“It’s great when you can sit down and have a beer with your kids.” About ten years ago I heard those words from my sons’ former fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Chestnut, a woman who exuded such wisdom and calm (a necessity teaching fourth grade boys, for sure) that she was something of a role model to me. At the time she was probably a little older than I am now, and her three kind, successful boys would have been in their early to mid-twenties. I had just dropped the twins off to work on her farm—they were about fifteen and the youngest just a few years behind. I don’t remember what prompted her comment, perhaps I mentioned how one or another of the twins had been kicking up his teenage heels. Maybe I just looked worn out from living with three teenage boys, my anxiety heavy in the air like the Axe my guys seemed to bathe in. Whatever the reason, I remember thinking “Heck, I’m trying to keep them AWAY from beer, I’m not thinking about drinking it with them!” But fast forward almost a dozen years to last weekend, when I did just that, hanging out at our youngest’s fraternity tailgate. As I stood there with a beer in my hand, chatting with my son and his friends, Mrs. Chestnut’s words came back to me and I understood her wisdom.
Each of my three guys had teenage moments that made me crazy—shooting the homemade potato cannon off over the golf course from our roof comes to mind—but our youngest son’s last couple of years of high school really tested me. There was a lot of silence, a lot of tears (from both of us) and some angry words (unfortunately, from both of us). There was an eighteen month stretch when prayer (and maybe some chardonnay) were all that kept me going. I felt utterly helpless, but I had to keep being his mom, trying to stay upbeat while he “communicated” in grunts and a sometimes-hostile silence. At college drop-off, just over two years ago, hubby and I high-fived each other–thankful we had kept our sanity until that day arrived, but hopeful, too, that this new chapter would be a happier start to the rest of our son’s story.
So as I stood there, seeing my once-sullen adolescent now an articulate young man and the boy who seemed to hate everything and everyone now enthusiastic about his school and a leader in his fraternity, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving. And I thanked Mrs. Chestnut for her words of wisdom more than a decade ago. She was speaking, not about beer of course, but about the peace that comes from letting go, trusting the job you did and trusting your children’s lives to God. It’s about meeting your child where he is (in this case, the backyard of a fraternity house) and realizing that while you might have influence, you no longer have control. After the turbulence of the teen years, and the self-doubt it can engender, it’s a blessing to allow yourself that gift of peace.
And so, in that backyard, I realized I had come full circle. Just as my son came to me a stranger at birth, his personality growing and developing as he did, in a way he is again a new person in our lives, emerging from the cocoon of a tough adolescence. But this time, our son invited us into his world, we didn’t carry him home into ours. He is creating his own life and while I might not always agree with the choices he makes as that life unfolds, I respect that those choices are his and his alone.
Motherhood is a ministry of service like any other, and in ministry, we offer grace to those we serve—but it is up to them to accept it, and it might take years. I know my job isn’t really over, it’s just entering a more passive phase, a ministry mostly of prayer with some discreet, long-distance mothering thrown in for good measure. And when I see my sons at Thanksgiving? You can bet there will be a couple of cold beers in the fridge for us to share.