I guess I could always see it. His intense struggle for some sort of personal comfort by way of attempting to control the outside world. The way he pushed girls at playgrounds, for no reason other than liking them differently, which made him feel uncomfortable. Seeing him attack anyone who would dare suggest that his baby brother wasn’t perfect, proving that possibly others didn’t see his brother, hence the world, the way he did. Watching him experience all-encompassing and physical pain when his older brother would boss and bully him; hearing him voice a desire to be seen by his big brother the way he saw himself. When he would bully his somewhat “strange” younger brother, wanting only for him to be predictable and normal. I could literally see my son try to feel his edges and know himself by trying to force the world to make sense—his way.
What I didn’t begin to worry about until it came vomiting up to our front door after hours of being who-knows-where and ignoring my desperate phone calls, was how easy it could be for my son to reach out and drink, smoke, inject, or copulate as a way to forget his intense need to see a world of black and white; fair and un-fair. How easy it could be for him to hide himself, as a way to forget his intense need to find himself.
His intense need to know exactly who it is he should be. To see how being himself could hopefully help, and at least effect, this world.
Trying to guide my son through the challenges, while keeping an open line of communication for my teachings-- while remaining always willing to learn from him-- was frightening. I often found myself struggling to find my own edges so I’d know how and who to be. Much like my teenage son was doing!
I have angrily sent him to bed when he came home drunk, took away his cell phone (so that he couldn’t call friends to brag about his adventures, risking solidifying a reputation that he might then feel obligated to fulfill) then lovingly wiped the vomit off his cheeks. I have enforced a rule about open doors when hanging with his dates, walked in often to remind them that a parent is home, while buying condoms and making sure he understood how and why to use them. I have confronted him about being high, taken away a little freedom and then had passionate conversations with him regarding both our opinions on why it’s important to make choices intentionally and with information. And I gave him information! About drugs, sex, and alcohol. About health and thinking freely for the good of community and family, but always as yourself.
Our entire house was consistently on the brink of confusion and fear when he was in his first very serious relationship. As matches his desire to know his role and feel kind and helpful, he fell in love with a very beautiful and troubled girl. Having been molested and raped by family, surrounded by drugs and arguing, chosen second by her mother to men who would beat and otherwise harm, she needed someone who would treat her well and love her first. My son was happy to be that for her.
I however, having grown up with more support than his girlfriend but with similar events, was fully aware from the beginning that it would be my son’s job (and hence mine to teach and encourage!) to be loving and understanding, but mostly strong and willing to say no. The drinking and drugs, the prejudiced and rape, the guns, fears, and weaknesses that surrounded his girl would surround him too. And they would try, also, to invade our home.
My son struggled and cried. He was always there for her and kind to her family, while feeling confused himself about how exactly to be the right type of man. The right type of kind. These were the people his girl called family, but they were also the people who were hurting her the hardest. The drugs and alcohol that he had already taken advantage of before, were consistently there offering an escape from caring. An escape from needing to be strong and right and good.
My son was amazing. He chose to be himself. He chose to say no without prejudiced or judgment, but with conviction. Because of him his girl had the chance to see what it looks like to choose love and self. She had many moments—possibly more than ever before in her life—of knowing she was loved and always supported, without judgment. She was able to talk about herself in ways that began to include strength. Not the fighting against kind, but the kind that comes from knowing who you are and valuing it.
My son and his girl didn’t stay together, I don’t think they believed they would. He moved away and she stayed home, with her family. But they changed each other, in a beautiful way. As a mom (who was exhausted, afraid and proud during the entire relationship!) I saw him blossom and come to understand, invent, and appreciate himself more in that year than ever before.
As a mom I could delight in the understanding that he has always been very much himself. When he was little and pushing little girls, when he was attacking attackers and calling himself names for being a bully or for allowing himself to be bullied, he was always being the guy who is searching for self, hoping for strength, and trying to control his world. As a youngster, knowing what that is can be extremely and painfully confusing.
As a man, it also is. But as a mom I am thrilled to see him figuring it all out with kind confidence and intense passion. He’s not done growing. He’s still tempted to quit and cry and throw up his hands in defeat when he feels lost in a sea of hormones, stress, and confusion from a world that doesn’t always choose his version of kind. But he’s so far down the comfortable path, I can’t imagine he’ll turn back now.
As a mom, I truly believe that about him.
Not only because I need to, but because he’s made believing in him very easy.
|My son and the lovely lady!|
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Author's note: Last year my son asked if I would write a piece about his teenage struggles, and what they were like from my point of view. Specifically he wanted me to talk about this time period. He and a friend are working on a film, and they want it to be "real". They want teenagers to talk candidly about life and relationships, and they want the parents to share honestly as well. I wrote this and nervously offered it to him. My son wanted truth, but what is it like to read about yourself from your mom's heart and hopes? Well.... he loved it! He was moved and said,"I always knew you understood me mom. And that you were there for me. Always. Thanks." I accepted his kind appreciation, but in truth it is I who was gifted in this telling. My son is amazing, and "real", and by telling his story I was offered a chance to relive it!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!