Sifting Shifting Sands

I look at the calendar and question whether I must be in a state of deep denial: Teen has only a handful of school days left, then a few days of finals, before he graduates high school. Fifteen days, including weekends, before this long leg of the journey comes to an end.

Oy, I just choked back tears. Not for the first time, certainly not the last.

Obviously I knew this end was coming. In a vague sense, since January I’ve been counting the months, the weeks, now days. I’ve been spending more time at home—more work-at-home afternoons, more nights in on weekends—intending to be present for those unpredictable times when he suddenly overflows with information. I never know what will turn the spigot, and whether it will trickle or gush, but I’m ready to catch the flow.

Sometimes the flow smells more like sewage than good, clean water. Undoubtedly, Teen could tell you more about the biology behind the term for this, called soiling the nest. Fledgling birds apparently make a mess of the nest so their birdy mamas will kick them out. The nasty stench makes it easier to say goodbye.

By refusing to get out of bed, or go to school, or contribute in any meaningful way to a positive home environment; by making me want to scream in place of fruitless nagging, and clench my already-aching jaw, go for a power walk, and come home to a glass of wine consumed in the privacy of my bedroom, we both become ready for a separation. The ridiculous part: by being his worst at home I’m supposed to believe he’s ready to show his best to the world?

I’ve reminded myself: he’s afraid. Everything he’s known and counted on throughout his lifetime is changing, and change is never easy. Sure, the adventures ahead are so exciting. He’s going to his #1 college choice to study his life’s consuming passion and play his sport. A few weeks ago he got a text from an Olympian who recently graduated from the school, congratulating him on his choice and looking forward to working out together. So cool!

Still, he feels vulnerable, unsteady as the sands shift beneath his feet. And I am a safe arm to grab hold of, to catch all the junk he doesn’t know how to process. He can actively push away because he knows we will always be his soft landing spot. Push and pull, shove and yank. Some days it feels like a fistfight; others, a cling-for-your-life embrace. Hard, and normal.

Thankfully, some days I see the man he is becoming. Some days my presence at home has been rewarded with pleas for advice, details of his adventures, arguments on real-life issues he’s working out in his head and sounding out in private. Just yesterday, he invited me to watch one of his favorite movie scenes with him. We laughed side-by-side on the couch, a tender moment (for me) until the scene ended and he said, “That’s it. You can go now.”

We have lived on the California coast his whole life. When he was little, we sat facing each other in the sand, kitchen items between us—colanders, slotted spoons, Tupperware—sifting sand, tossing out the rocks, turning the shells over in our hands, collecting water and building sand castles. Always ready, I watched as he toddled away from me, playing catch-me-if-you-can with lapping waves.

Now he strides into his future, leaving me behind on the beach sifting memories and moments; tossing misshapen ones, treasuring the intricate beauty of others. Long ago as the sand slipped between my fingers I daydreamed of who he would be, how his exuberance would develop into passion for something larger than himself. Now I have space to daydream of other shorelines—and mountain trails and jungle paths—where we will walk together, creating new memories, as he explores life.

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Carried Away

Today our middle school will hold the 6th grade dance, the one-and-only dance of the year for 6th grade students. Which reminded me of this story I wrote a year ago, when Tween played an unexpected center stage role in tween-age drama. It felt too raw to post then, and too likely to cause offense among the already carried away adults. Today I am grateful we have a lot less drama (of this sort, anyway) in our lives.

I got a call today from the school counselor regarding an issue with my 6th grade son. She said there had been rumors, and he had admitted to being the source. Allegedly, he and another boy had planned to get a girl to ask a boy to the 6th grade dance this Friday, all as a joke. The boy has special needs…

No one should be the butt of a girl-likes-boy-NOT joke, especially not a child who has other issues. That’s bullying, obviously unacceptable. It’s also completely out of character with who I know my son to be. Could it be a bad judgment call on a new-to-him awkward social situation? Perhaps.

Except it never happened, at least not like that.

