I got a text from my 14-year-old son the other night suggesting I check ig – that’s Instagram for parents without teenagers. Intrigued, but somewhat hesitant about what I might see, I clicked over. A quick video popped up, taken from the handle of a shopping cart rolling wildly across an icy parking lot in the dark in Mammoth Lakes, California. Screams of delight pepper the soundtrack, accompanied by the comment “What a way to start off the Olympics with some of our own games #slidinanddrivin”.
Yes, my son was unsupervised, in the dark, far away from home and it made me smile. Why? Because surprisingly, it’s what’s best for my kid.
When he was born prematurely fourteen years ago, he spent the first six weeks sound asleep. Watching him snooze, all five pounds of him curled up with a smile on his face, I figured mothering a boy would be easier than I expected. I figured he would always be so sweet, calm and compliant. I figured he would spend the next eithgeen years or so waking up in the room at the end of the hall, and that if I kept the cupboards well-stocked he would be pretty happy to be home. For the most part, I figured right.
What I didn’t count on was his independent, indomitable spirit. Once again, at age thirteen, he forced me to flip through the parenting handbook of my soul and struggle to determine what was ‘best’ for him.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined that he would voluntarily move away to boarding school. I know parents who have had to send their kids away to ‘save’ them, but for my kid, the thought of not seeing his smiling face or hearing him pad down the hardwood floors on his way to the kitchen each morning left me breathless. Panicked. Terrified.
One thing I was always sure of was that I knew what was ‘best’ for my kid, and suddenly, I was stupefied with his idea that moving to Tahoe to live, learn and ski for the winter was what he thought was ‘best’. As Katrina Kenison writes, my husband and I “owed (him) the willingness, on our part, to refine and redefine our own idea of what ‘the best’ might really mean.”
It started out with really listening to him, hearing his goals, his dreams, his passion, and his rationale for wanting to leave home, leave his friends, his school, and everything familiar to take a chance on what might be. The more we listened, the more possible it seemed. So we let him take the lead, hoping that everything would work out the way it was meant to be, but ashamedly, holding out some secret hope that it wouldn’t.
We had it all planned out. He would live at home through high school, attending our alma mater just like his sister. It’s right down the street from our house, after all. He would ski on the weekends like he always had, ski race for his high school, and sleep in his own bed every night. He’d do his chores, continue his piano lessons, work hard in school and go to college. Maybe he’d even live at home until he got married…that all seemed so safe. So doable. So planned. It seemed like the best path for him – for all of us.
Jon Kabat-Zinn said that “our children drop into our neat, tightly governed lives like small, rowdy Buddhist masters,” Katrina Kenison shares in The Gift of An Ordinary Day, “each of them sent to teach us the hard lessons we most need to learn.” I think of this quote every time my stomach drops with anxiety, which happens on a daily basis lately. Relying on texting, Instagram and the occasional sc (again, for the teenage-deprived parents, that’s short for Snapchat) to get a tantalizing tidbit of his daily life is NOT what I imagined my life would be like a year ago. I don’t see his homework every night, I only hope he’s using the washing machine once in awhile, and have to trust that he’s eating his vegetables every day. I’ve released the control over his schedule to his ‘dorm parents’ and his stringent ski coach, knowing that now it is they who have his best interests in their minds each day.
My son certainly dropped into my life in the most exquisitely, incomparable, and unexpected ways. I’ve been forced to reevaluate my parenting, my expectations, and my need to control his path in life. I’ve stumbled forward, learning to trust that things will work out the way they’re supposed to, to mother by faith, and that maybe the hard lesson I need to learn is that ultimately, we are the only ones who truly know what is ‘best’ for us. All we really need to do is be willing to listen for it.