I sat in awe, looking at my son as he talked to me. We were squished into a tiny, two-person table, up against a partition, in a very busy breakfast joint. I felt outside my body for a few minutes, as if I were watching the two of us conversing in a movie scene.
I wanted to eat my eggs before they got cold, but it was hard to remove my gaze from his face, full of honest emotion and spilling forth words that made me want to stand up and shout, “MOMS! It’s all gonna be OK!” over the clatters of silverware and lively conversations.
My son had just come home the night before for spring break of his second year of college. I knew he’d ask to go out for breakfast the next morning. It’s his favorite meal and I love how it tends to bring out a talkative mood in him, as we sip coffee and ease into the pondering of pancakes versus egg dishes.
I asked how his classes were going and he started to tell me some details about the Philosophy class he’s currently taking. “It’s super hard, but I love it,” he stated. Umm…repeat that, please?!
That one, singular statement alone sent an emotional shockwave through my body. I had an immediate flashback to the brightly lit halls of his elementary school, where I’d be sitting on a folding chair waiting to enter a classroom on so many Parent-Teacher Conference nights.
These are some of the things I’d hear from those caring teachers, over and over and over again.
“He’s a smart kid but he rushes through everything. He just wants to finish first and be done.”
“He’s a good kid but he’s academically lazy and doesn’t want to put forth a lot of effort.”
“He’s definitely not working to his full potential.”
And those words were never a surprise, I was his Mom after all, but it never got any easier hearing them. I knew he was a procrastinator, sped through homework, and didn’t want to try very hard if a subject didn’t excite him or if it challenged him a little too much. And it was all made worse, year after year, being the younger brother of an older sister who was never lazy and excelled in school.
So, I worried. About many things as he grew up. Things I had never worried about with my daughter.
Would he ever develop the grit to persevere in the face of challenges? Was he so scared of failing that it caused him to avoid working hard? Would he wake up one day and finally “get it?” Would his persistent apathy ever burn off?
Would he eventually prove me and those teachers wrong?
For years, friends would try to appease me with offerings like, “He’s a boy. They mature so much later than girls.” And, “Don’t worry, he’ll come around eventually. It’s normal.” I always appreciated their appeasements but remained doubtful and worried often. It’s in a Mom’s DNA, right?
But sitting at that brown, Formica-topped table the other morning, cradling a coffee mug as I listened to my son speaking, I began to almost physically feel weight lifting up from my body and my soul. The weight of years and years of Mom worries, of nights spent tossing and turning, of imagining worst case scenarios.
I felt like I could have closed my eyes and seen colorful puzzle pieces floating together, shifting orientations and interlocking with satisfying snaps. Or big, gray clouds separating from a huge clump to expose an orb of sun, brightening the sky with blinding rays projecting out at differing angles. If our scene had been in a movie, the soundtrack would have included a soaring orchestral surge at that “…but I love it,” moment.
If this all sounds overly dramatic, you maybe find yourself in a very lucky and small minority of parents, if indeed any such exist. Are there those people who neverworry about their children’s futures, or second guess some of their parenting decisions along the way? People who can separate facts and statistics from flesh and blood in the form of a beloved small person who struggles or causes them frustration and heartache?
Parenthood is that rare job that affords us an intimate, front row seat experience to so many amazing achievements and breakthroughs. Both small and significant victories alike, such as watching your child finally walk or master riding a bike on their own; play a violin or solve a geometry proof, pitch a perfect inning or belt out a song in perfect pitch. Witnessing those moments of triumph during your child’s life is quite simply exhilarating.
But I now realize that nothing is quite as thrilling as the realization that your grown child has become a thoughtful and caring human being. That they have a pretty good grasp on how life is not fair for everyone, how we all have biases and are products of our environment. How people have to actually work at understanding a different viewpoint, and that life is full of challenges but working hard is necessary and brings about positive change in so many instances.
In that noisy restaurant my son thoughtfully touched upon topics like empathy, free will, and moral reasoning. Instead of apathy, I heard and felt his curiosity.
Over a plate of eggs and hash browns that turned cold, he made me smile, tear up, feel proud and think. I wanted to just sit back for another hour and ignore everything and everyone else in that restaurant to let him keep talking.
Eventually, my son lamented the fact that he might very well end up with a C in this difficult Philosophy class. Then, he added that he’s honestly OK with it, because he’s learning so much from the professor and it’s changing his perspective on how he thinks about a lot of things.
For this Mom, it was one of the most beautiful and satisfying days of my twenty-two years of parenting.
Will I stop worrying about him now? Of course not. Is my son a completely developed and self-aware adult? Nope, not yet. But I find such comfort in the knowledge that he’s well on his way, is working hard at things that challenge him, and is beginning to truly “get it.”