Concerned that my son would hatch such a plan, I promised the counselor I would talk with him. So I did. But he didn’t want to talk about it. Not At All. Siding with the adults, I took that as a sign of guilt. I continued to push, and he burst into tears. I took that as a sign of shame. He kept saying, “But Mom, we were joking!” and couldn’t understand why that upset me.

I explained again (and again–cue Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice: “Wa wa wa wa wa…”) what I had heard from the counselor, and how that didn’t seem to line up with what he was saying. I asked my son if he was lying, to the counselor or to me. He begged to just get back to his homework, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Minutes later I received a call from another mom. It seems the 6th graders had inflated in their minds this once-only 6th grade dance into something akin to a prom. They thought they needed dates. What about the slow dances? Boys were asking girls to the dance. Girls were asking boys to the dance. Everyone was talking about who was going with whom, and who should ask whom, and what if so-and-so asked so-and-so.

Parents were calling parents: do I need to volunteer to drive my son and his date to the dance? (No one drives to an after-school dance). Should we have a conversation with our daughter and your son to set expectations? Obviously they’re too young to date so we want to be clear she can dance with whomever she wants.

Egads, people, it’s a 6th grade after-school dance! We all need to take a deep breath.

This is the drama surrounding the rumors attributed to my son.

On Monday, only four days yet eons ago to the pre-teen brain, back when he truly believed he must have a date to the dance, my son and a friend had a quiet conversation in math class. They said something like, “What if Girl A asked Boy B?” They weren’t going to talk to Girl A; she wasn’t going to ask Boy B to the dance; neither child was in their math class, just random names that popped to mind. The whole conversation was conjecture, something to talk about during a few spare minutes. Let’s consider: why do 6th grade boys talk about anything? Sheesh, who knows?

Apparently an adult overheard them and told another adult who told the counselor. What the adult didn’t overhear was, “What if Boy C asked Girl D, or Girl E/F/G asked Boy H/I/J…?” You get the picture. The adults didn’t.

Rather, the adults thought a) the students were hatching a plan and b) that the plan specifically included Girl A because she is cute and Boy B because he has special needs. The counselor then invited kids from the math class into her office, two by two, asking about the rumor, until two someones copped to the conversation.

Mind you, it was only a rumor because the adults talked to one another. The kids had been oblivious.

My son had NO idea Boy B had special needs. In fact, when I asked if he knew the boy had special needs, he didn’t even understand the term. He has no classes with the boy, he doesn’t know him well, and his impression is that “he’s nice.”

Another miscommunication: my son had told the counselor he and the other boy “were joking.” To his 6th grade mind that meant, “We were having a meaningless conversation.” Joking as in, light-hearted, of no consequence; NOT joking as in to poke fun at, to prank.

But the well-meaning, overly-conscientious adults interpreted the situation as a mean-spirited prank. Which is why everyone was surprised that my son was at the center—this doesn’t sound like something he’d do at all.

Because he didn’t.

What IS in character is to make and keep peace at any cost. When pushed, he will accept even undeserved blame. He admitted he had spoken “the rumor.” He thought he had explained himself by saying we were joking. He didn’t understand and didn’t ask why everyone was so upset. In his old-soul way, he sees that adults get all bent out of shape over things that don’t warrant it, and he wrote the situation off to that. He didn’t tell me about it not because of guilt, or shame, or lies, but because to him it was truly No Big Deal.

Yet a few stirred-up adults spent a whole lot of time stirring up a whole lot of students trying to get to the bottom of a situation that never was.

On the one hand, I get it. In the too recent past, the school dealt with a fairly serious bullying issue. In the more distant past, the school had a serious abuse issue. They have to act on suspicion to prevent harm and protect students.

But there could have been a simpler solution. The administration must have been aware that the 6th graders had misunderstood the dance. A counselor or administrator could have taken a few minutes in the math class under suspicion or, better yet, in each of the required 6th grade Core classes, to explain the dance: No dates, all group fun. No suggesting or speculating or joking that anyone ask anyone, and we certainly don’t want anyone humiliating anyone by pretending to ask someone, because that would be bullying, and not in character with our iKind school, and would carry consequences. Any questions? That could have solved the problem, minus the student interrogation and accusations.

