get it the way of that.

Listen to your gut. It will never lead you astray. If you can tune in to what it’s trying to tell you, even in the noise of life and temptations and pressures, you will find a built in compass that you can rely on for the rest of your life.

Know when to make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or stand up for what you believe. But also learn when it’s a waste of energy and time.

Always open doors for others and give up your seat for others. 

Don’t be afraid to feel. Life will hurt sometimes. But don’t let that be a reason to go numb or shut down. That never works and it will come back to you sideways and cause more pain. Feel all the stuff and let it happen and move on lighter and happier for it.

Being vulnerable is ok. In fact, it’s good. But only when it’s with the people you trust. Sharing your thoughts and your pain and your fears with the people who love you will ease your burden and allow people to be closer to you. It will be the greatest gift of intimacy you will someday give the person you spend your life with.

Work hard. But work smart. Quantity of time working doesn’t always equal quality. Figure out what methods work for you and employ them. This will serve you well in life and work.

Be a good friend.

Let go of perfection. Perfection is boring. Mistakes will happen. Twisting and turning in an attempt to avoid mistakes is futile. Do your best and accept the mistakes as lessons and grow from them.

Don’t be afraid to fall in love. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll experience. It will sometimes bring incredible pain but you will get through that. It is worth it and life without it will be less rich.

Be patient with a mom who struggles with the emotions of watching her little boy grow into a man.

Find your passion. It may be your career. It may be a hobby or another enterprise. But find it and find a way to nurture it.

Work for money and for joy. Find a job you love. Find something that doesn’t make you dread Monday. But also find something that gives you some comfort and stability in life. Find the balance of the two and live there. Money doesn’t buy happiness but a life of poverty and hardship is not an easy road.

Don’t text and drive.

Know that confidence will come and go. It will sometimes be out of your grasp. This is normal. No one feels confident and self assured all the time. Some of us are just good at faking it. 

Be aware of toxic people and learn how to spot them. Don’t let them infiltrate your life and corrupt you or suck out all the life and joy. Darkness is a hungry beast and toxic people will try to bring you into their disfunction. Don’t let them.

Remember that you have an army of people who are rooting for you to win, who are here for you, who love you. Your dad and me, your siblings, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. You will have this core group of people in your corner for life. That is a gift and a blessing and it will never fail you.

Give your mom a hug once in a while.

Treat the women you will one day let into your life with respect and honor. Don’t ever minimize their feelings or their voice. 

Remember that your dad and me will be here for you for anything and everything. There’s nothing you can’t tell us and there’s nothing that will ever make us turn our back on you. There’s nothing that will ever take away our love. Ever.

Enjoy the ride. The ups will be amazing and the downs will be hard but it’s a beautiful and glorious ride.

I’m so proud of you. I know you will do right. I know you will do good.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this…

Take care of yourself. And have fun.

 

 

 

 

 “And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”

-Elton John, Your Song

My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.

Six months later we lost my Grandfather. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant.

The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.

Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.

I was scared out of my mind. I had spent my high school years babysitting, but I felt like I didn’t know how to do this, being a parent. I was responsible for this other person and I felt inept and inadequate.

I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.

I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.

Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as a possible threat. Could it happen to him, my baby?

And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.

As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.

Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.

I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I  see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.

I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.

I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing in my purse for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.

I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.

I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.

I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing.

We raised him for the last 14 years, but more importantly, he raised us.

I’ve grown in to motherhood. My husband has grown into fatherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure our learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching us how to be parents.

As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.

Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.

Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.

Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.

Thank you for being you.

Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.

 

 

 

 

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“Before you cross the street, take my hand

 Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans..

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,

beautiful boy…”

-John Lennon, Beautiful Boy

I like to think I’m a creative person.  I used to lay in my room for hours on end, on the floor with earphones on, music blasting, daydreaming.  I used to lay in bed at night long after everyone else was asleep, imagining crazy “What ifs”….  what if I’m lying in a coma right now and everyone and everything I see and know in my life is just in my imagination, one long weird coma dream?  I spent a lot of time in my youth thinking of alternate realities and outlandish ideas.

I have found that while I can imagine far flung scenarios and crazy hypotheticals, I can’t seem to imagine the most basic, impending life events.  I spend a lot of time trying to imagine the next thing, the next milestone, the next phase in my life.  When I was engaged I spent a lot of time wondering what married life would be like. When I was pregnant with my son I could not picture myself as a mom.  This baby that I so desperately wanted, was so excited to be having, seemed like a figment of my imagination.  I actually thought I would “wake up” and not be pregnant, not be in that life.  I almost expected it.  I almost expected to wake up and be in my childhood bed and realize that it was all a dream.

