As a mother of three adolescents, my attempts at a calm, somewhat detached emotional state are constantly tested by fluctuating sensations of pure joy and total terror. My extreme emotional reactions are usually in response to their activities and behaviors, or to recollection of my own at their age. Outside of sitting continuously in meditation, there is no detachment practice strong enough to prevent catastrophic thoughts from disrupting my peace of mind now and then, even while I’m sleeping.
All week I’ve had nightmares of bloody car crashes. I’m certain these were triggered by my (almost 17 year-old) daughter’s recent journeys to Gig Harbor from Seattle, driving alone, in the dark, on the freeway and over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to volunteer her time at a camp for terminally ill children and their families. While I admire her maverick spirit, and her desire to help others, I cannot help but be worried. And, in light of the fact that she doesn’t seem to worry at all, I am forced to shoulder the burden for both of us. When all I can see in my mind’s eye are news headlines involving my teenaged children, I have to try to maintain my sense of humor.
My 12-year-old son has spent a good part of his summer roving the city with nomadic bands of skater boys in search of stairs, rails, and other obstacles on which to practice tricks. He carries his helmet in his backpack, and when he told me last night that he did “5 stairs” for the first time, my first question was “did you wear your helmet“? (he said he did, but the picture I saw on Facebook this morning doesn’t look very helmet-y to me). The upside of his freedom and independence is that he is a very capable young man (even though strangely, he is incapable of fetching himself a cold beverage when he returns home from his sojourns, and requires my assistance with this seemingly simple task). Like an experienced wilderness backpacker, he knows how to stock his pack with the items he will need for a long foray into the urban wilds, and is adept at using his iPhone to navigate the city bus routes and schedules from one skate park to another. He seems to have no qualms about asking me if he can take the bus to a different city (Woodinville, to which I said “no”). Recently he said to me “It’s weird, I haven’t watched TV all summer!“. This really concerned me, so I promptly made him watch the USA women’s gymnastics team win the gold just for good measure.
While I am proud of my kids for being capable and independent, I worry about them constantly. While I am toiling away in a primary care clinic, helping other people’s children get staples out of their heads, I am running an ongoing prayer vigil in the back of my head begging the saints to intercede for my adolescent children and keep them safe.
Because I work and my youngest is so busy having adventures, I may only have a few minutes at a time to check in with him and remind him of things that he could not possibly remember on his own. Our conversations often go something like “Hi honey how are you oh wow that sounds dangerous be careful you might hurt yourself doing that please wear your helmet did you change your socks your feet are going to rot you did WHAT? please eat a carrot to compensate for eating only frozen yogurt today remember what the dentist said about brushing around your gums I love you I want you home by dark bye bye“ He has learned to endure my diatribes without complaint. By being agreeable and nodding and smiling, he undoubtedly knows he is more likely to be allowed to carry on with whatever nefarious activities he’s planning on doing while not in my company. It has taken my first son a long time to perfect this advanced skill, but thus is the plight of the first-born.
I was lying in bed this morning having a little fantasy (yes, this is the kind of fantasy that I have these days) that I could pass on a few important guidelines to my son in a checklist form and that he would actually follow them for the rest of the summer. Here’s what came to mind:
1. If it involves matches or a lighter, it’s not a good idea. Ever. Especially if you are with your friends. (Ask your dad about leaf-forts and matches).
2. Swimming in Green Lake and Lake Union do not qualify as bathing. I might give you an occasional pass with Lake Washington or a chlorinated swimming pool.
3. As a general rule, if you have to ask yourself if something is a good idea, imagine my face floating in front of you, then make your decision.
4. Cup-o- Noodles is not a good breakfast, and orange soda doesn’t have any oranges in it.
5. “Going to the University of Washington” to skate is different than “going to the Ave”, even though they are only blocks away from one another.
6. Always opt to protect those creatures more vulnerable than you, even if it might get you in trouble with your mom. This can fall under the rarely used “ask for permission later clause”. (He recently opted to stay longer at the skate park near our house because there was an 8-year-old there alone without a phone who asked him to stay when everyone else had left. I can respect that).
7. Yes I want to know and talk to the parents of all your friends, and I will keep doing that until you move out, and probably even after you move out, so get used to it.
8. Wear your helmet! Tony Hawk says so! http://boyslife.org/home/heads-up/1068/tony-hawks-top-5-safety-tips/
9. Do not jump off a roof ever. Even if there is a trampoline or swimming pool beneath you.
10. I love you more than you could ever know, and this is the reason for all of these worries, so forgive me, and did I mention, be careful?