I am bothered that an overly suspicious adult in a petri dish culture of fear put into motion a chain of events that led to me accusing my son of being both mean and a liar. Neither is true (and my heart knew it), and I have asked my son’s forgiveness.

The real irony? He’s not even going to the dance. He has other plans.

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What We’ve Learned about Sleep

Most parents coach their infants to consistent sleep patterns and take their high school graduates to college. Tween didn’t learn to sleep, so in middle school we took him to a major university to participate in research on teen sleep.

1 week old

Every child is different, right? Teen was a great sleeper from Week 1 (or maybe that was the C-section drugs?). Still, he played hard during the day and slept hard during the night.

At the other end of the sleep spectrum, Tween never slept well. His crib was in our room for the first year and we did this ridiculous crawling-on-the-floor-through-the-dark routine to get to our bathroom and/or bed; no matter, it never worked. This child popped up, alert as a bird at daybreak, to say hello?, love me!, hold me!, feed me! Entertain. Me. NOW!

As a little guy, his sleep-resistance efforts were kinda cute albeit occasionally maddening. Somewhere I have hilarious video footage of him at about 20 months, naked in his crib, bouncing and singing his ABCs. Rather than nap, he’d stripped the bed and tossed everything on the floor, then stripped himself and provided the music for his own happy baby dance party.

We thought Tween was just a light sleeper. During the day he wields a different energy than his brother, so needs less sleep at night. Right? In his mid-elementary years he finally spoke up: he felt constantly exhausted. Either he’d lie awake for hours before sleep descended, or he’d conk out only to wake up in the wee hours. Either way, he didn’t get consistent, sufficient sleep.

So when we received a card in the mail inviting participation in a sleep study for teens with sleep disorders he immediately said, YES! Maybe they can help me sleep…

Did you know that sleep coaching can be as effective as medication for developing better sleep? That’s what the researchers told us. It hasn’t entirely solved the problem; this will be his life-long issue. But it has helped, and we’re grateful. It’s also gone a long way towards demonstrating his parents’ love for him and care for his well-being.

What did we do?

The study involved, for Tween and for me, a series of phone and in-person interviews plus on-paper assessments before we could be admitted to the study, repeated periodically over the course of a year. Tween spent the night at the university a couple times. No, he did not wear electrodes all over his head. Instead, they took saliva and administered computer tests throughout the afternoon/evening, and again in the morning. For a week at a time, a few times, he had a daily phone interview with a researcher, and other weeks he wore a special watch that works much like a FitBit to record activity, light, and sleep.

Best of all, he met weekly for an hour with a sleep coach over seven weeks. We haven’t seen the official study results yet so we don’t truly know what the researchers discovered. We do know, however, what we learned from Tween’s sleep coach.

What did we learn?

For Tween, and for many of us who struggle with sleep, his thoughts proved a massive obstacle to sleep. Any of this sound familiar? Watching the clock. Pondering (trying not to ponder) thoughts from today or concerns about tomorrow. Expecting not to fall asleep. Worrying about when you might fall asleep. Trying to force sleep. Wondering why in the world is it so hard for me to sleep?

He has to calm his mind…

Get rid of the clock. We removed Tween’s digital alarm clock from his room. He now has to trust that, if his parents haven’t woken him, it is not time to be awake. This works for adults, too. Silence your smart phone, then set an alarm. Don’t look at it until it goes off.

Journal. An hour or so before bed, write down all the things you want to remember from today or brainstorm for tomorrow. Make notes so you free up brain space to begin to relax.

Gratitude. Reset your brain by focusing on the things for which you can be grateful. Recording three unique items for gratitude each day has also been shown to increase happiness.

Wind down. This was one of our biggest and best discoveries. For an hour before bed, turn off the screens. Turn down the lights (more mood lighting, less overheads). Instead of playing video games or watching TV, read a (kinda boring) book. Journal. Draw. Do a puzzle. Whatever it is that relaxes you, do that. Wind down can also include nightly rituals, like a bath/shower, a cup of herbal tea, a hand-and-foot massage, or diffusing essential oils. We know bedtime routines are essential for littles, yet we forget how truly relaxing those routines can be.