I did get married, I had my son and then two daughters. I didn’t wake up and have it all taken away from me.  Now I am the mother of a 13 year old boy.  I am the mother of a teenager.  Now I can’t imagine what this life is.  Not the future.  I don’t have time to consider him at 18, 25, or 30.  I am still trying to grasp the now.  I am still trying to reconcile the boy who is growing and changing and becoming someone new right before my eyes.

I am really proud of myself that I didn’t dissolve into an emotional puddle on his birthday.  I am usually pretty emotional on my kids’ birthdays.  I relive the days they were born…  This time, 10 years ago, my water broke…  This time 4 years ago, I wept with joy when they placed you in my arms….  I didn’t do any of that on my son’s 13th birthday.  We celebrated, we opened gifts.  I didn’t cry or get emotional.  I think that my brain was in protective denial mode.  I didn’t really think about the milestone we were celebrating.  My son’s first steps into teen-dom.  The beginning of him evolving from a boy to a man.  He is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing.  He’s finding his own way, finding his own voice.  He’s becoming his own person, separate for the first time from who my husband and I are.  He’s not emulating us or trying to be like us.  He’s figuring out who he is.

I don’t think anyone really prepares you for this.  You can read countless articles about parenting a teen.  The lamenting of the loss of innocence, the stress of keeping them safe from bad influences and dangerous situations.  You hear parents talk about the moodiness, the attitudes, the back talk.  Those are all things I expected to have to deal with.  I have been mentally preparing for all of those things.  How to squelch the bad attitude, how to prepare him to avoid danger and fight urges that are risky.  I really wasn’t prepared to see him differently.  He is still my baby, the little boy that would try to hold doors open for me as a toddler, the little boy who would climb on my lap and rest his head on my chest.  He will always be the little boy that was protective of me, who would often say, “Be ‘tareful Momma.”  The little boy who pointed out every god- forsaken truck we saw driving down the road.  In my mind he will always be that little boy.  But reality is smacking me in the face too.

I see him asking insightful and thoughtful questions about current events and injustices  around the world.  I see him taking interests in music and becoming a sports stats enthusiast.  I see him branching out and making new friends.  Friends outside our little bubble of a world that he has safely been cocooned in for over a decade.  He’s developing a whole life separate from my husband and I.

My natural instinct is to resist this, to keep him close to home, close to us.  But I know that I can’t do that.  It wouldn’t be fair to him.  He would likely rebel.  He would likely resent us.  So I find myself walking a on a very shaky tightrope.  Trying to grant him some freedom and independence while also keeping him completely connected to our family unit.  I want him to develop his sense of self, learn to navigate all of the tricky twists and turns on his own.  I am trying to do this while letting him know that we’re here to help him if he has questions about which way to go.

This is the hard part.  It was hard seeing him walk into the doors of Kindergarten, it was hard watching him take off to ride his bike around the neighborhood for the first time.  It was hard letting him go to his first sleepover.  But none of that compares to this.  Those were controlled situations.  I was able to be involved and monitor and manage all of those situations.  Now, I have to hold my breath and hope.  Hope that the last 13 years of us teaching him values will stick.  Hope that he will listen to his gut if he feels unsure about something.  Trust that he will make more right decisions than wrong ones.  And keep my fingers crossed that even though he’s going out into the world a little more and venturing into unchartered waters, that he’ll still want to hang out with us, that he won’t dread family time.

I know I’ll see him mess up.  He’s human, he’s still learning.  I know I’ll see him fall.  He’s going to get hurt.  It’s going to kill me to see that happen but we’ll be here to get him through it.  I haven’t even tried to imagine any of this.  I haven’t tried to tap into my creativity to think of the scenarios and try to prepare for them.  That would be a fruitless endeavor.  I have to let go of the reigns just a little and hand them over to him.  I have to let him have his own journey.  This is his time, not mine.  Not my husband’s.

I know that we’ve raised a good kid.  He is a sweet, caring soul.  He is smart and funny and I know he wants to make us proud.  That is the warm blanket of comfort I will wrap myself in as he makes his own way.  I still see that little boy when I look at him.  I still see the little boy I carried on my hip.  His eyes are just as big and brown and sincere.  He still has the same smile that can light up the room.  But I also see a young man.  A young man that will be taller than me in a matter of months.  A young man that could pick me up effortlessly.  A young man who seems capable of more than I’m willing to admit to myself.  I will let him go, just a little, because it’s what I’m supposed to do.  But I won’t stop mothering him and I won’t stop worrying.  When he walks out the door, I’ll still whisper to myself, “Be ‘tareful, son.”

