If I could have one mommy superpower, it would be the ability to see into the future. If I knew what hills and valleys awaited, perhaps I could better prepare you for them. Perhaps. It’s hubris to think that I have all the answers, that I know any real secrets to smoothing life’s rough edges.
Far from being a soothsayer or psychic, I’ll never stop seeing you as my first born—my first chance at being a mother and molding a life. You will forever be the tow-headed toddler who changed my world no matter how tall you get and how brown your hair turns. Mothers, you see, are forever caught between what was and what will be.
Yesterday on the drive to school, your sister brought up the #metoo movement. At only 11 years old, she is well aware of what it all means. I saw you bristle a little and clam up like a typical eighth-grade boy. I poked and prodded a bit, as I know that this is what it takes for you to open up. I’m being generous by saying “open up.” Unlike your sister, opening up is a few leagues out of your comfort zone. With teenagers, it’s a fine line between nagging and conversation. Still, I took what I could get.
It seems that examples of men behaving badly are one of the recurrent themes in our society and that troubles you. It troubles me too. The #metoo hashtag exploded with stories of women harassed, exploited, and assaulted. I shared in general terms that I am one of those women. #metoo. We are troubled in different ways, though. You expressed concern that your sister and I were generalizing too much, that we failed to recognize that there are good men, like you, among us. While that is far from my thinking, your comments did give me pause. What message was I sending to my son while discussing these atrocities with my daughter? How do I balance an earnest attempt to teach my daughter and not demoralize my son by proxy? I realized that I needed to elevate our dialogue beyond condemnation to aspiration. Don’t get me wrong—there is much to be condemned, but it’s not the whole story.
Your true sense of self is still developing. Middle school brains are in a paradoxical flux. While the analytical frontal lobe is starting to develop, the impulsive limbic system still has a strong hold. Boyhood is fighting manhood with all its whims and temptations. You are learning to be a man, and I confess, I’m pleased that you don’t like some of what you see. You are living in a time, in my opinion, with few male heroes. There seem too few men to emulate other than your dad and stepfather. I join you, however, in finding the good and graciousness in most men.
If I have any wisdom to share it’s based on my own experience, which will likely be quite different from yours. If the #metoo campaign has taught us anything, though, it’s that we need a lot more gallantry, honesty, and compassion in our world. It makes me think of the Code of Chivalry for knights in the medieval times. While it’s unlikely there was an actual code, some of the listed virtues are worth repeating.
Son, may you embrace: courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, humility, sacrifice, and strength. Arm yourself with goodness, and the rest will follow. Lead when you are able, and follow when it makes sense. Emotions show strength. Don’t fear them; feel and control them. Look for “mirrors and windows” every day. Find the people who reflect who you are and who you want to be. They will bring you comfort. Look for people different from you. Find the windows into other people’s worlds. This will add dimension, empathy, and curiosity to your life. Like in your tow-headed toddler days, curiosity continues to have value.
Sometimes life’s edges will be unbearably rough. You’ll stumble and fall, and you’ll get up, I have no doubt. When you get up, please remember all the times I held your hand and led you in the right direction. You know which way to go.