Restrict bed for sleep only. We read bedtime stories to our kids in bed. We send them to bed a few minutes early with a book. Except reading in bed trains our brains to go crazy in bed, whereas we want our brains to cue that bed means sleep. Set up a separate in-bedroom cozy nook for reading/wind down time.

Block light. Another key discovery: even the tiniest bit of light disturbs sleep, another reason to ban the digital clock. If you can’t get rid of all light sources, try a sleep mask. Tween occasionally pulls his out; I use mine every night, no fail. It’s annoying at first. You get used to it.

White noise. We are big believers in bedroom fans. The fan doesn’t have to point at the bed, and it doesn’t have to be on high. A little air movement and a little whirring will do the trick, even if you wear ear plugs–another plus for light sleepers.

Get up. If you’re not sleeping after what feels like a half-hour, get up; keep lights low (store a small flashlight or head lamp nearby) and do something quiet and relaxing. After what feels like another half-hour, go back to bed. Repeat until you can fall asleep.

Rise up! Don’t hit snooze in the morning, just get up. Wash your hands and face with cold water. Open the windows, head out the door, search out the sun. You can move your way into greater energy even when you want to collapse. Get going, and keep going, until wind down time.

There were other tips–limit caffeine; don’t nap; keep your bedtime and wake-up times consistent throughout the week–all common sense. Tweens and teens may need up to 11 hours of sleep per night; 9.5 hours is a reasonable goal, even when that feels completely unreasonable (homework and sports and whatever, oh my!).

Two key moments in our sleep research experience…

It is nearly impossible to estimate your own sleep quantity or quality. We are so accustomed to asking our loved ones, “How’d you sleep?” And we have no idea that there is no way they can accurately answer that question. People simply can’t tell–even as they stare down their clocks–how long it took them to fall asleep, or how long or deeply they slept. Unless you wear a smart gadget, and even those glitch.

Then the sleep coach said something to this effect: “All this only really matters because the world keeps moving on schedule. If you could just sleep in anytime to get the sleep you need, we wouldn’t need to try to regulate your overnight sleep.” Huh.

To that point, I am grateful that our society in general and our local schools particularly have begun to take seriously research on teen sleep. Through adolescence kids need to sleep more in the morning. Not all, but many (most?) do. It’s biology, and we should work with our bodies rather than against them.

For my part, I have begun getting ready for bed when Tween does. I make some herbal tea (I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime teas), wash my face, put on a headlamp, and read in the almost-dark until my eyes get heavy. I sleep better on those nights. School is stressful and homework loads vary, so Tween cannot be as consistent at this stage. Nevertheless, he has learned early some very important lessons.

On the drive to our first in-person interview I said, “This is kinda cool! I bet you’re the only middle schooler you know who gets to participate in research at a major university!”

To which he calmly responded: “Yah, but I’m also the only middle schooler I know who has insomnia…”

Someday he won’t be the only adult he knows with insomnia, but he might just be the best-rested insomnia-wrestling adult he knows!

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Meatless Monday – Cooking with Teen

Last week Teen’s senior class had a fundraiser with a local pizza place. They make a delicious deep dish spinach and mushroom pizza. And if you like, they’ll make it with whole wheat crust and vegan cheese. Yum!patxis-pizza

While I had been anticipating leftovers for dinner all day long, I returned home to find that Teen had shared my vegan pizza with his friends. My only consolation is that they ate it–and liked it! If they’d spit it out in disgust, well, then I would have been really upset.

Consequentially, Teen needed to prepare dinner for the family. He likes to cook, so this wasn’t punishment, just unusual.

He chose the menu. He invited (with permission) a cute girl to join us. I knew I’d need to play a supporting role in this endeavor, but I let him take the lead. All in the name of experience.

Teen brain + ADHD + limited experience = lots of room for learning!