This blog post  by a mom of teen boys has stirred something in a lot of people.  Some people are praising the message of modesty while others see disturbing ideals lurking beneath a mother’s warning.  I see a little of both sides and have my own thoughts on this mother’s tactics.

I understand her plea for modesty.  We all raise our daughters with the intention of producing confident strong women who don’t have to trade or rely on their looks to make it in this world.  I want my daughters to celebrate their intellect and humor and creativity.  I also recognize, however, that everyone has a little vanity.  Even those who proclaim complete humility and modesty surely secretly celebrate something about themselves that is completely superficial or cosmetic.  Maybe it’s a nice smile, graceful hands or shiny hair.  There’s no need to be ashamed of celebrating something about yourself that is god-given, purely the lottery of genetics.  Just because you didn’t earn it and were graced with it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear it proudly.  This is coming from someone who suffered through the longest awkward period known to adolescence and had to wear a horrific looking back brace for many years.  On top of that I was a dorky teen girl struggling with confidence.  During that time I learned to focus on other features that I thought were appealing and avoided looking in the mirror at anything below my neck.  This tactic got me through those years without feeling depressed or sorry for myself.  At the end of it all when I was brace-free and back to looking like a normal 13 year old do you know what I took from that experience?  That I’m tough, that I got through something extremely painful and humiliating and came away stronger.  So, you see, that little bit of vanity helped me get to the end of an otherwise difficult process.  My point is that while I don’t necessarily want to see my daughters preening for selfies with a pout on their face and their back arched, I realize that some of this is a normal part of growing up in today’s world.  I will certainly educate them on the perils of posting any pictures of themselves on the internet, but I am not naive enough to think that some of that will happen without my knowledge.

Other responses have referred to the comments that perpetuate the “rape culture” that sadly still exists in our society.  A girl posing in her p.j.’s without a bra on or in a bikini shouldn’t mean that this mom’s teen sons (or anyone for that matter) can never see her in any other way, “that once a male sees you in a state of undress that he can’t quickly un-see it”.  She goes on to admonish the girl saying “You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”  That’s a disturbing comment on many levels.  First, I give my son more credit than that.  I’m trying to raise a gentleman who will respect women and can handle seeing his friends in cute bikinis and not view them as sexual objects forever after.  Yes, I know he will take notice and at some point ( a LOOOOONG time from now!) find it arousing on occasion.  But I trust that he will also be able to see girls at school or the mall and not just look at them in a state of mental undress.  Second, the notion that a girl should be responsible for how a boy responds to her appearance is insane.  It makes my blood boil.  I don’t care if she is posing like a Victoria’s Secret model, or wearing a mini skirt, that should not put upon her the actions or thoughts of others.  There is a culture that subscribes to the notion that women should not provoke men with their physical appearance, that men can not be expected to control themselves if the women is any way exposed.  Those cultures usually require women to wear burkas….

Finally, this whole method of parenting, of sitting around the dinner table with your teens perusing their friends’ Facebook Pages, struck me as counter-productive.  If I could teach one thing to my kids, it’s to trust their gut, their instincts, their inner compass…. whatever you want to call it.  I try to teach them how to recognize when your gut is telling you something’s not right.  If they can learn this they will avoid (hopefully) danger, poor choices, unsavory friends and multi-level marketing schemes.  I can explain this to them all I want, but at some point all they hear is “Wah wah wah” (insert Charlie Brown teacher voice here).  The only way they’re going to truly get it is by trial and error, by experiencing the pain of ignoring that little voice in your head warning you.  I think this may be the hardest part of parenting.  We spend so much time and energy wanting to protect them from everything, so it’s so incredibly difficult to cut the cord and let them try to navigate things on their own.  As they are going through their adolescent years, this is the crucial time for them to learn these lessons.  They may become friends with someone who’s a bad influence.  They may date someone who is unseemly, they may see things about their friends on the internet that are cause for concern.  Well, as much as each scenario scares me into wanting to move to Amish country, better that they encounter some of these things now and learn how to spot the bad seeds and how to extricate yourself from bad situations.  I would rather my kids confront these things while they are under my roof, with curfews and limitations that I set.  Better than learning the hard way when they go off to college and the consequences can be much more dire.  Better than when they are an adult and marry the wrong person who makes their life hell.  It’s going to royally suck to see my kids go through any such situations, but if they do I will be here to guide them, to comfort them and support them so they can learn from each situation and come out of it with more knowledge and self assurance.  I know this isn’t fool proof, and it is the scariest part of loving these people that we are responsible for raising, but I whole heartedly believe that insulating them and holding their hand on every little thing, including their Facebook viewing, will not lead them into adulthood with the worldliness and knowledge they will surely need.  Just my thoughts…..