My son is a bit of a puppy dog, though more bounding Great Dane than docile lap dog. He is tall with shaggy-ish hair and size nearly-9 feet and a one of kind brain. He sometimes seems both older than he is (when happily discussing the pantheon of Greek gods with encyclopedic recall) and younger than he is (when he tucks his shoelaces into his shoes rather than ask for help tying those pesky laces, something his long fingers still struggle to do with any ease).
I worry about him, of course. I worry about him because I am his mother. But I also worry about him because he is my son, because this particular human being with this particular set of blue eyes and health concerns and preference for the Annoying Orange is mine. I want him to fit in, though not too snugly, because no parent wants a sheep child, but I want him to feel good about himself, especially as his self-concept is now changing shape. Much like the tissue-papery snake skin we observed in a reptile house exhibit on a recent school field trip to the zoo, he is shedding the little boy I have known for over a decade.
I worry too because I know him so well, the way he won’t eat green vegetables, the way his tender heart hurts whenever he sees any animal suffering, even roaches (shudder!), the way he sometimes yells rudely at his friends when they don’t understand him, and the way he trusts me: “You are my best mother,” he once said. “You really know me. Maybe you know me the best? I promise I will not shoot you when I am a teenager.”
I took that as a high compliment.
But a mother’s skill set is not infinite, some mothers I admire excepting. My skill set is most definitely finite. Yes, I am a good listener. I take my kids to pool all the time. I buy delightful birthday gifts. I scramble eggs beautifully. I don’t get uptight about stuff, except for the stuff I’m really uptight about. So I have that going for me. And this trait too – I am humble about my abilities. See, I recognize that there is no way on God’s green earth that I can raise my children all by myself, and this is even more true now that I am a single parent, because my energy is divided and my demands have multiplied and the skill set remains as finite as ever.
So I add to my worry list the need for my son to have solid, A+ male role models, not because his dad isn’t a terrific father, but because that component of my son’s life is absent from my home and I have very little input into quality control. A tip of the hat, of course, to grandfathers and uncles and neighbors and a father.
And to the Deacon’s quorum advisor in our ward.
Brother P. is my son’s dream leader, not only because Brother P. loves Mario, Super Smash Bros., the Legend of Zelda, and Spiderman as much as my son, though those shared passions don’t hurt, but because Brother P. reaches out. My son also admires Brother M., the assistant leader. “He carried three boxes at once. He is some kind of strong man!” said my son of this man after watching him help move in a new family in our ward. These guys are almost legendary, they’re so cool in his eyes.
Though he has known Brother P. for a number of years, since my son just barely turned twelve, he is new to the youth program, new to officially being on the youth group roster. He’s been going to scouts for years, yes, and those nights were also meaningful, but he knew that turning twelve meant a graduation into the older kid, err, teenage group. And this transition worried him. He worried that he would get lost, that people wouldn’t know his name, that he would be laughed at and more.
So on his first Wednesday night as a twelve year old, as I tried to nudge, then shove him into the classroom where Young Men/Young Women opening exercises were being held, he would have none of it. Turns out his feet have more staying power than my palms have pushing power.
Just then, my son spotted Brother P. coming down the hall. I could feel him relax and even retract his heels from where he had dug them in. He happily followed his leader into the room without a glance backward. Then I relaxed a little too.
An hour and a half later, when I came to retrieve him, he ran out to the vehicle with great enthusiasm, his happiness evident in the wide smile and the immediate launch into a retelling of the evening.
In typical-to-him fashion, his description of the evening was peppered with spirited hyperbole: “Mom, it was the best time. I really feel like I have some new friends. They liked me! I am part of the group now, the teenager group. I mean, I’m not a teenager yet, but I felt like I had a place there. And Brother P. is letting us go to his house next month and eat pizza and play his games because we knew all of the quiz answers about arachnids and frostbite. And all four of us can go, Mom!
“I was worried that only two of us were going to go because my team was winning the quiz game, but I said a prayer to help the other team do well too so that we could ALL go. On the last question, Brother P. said the person with the right answer would earn three points, so my team earned the three points and we gave them to the other team so they tied us! Now all of us can go.
I, of course, happily wondered what kind of quiz included questions about arachnids and frostbite, then inhaled a bit of his contagious glee.
We all know the saying, ‘It takes a village.’ True words, without a doubt. (Why again did people get so irritable when Hillary Clinton eloquently made the same point in a previous century? That uproar was nonsensical.) But for many folks, finding villagers isn’t always an easy task. We need each other, yes, but don’t always find each other.
But I was reminded in the church parking lot that in addition to all the villagers I am related to by blood, and the villagers who are employed by the school district, and those who live across the street, and even my Skype villagers, I am fortunate to count the youth leaders in my ward in my village population. They willingly do or will spend time with my son, teaching him how to tie knots, reminding him not to kick the basketball in the church gym, encouraging him to earn merit badges and become an Eagle scout, and reassuring him that he belongs.
I am grateful for the intergenerational connections that a ward can provide. It does take a village to raise a child.
And sometimes to raise a mom too.