He left prep for half-hour before we were supposed to eat. Dinner necessarily moved back by more than an hour.
He forgot to check for ingredients. He had to make a grocery run mid-process.
He couldn’t find ingredients in the store. He asked for help.

Now I’m thinking we need to do this more often. The meal turned out great–healthy, easy, delicious. The time together even better. The learning? Invaluable. Of course we have cooked together many times before but now, as we’re both increasingly aware that college is coming, we need to maximize both togetherness and tools for healthy eating.

He made Quinoa & Black Bean Salad (cute girl requested a quinoa salad). To round out the meal, I suggested he also make Tomato, Black Bean & Corn Soup. Because (sadly) TJ’s boxed Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup, the base for aforementioned soup, contains milk and I’m off dairy, I also made Spicy Black Bean Soup.

While he shoveled tortilla chips with green salsa into his mouth, while I sipped chardonnay, we talked and laughed. He learned that zesting a lime before juicing adds so much yum to a vinaigrette. He already knew to roll the lime before cutting to extract all its juicy goodness. He learned to consider in advance which pots and pans will be necessary to cook which dishes. He learned to judge amounts by eyeing them, and that his shakes with dried spices tend to be more generous than mine. He learned to go slowly with spices, to taste test and adjust as necessary.

Healthy meal. Time well-spent. Cute girl impressed. An all-around good evening!

An Uncommon Commitment

The month, and again, the week before he began 6th grade and a new school (Aug 2015), I asked Tween when we could get his hair cut. The first time, he shrugged, very pre-teen of him. The second time he responded, “I’m not. I already put it out on Instagram that I’m growing my hair to donate to charity.”

To which I replied, “First, you have an Instagram account? And secondly, that’s not something you thought you should talk over with your parents first?”

[In my defense, he is my second child and WAY more tech-savvy than anyone else in our home…]

I spent about a week trying to talk him out of it. New school. New teachers and friends. First impressions. Long hair can be a pain. Kids can be mean. It could be a bigger commitment than he understood. I suggested he wait until he’s 16 and donate blood–no necessary prep time.

He held his ground. He said, “Mom, there are kids who can’t grow hair. I can. I’ve got great hair. And I’m 11! I don’t want to wait until I’m 16 to do something good for others!”

Why on earth was I trying to talk my kid out of being a good guy with a generous heart?

He has fabulous hair, thick with a few curls and slight waves, a blonde-strawberry color that cannot be produced from a bottle (I’ve long said that if a colorist tried to do my hair his color, I’d end up pink). Some child/ren will be blessed with a wig made from his fantastic goldilocks.

I gave in, and together we researched different organizations. We ruled out the Big One (you know, the one you assume receives all hair donations), because they charge patients for wigs. We pulled up six or eight different tabs and I left him to do his own reading and research. This was his project and he needed to choose the organization that tugged on his heart. I warned him, though, that most organizations won’t take processed hair and, because of my blonde highlights, I would likely not be able to join in his efforts…

Things mamas don’t expect to do with tween-age sons: invest in good conditioners and better brushes; loan him your hair ties and buy him not-too-feminine head bands. Also, blow dry his thick mane while you simmer with jealousy. And grow out your own hair because doing it himself is not enough–he wants to mount a campaign of hair donation.

We left Tween in front of the computer while we went to the Farmers’ Market. We hadn’t yet parked when he called: “MOM, I found it! Children with Hair Loss will take eight inches, not ten, and they’ll take processed hair in good condition! You can do it with me!!!”

Ugh, his sweet enthusiasm! Donating my oh-so-fine hair had never been on my bucket list. I tolerate this hair; will someone else want it? I have bad dreams that I’ll receive a rejection letter… And yet, all parents recognize that our kids take us in directions we’d never expected, so my hair is now longer than it has been in 20 years, since pre-kid days.

Having heard about Tween’s campaign, two 20-somethings, a former babysitter and her friend, have donated hair. Two girls at church, one in middle school and another in high school, have donated hair. A mom of two littles cut off her long black locks and she, too, will send her hair to Children with Hair Loss. And then us: Tween and me. He went first. I have another month.

