Just yesterday--or maybe it was 13 years ago--I was lamenting the fact that my baby was now a little man. Here he was on his very first day of school.
In front of the school, he looked ready to tackle any challenge that came his way, with the help of that backpack that was almost as big as he was.
And then, at the Kindergarten breakfast with Mommy and Daddy, he could hardly contain his excitement even as I batted away tears.
But when he was finally on his own, he wasn't at all sure he wanted to do this.
I can relate to that feeling. I get it a lot, mainly when it comes to parenting. I always think, "Wait, I'm not prepared for this at all!" But of course, I don't get a choice. I have to learn on the job, often through painful mistakes that bring the most valuable lessons.
It's been that way with Ethan for the last few years. He was always Mama's Boy growing up, and I took care of everything. I even dressed him until he was seven or so. It was just easier if he didn't have to think in the morning because we were always in a hurry. (That strategy never worked with Allyson, who always has an opinion on what she should wear.)
As Ethan entered adolescence, Bill told me I needed to cut the apron strings, to let Ethan grow up. But I resisted. He seemed as affectionate as ever, and I wanted to stay close. Just because other kids pulled away from their parents as teenagers didn't mean my boy had to.
He did, of course, and at the worst possible moment. At the same time that my marriage was falling apart, Ethan abruptly pulled away--far away. He no longer wanted to be tucked in at night. He didn't need or want help with homework. He didn't want to be hugged; if I insisted, he stiffened in my arms. Most of all, he didn't want to talk to me. Gone were the days when he told me every detail about his video games and Pokemon cards and skateboarding tricks. He was 15, and Mom was the most un-cool person in his life.
I took it very hard. I knew it was just a phase of development, that it was nothing personal. But we had been so close! Truly, I'd thought we would be different. I spent a lot of time crying on the floor of my prayer closet.
One of the ways God answered those tearful prayers was through the advice of my sister-in-law Diane. Once when I was crying over Ethan's rejection, she told me something I'll never forget. She said teenagers are like cats. If you chase after them, they'll run away. You have to wait for them to come to you when they are ready. And when they do come, you have to be ready to listen, no matter what time of day or night.
Even though I really couldn't imagine Ethan ever coming to me again, I was comforted by the fact that she could relate. I saw how close she was to my sweet niece, Mindy, and marveled that they ever could have butted heads.
Diane was right, of course. During the early days of the divorce, when I was so exhausted from grief and prolonged insomnia that I could scarcely function, Ethan occasionally wanted to talk right around bedtime. He'd actually invite me into his room and initiate a conversation. Sometimes we talked about deep things like God and time and politics, and other times we just watched funny videos on his phone. Over and over, I'd say around a yawn, "I really, really have to go to bed now." And he'd reply, "Oh, just one more video... one more... I swear, this is the last one."
At 1:00 in the morning, I'd crawl into bed, only to drag myself out just five hours later with a smile on my face that lasted all day. My boy still loved me!
Although he always said he was just fine, I think he needed me during those hard times, just as I needed him. Though I'd never want to go through that again, those late-night talks with him were treasures in the darkness that I will cherish forever.
As we settled into our new normal, Ethan became a little more remote, but it didn't feel so much like he was pulling away. Instead, he was becoming more independent and more responsible(!). He always got to school on time. He no longer needed to be reminded about assignments. In fact, I got out of the habit of even looking at his grades online because I knew he would get it all done.
Ethan made me proud during his senior year. He kept his grades up despite a grueling band schedule that lasted through the entire year. He dealt with some difficult relationship issues and worked through his problems on his own. He made wise choices in his friendships. In short, he gave me very little to worry about.
But I found things to worry about anyway. I worried when he was out late, even if it was because of a band function. I lay in bed thinking of all the terrible things that might happen to him out there on the road. I worried when he was out with friends, wondering if they might text and drive, or drink and drive.
Most of all, I worried about where to draw the boundary lines. He was still a student, and he still needed guidance whether he believed that or not. He still had a curfew, and I still verified his whereabouts with his friends' parents.
Ethan took all of that with grace. Even when I could see that it pained him, he treated me with respect.
But now, it's a whole new ballgame. He's an adult, a high school graduate. He doesn't need me to make all his decisions for him. He has a good plan for his future, and it's time for me to give him the freedom to follow his own path and even make some mistakes.
So I have stopped telling him what time to come home, or whether he can spend the night at a friend's, but I still expect him to communicate. He tells me where he is, and I do my best not to worry about him.
