Three Little Words
Three Little Words
The mantra of toddlers everywhere and the bane of toddler parents everywhere.
Although listening to the word “why” on continuous loop can try anyone’s patience, at this innocent stage of the game, the questions were pretty easy to navigate. Crafting an answer from the front seat of the car didn’t even take our full attention.
As my kids grew into pre-teens most of the questioning was directed at my seemingly faulty logic when it came to privileges.
These questions were easy to address as well. I was always happy to justify being “The only mom who wouldn’t (fill in the blank) with a self-righteous air.
Recently, though, my 16-year-old son lost a friend in a horrific car accident and “why” became very complicated indeed.
This boy, and the four friends also involved, had done nothing wrong. There was no cautionary tale to guide me. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was as heartbroken as my son was.
I had no answers and I felt like I was failing him. We sat across from one another for a long time before a faltering conversation began.
It was then that I realized that, sometimes, it is ok to say three little words…
“I don’t know.”
We parents feel so much pressure to provide explanations and statistics and information in order to teach our children. We buy books, utilize Google and countless blogs and articles to tackle an array of parenting challenges.
Yet, being caught off-guard and totally unprepared can be a good thing.
If I had provided a pat answer, all wrapped up in a bow, my son probably would have gone off and digested it alone. We would have been in the same house at the same time; separated by an ocean of personal grief.
I was aching for him and the parents of all of the boys involved while he mourned the loss of a friend and his innocence as well.
When an explanation escaped me, it opened up a dialogue of healing and deeper understanding. That confession, as awkward as it was for me to utter, put me on a more human level with my son. I could have researched and regurgitated some relevant on-line data, but we both would have known that they weren’t my words or thought process.
At that point I would still feel like a failure and a fraud as well. As they age, kids instinctively know when you are speaking your personal truth from the heart.
The whirlwind of our every day is all encompassing, I can’t remember the last time I stopped and really thought about something. Pondered it long and hard.
Living on auto-pilot will do that to you.
This tragedy stopped me in my tracks. And what a gift that was.
We searched for answers and comfort together. I saw quickly the importance of following his lead; gauging how much he wanted to discuss or watch on the news. You have to be tuned-in to do that. Sadly, our pace does not always let me really see my kids.
Sometimes our communication was in the form of a text or a photo he would send in the middle of the day. Other times he needed a hug and I needed to stay silent and just let his words flow. It was a delicate dance and we were learning the steps together.
The ensuing week was surreal for all of us touched by this tragedy. The boys in the car that night attended the same all-male school. Administrators let the upperclassmen have a day to grieve through a formal prayer service and impromptu wake in the school’s parking lot. Fellow schools offered touching signs of support, the Caps dedicated a game to the young victim and alumni gathered for somber photos across the nation. The beautiful tributes were endless.
The grief had a positive outlet because these teenaged boys opened their hearts and tapped into a well of emotions they did not even know existed.
And there is nothing in a parenting book or manual that guides a mother through that process.
More importantly, I opened up and let my son glimpse a side of me unknown to him. I cried, I stumbled and reached into the dark places of my soul in order to help him navigate the shock and sadness.
Pretty deep stuff for a kid who usually viewed me as the one with the money, food and car.
As the days slide by and time dulls the pain, life will return to normal. Albeit a new normal with a more mature view for the students affected. Going forward, my son may not reach out to me as often and may go days without more than a schedule update as conversation; like most teenage boys.
Despite that, I know, that this has forever changed our relationship. He knows that regardless of the wisdom I dispense in small ways every day, I am still lost sometimes too. He knows that through the search for “why” in the seemingly senseless, we grew together. Apparently, the realization that I am also a work in progress is not as scary to my child as I anticipated it would be.
I see now that sometimes being a parent is not about being right, it is about being real and present. And I don’t know that there is any life lesson –for adult or child– more important than that.
Reprinted from the Town Courier Newspaper November 21, 2014