Three weeks ago Guy took Tween to his barber; Guy needed a cut, Tween needed a measure. And to make sure Guy’s barber was down with the ponytail/donation method. Far beyond the necessary eight inches, Tween was closer to twelve.q-hair-1

At which point he panicked. His whole middle school identity has been wrapped up in being the long-haired boy. He got major social cred with the girls as soon as his hair was long enough to braid–and he let them (smooth move, Kid!). It took a while to wrap his brain around a looming new identity…

Tween’s last haircut was just before his 11th birthday, early May 2015. At that point we had no idea this commitment would appear on our horizon, so honestly, his haircut could have been end-April 2015–when didn’t seem to matter as much as that it happened. Today, at least 21 months later, he got a hair cut.

q-hair-2q-hair-3q-hair-5

I am so proud of this generous kid. Of his sweet heart. Of his uncommon commitment. I can’t take credit. He is his own amazing person. I’m just grateful for getting to swing in his orbit, for becoming a better person because of his example to me.

“Ain’t Ever Getting Older”

Except, he is.

We went to Tahoe to celebrate his eighteenth birthday and brought five of his friends, including a girl, so they could attend a three-day music festival. This was Teen’s one and only request for his Big Deal B-day, and since December birthdays have clear drawbacks, we decided to make it happen.

tahoe-1Originally, the ticket was his gift, on one condition: a trustworthy adult who knows him and cares about him would lay eyes on him at the end of each day. When he couldn’t find that person, we ponied up.

Twenty-plus years of youth ministry, leading and chaperoning countless trips with, oh, thousands of kids over those years, should qualify us to take six teenagers away for four days. But “parent” is different than “leader” and I wasn’t sure I felt up for four mid-holiday days of serving Teen’s friends (cooking, cleaning, shuttling). And yet. This was a chance to demonstrate BIG love.

Well worth it!

We rented a three-story house in South Lake Tahoe, 57 stairs bottom to top—at altitude, those stairs loomed tall in our weekend workout. The boys jumped on unloading the car, carrying suitcases and bags (and boxes) of food. We laid out a spread of chips and dips and cheese and crackers and fruit and they happily ate up, comparing thoughts on the day’s music line-up and who they would see at what time on which of three stages.

They were gone from about 2:30-11:30pm each day, which meant we fed them breakfast when they rolled out of bed, earlier than expected; cleaned up; fed them lunch–or at least put out snacks they stuffed in hidden jacket pockets to sneak in to the venue; and cleaned up again before Guy dropped them off at the shuttle. Then he, Tween, and I were on our own to enjoy time together (sightseeing, walks, movies, board games).tahoe-2

The kids were kind, talkative, and hysterically funny. They kept us in stitches as they used words in new ways, creating their own code they hoped might hit a stage and boomerang through the crowds. They chattered endlessly about who they’d seen, both on and off stage, who they hoped to see, who they danced with, even who kissed who. They stumbled in before midnight to eat the hot dinner we had waiting for them, except on New Year’s Eve, really New Year’s Day, when the crush to exit the venue had them fed and to bed before 2am.

Besides the tired around his eyes, I have rarely seen Teen so full-body happy since childhood. He thought Night 1 was the best night of my life until he got to Night 3 which he said was definitely The Best Night of My Life! My non-touchy kid gave me kisses and hugs, and at weekend’s end he generously thanked us for such a great celebration.

If gratitude, good and kind friends, and unselfconscious happiness aren’t signs he’s getting older, I’m not sure what is.

[Chainsmokers headlined the 2017 SnowGlobe Music Festival. Closer is their big radio hit]

Learning to Let Him Go

norcalfootball2016

Today Teen drove away with friends to cheer on their high school football team in the state championship (Go, Campo Cougars!). Four hours away, in a city they’ve never visited. They’ll stay together in a hotel, arranged by another parent. They’ll return home tomorrow.

It makes me a little nervous, honestly. There will be plenty of adults at the game, but no chaperones at the hotel. A group of teenage boys staying alone overnight…what could go wrong?