And when I spotted a tattoo above his knee the other day, I didn't flinch, not even when I found out he'd done it at a friend's house instead of in a licensed tattoo parlor. (He got a planet with a ring around it.)
Aren't I doing amazingly well? On a good day, maybe.
There have been a few bad days, though. Nothing prepared me for the job search process, for example. Ethan never had a job during high school because band kept him way too busy, even in the summers. I told him all along that he'd have to work after graduation because child support would end after his 18th birthday, and I could not afford to pay for his insurance and gas. And he would have to get his license because I can't drive him to college this fall.
He was perfectly willing to work, and especially anxious to get a paycheck, but he was not enthused about job hunting, especially when I made him start looking on day one of summer break.
I stayed on him daily (throughout the day), telling him to put in more applications and follow up on the other applications. At first, he tried to comply with my demands, at least the application part. But he utterly refused to make any phone calls.
On the second day of summer, he got called for an interview at my favorite grocery store. Yay! The interview went well, and he was pretty sure he'd gotten the job... maybe. The interviewer told him she was going to put him on the cash register and that he would receive an email within the week. But she did not say, "You're hired." Nor did she tell him his hourly rate or how many hours he'd be working.
Time dragged on, and there was no email. Meanwhile, I forced Ethan to apply for more jobs online, but his heart wasn't in it. He wanted this job, and he didn't want to find another. Yet he was not willing to call to check the status of his application. "If they want me to work for them, they'll call me," he said.
I nagged and nagged, telling him how important it is to follow up on applications and interviews. I assured him that it was not a weird thing to do and that following up impresses managers because it shows assertiveness and motivation.
"No," he said. "My mind's made up."
One Saturday afternoon, he told me to back off. "You're stressing me out," he said. "You're putting way too much pressure on me, Now I don't even want a job!"
"You have to get a job," I replied. "Child support ended last month and-"
"I know. I know. I have to get a job. Just let me do it my way," he said.
I wanted to say that maybe his way wasn't as good as my way, simply because he'd never had a job before and I'd had fifteen or so in my 45 years. But I bit my tongue as he left the room and slammed the door on his way to the computer, to apply at Taco Bell.
I sobbed out my frustration. I knew he was right. I needed to let go and let him do things his own way--even if that meant he would make a mistake. Hadn't I learned plenty from my own mistakes?
For the thousand time, I felt like a bad mother. Surely I was not equipped to parent an adult child.
Yes, you are, I heard.
"You will be faithful to complete the work you started in me," I whispered against the couch cushion where I'd buried my face. "But I don't know what to do. I'm scared. What if he doesn't get a job? How will I pay for his insurance?" I could feel my heart racing.
"You've always taken care of us," I said. "You take care of the birds, and you love us more than birds."
I'd like to say that I had peace after those reassurances from my Heavenly Father, but I struggled for several more days. I apologized to Ethan, and I backed off, but I did a lot more worrying.
In the middle of all that, Ethan graduated. I was so proud!
The ceremony started at 8:00 on a Saturday morning, and he had to be there at 6:30! We all had to drive out in the middle of a flash flood (literally), but everything was wonderful.
|Me and My |
See How Much Taller He Is!
|Celebration Lunch at the Best BBQ Joint|
Uncle Rick, Ethan in Comfy Clothes, Aunt Diane
|Ethan and His Girlfriend, Hope|
Ethan and his cousin Hillary had a joint party the next weekend. Emily decorated his table (and Hillary's)...
...and made his cake and Hillary's cake and punch and cake pops and cupcakes and Ethan's favorite cheese sauce.
|Ethan's is the Snare Drum Cake|
And I made... the fruit tray, with a lot of help from my sweet neighbor and friend, Ana, and her daughter Ellie.
It was a great party.
Since then, Ethan found out that he does have the job at the grocery store. He starts on Monday... he thinks. They are not so great at communication, but I think it will be a good job for college once he actually gets started.
Speaking of college, Ethan plans to live at home while he works on an associate's degree at the local community college, and then transfer to a university to get a degree in astronomy. He'll probably go to Austin for that because they don't offer astronomy programs at either of the (affordable) local universities. I'm trusting that God will provide the money for him to go away to school when the time comes. In the meantime, he and I will both be saving as much money as possible.
Last night, I told Ethan that I was proud of him for telling me I was putting too much pressure on him. I assured him that I always want him to be honest with me, and though I can't promise I won't cry when he says things that upset me, I can promise to prayerfully consider everything he says. I told him that I am still working on this parenting thing, especially now that he is an adult.
"Mmm hmm," he replied.
We'll figure it out.