But he’s a good kid. He turned 18 last week and he’s off to college in nine months where, obviously, he will have unprecedented freedom. I’ve got to start letting him go sometime.

My parents were overprotective of me and I respected them for it. And I still found a way to occasionally make questionable choices. So my instinct is to overprotect my kid, which he hates because he is way more wired for risk-taking than I am. All the more reason to overprotect, right?

I have to trust him. I have to demonstrate to him that I believe he is worthy of my trust. I have to trust that we’ve done the best job we could raising a responsible young adult. I have to trust that God is looking out for him.

Deep breath, mama. He’s gonna be fine.

Two years ago he asked to go to a rave. I’ve never been to a rave, but I’ve heard more than enough bad about them. He was so determined that I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t go regardless of our prohibition. So we put a range of protections around him, including logical consequences: an early morning bike ride with his uncle—an adventure to anticipate!—would be so much fun if he wasn’t hung over and terrible if he was, for example. He didn’t drink, and he enjoyed both concert and biking. We found a way to give him what he wanted and satisfy our parental concerns.

Two Halloweens ago, he told us he was going to a party about which we’d heard neighbors had contacted police in advance. We asked him not to go. We were with friends down the street when we heard the sirens. We walked to the house, texted Teen, to which he replied: “Busy.” Paramedics rolled out a stretcher with an intoxicated girl strapped to it. Teen walked next to her until she was in the rig, then turned back to talk to police and the home owner. We stood across the street and watched as our son held a mature discussion with adults.

Turns out he hadn’t had one sip to drink. Instead, when a girl arrived already drunk, he appointed himself her caretaker. He tried to get her to go home. When she refused, he parked her on a couch and got her water. When police, and then paramedics, arrived and she tried to fight them off, he convinced her to go with them peacefully.

Another night he returned from being out with friends and flopped on my bed. “Have I got a story!” he exclaimed. Teen was driving his friends when they witnessed a bad car accident. He pulled over to call 911 and see if he could help (good Eagle Scout!). Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both drivers were badly shaken. They emerged from their cars shouting at each other. Teen separated them. He then talked with each individually, calming them and waiting with them until police arrived. His friends sat in the car, disgruntled at Teen’s good deed-doing because he made them wait. Teen cared more about doing the right thing and less about what his ticked off friends thought.

He doesn’t always make good choices, of course, developing teen brain and all. One night he returned home later than we’d asked but still early, 10pm-ish. He didn’t say a lot, went to his room, and Guy assumed he’d gone to bed. Mom-suspicion sent me to check on him, where I found windows open (under closed curtains) and pillows under bedcovers, topped with stuffed lion mane on the pillow, a nice touch to simulate his own curly-coarse hair. I threw the lion at Guy (feeling betrayed that Teen used my lion-gift to deceive me—and frustrated that I was simultaneously impressed with his creativity) who immediately called him to Come. Home. NOW!

We heard the story over days, in a less-than-effective shouting match, then debate, and finally, calm and cool discussion. He’d left his hat in his friend’s car; the car was low on gas and Friend didn’t want to come back up our cul-de-sac; so Teen hopped out his window to meet him on the main road. Once out, Friend asked if he wanted to stay out, as he didn’t have to be home until 1am. They’d only gone a few blocks when Guy called and Friend was forced to waste gas driving Teen home again.

Meanwhile, I did my own research, asking friends with high schoolers about their curfews. I thought 10:30-11pm seemed reasonable; apparently, that’s early. The football guys (Teen started high school as Football Guy before giving his all to rugby) regularly stay out until 1am on Fridays/Saturdays. Teen didn’t approach the conversation well, but we weren’t listening well, either. We had to listen to his actions to learn to let go.

We’re learning. As a student, Teen’s primary job is learning. My primary job (not the paycheck, the vocation) is parent; I get to be a student of my children, fascinated by their unique temperaments, personalities, and strengths/weaknesses. I have a Master’s Degree focused on Adolescent and Family Ministries, and yet there’s no class on “Teen Ricketts.” Some days I don’t even want to learn to let him go, and yet I want to launch him well. This learning may come harder, yet it’s that much more important.