I was driving home yesterday and my son was with me in the car. He is 15. Recently we have been going through somewhat of a tumultuous journey as he wades through the middle of his teenage years; juggling exams, surging testosterone, bad habits and the need to assert more independence.
At times it feels like he is a grown man and others too immature to handle all that the world is throwing at him. My little surfer looking dude with his smooth tanned skin, long blonde hair, blue eyes and cute little lisp due to his missing front teeth is no more. He has been replaced with a 6ft 1, seriously spotty (because getting him to use face wash is akin to herding wild boar) shaved headed (well the gradient stops three quarters of the way up but still, where have his beautiful locks gone!?) man boy. The little boy whose constant stream of hugs, kisses and I love you so much mummy, has melded into a moody and at times downright disrespectful and rude young man who has recently started smoking and thinks all teenagers are meant to be drinking!
I exaggerate to say the sweetness has all gone, it hasn’t and it isn’t all ‘bad’. That sweet natured soul with a heart the size of Texas is still in there. His incredibly funny and charming, sociable personality shines through. In the midst of the madness he still makes me laugh until I cry and his ever evolving stream of expressions never cease to amazed me. People have always commented on what a beautiful soul he is. That remains but is often overshadowed by his moods. Although masked by the teenage T-Rex, he still hugs me before school, says, I love you mum, kisses me goodnight and phones when he has gone AWOL, which unless he is on lock down, is generally every day.
His dad and I are like chalk and cheese. So far removed from one another that the only middle ground is our son. We separated shortly after he was born but have (which I have to say in the early years required tremendous amounts of energy and effort) a good relationship and always work together in raising our son and make everything, pretty much, about him.
This means for want of a better analogy my son has as much chalk as he does cheese. Who am I to say what is right and what is wrong, that the way I live is good and the way his dad lives is, well, not so good. We both love him the same and really that’s all that matters. I cannot control anything, other than my own thoughts (debatable as they have a will of their own) behaviour and actions.
There are times when I see things in my son that are present in his dad; personality traits that I wish were not there. I have come to accept them and almost smile when I see them appear. Although at times some of the things my son says hurt my heart for how he is perceiving the world, I realise that these are things he has learnt. I know that there are things present in him that I have passed on from my life before. Before I changed my life and before I know what I know now.
My favourite saying, to which both of my children will often roll their eyes, is the famous Buddhist saying, ‘it is what it is.’ We can only be who we are and do what we do from the place we are at. When you work at being the best you can be, you are doing the best you can, but ultimately, even if you are blissfully unaware in terms of self awareness, you are still really just doing the best you can.
Fortunately, thank goodness for that (!) for most of my son’s life I have been living a good life, in the sense of being on my own personal development journey. He has, therefore, constantly been drip fed golden nuggets of information about living an ‘enlightened’ life. Recently, however, some of his behaviour makes me wonder whether it has ever actually even made its way in!
So back to our drive home which, by the way, was to buy a Father’s Day card for his dad. We have been working on him not smoking. One of the things I am grateful for is his honesty. He always tells the truth. This wasn’t always easy for him and it took time and patience to get him to realise that lying gets you nowhere and ultimately the truth comes out in the end anyway so you are better just telling it how it is in the first place. He will sometimes come up with elaborate stories about why something happened or why he did what he did. Maybe it is because my heart is his heart or just plainly that you know when your children are lying to you. I just instinctively know and he knows I know too. After his story telling, he will smile and say, you know anyway so I will tell you the truth.
The previous night to our drive he had been particularly disrespectful towards me. He is on another ‘lock down’ while we help him stop smoking and he was walking to see his dad. My daughter and I were walking the dog but he didn’t want to join us and forged ahead. ‘Go straight to your dad’s house, do not pass go and do not collect £200,’ I joked, knowing that usually him leaving the house meant he would disappear for half the night. He grumbled something under his breath, pulled his hoodie further over his head and stomped off.
We bumped into him again part way around our walk and he was going in a different direction to that of his dad’s house. Not surprised, I asked him where he was going. He stumbled over his words to say he was going to a friends before rolling his eyes and saying, ‘ok then, I am going for a cigarette’. I tried to talk him out of it and he justified that he had gone from 5 to 1 in a day and hadn’t had any of it. I took a deep breath, told him to go to his dad’s house as soon as he could and left with my daughter in the opposite direction to finish our walk, reminding myself that I cannot control the actions of others. I realise he is my son and is still technically a child, but still I am trying to guide him into making better choices for himself.
On our car journey we were talking about this and he was once again grumbling away about what I was trying to say about better choices. Having been through the very same thing (and far worse) myself, I told him, I do understand.
My son does this thing (often and more so in the last year) where he will intentionally do things because he knows I don’t like it. He will talk about something he knows go against my views on something, or are the opposite extreme to something I believe in. He is of course just trying to push my buttons. I know this and am mindful of it. I try to ignore it, smile and let him get it out of his system. He was, I realised, in one of those moods.
He switched the music over in the car to some absolutely awful rapper (apologies for the judgement but the song lyrics nearly killed me off) who was articulating in great detail what he was doing with a woman while my son laughed his head off at the shocking lyrics. It isn’t that there is anything shameful about them but we don’t need to hear that, not in a song. I once again reminded myself I can only but guide and not control, took a deep breath, dropped my shoulders and let it go. He changed the song.
He chose the Father’s Day card and I stopped in the petrol (gas) station on the way home. I returned to the car.
As we drove off he said quite seriously, ‘I have really started to notice the parts of me that are from you and the parts of me that are from dad.’
I asked him what he meant.
‘Well, there are times when I am about to think something about someone and I know what I am thinking is the way dad thinks. Sometimes he isn’t nice to people. There was a man coming out of the petrol station and I caught myself thinking something not so nice about him, but then it was like the part of me that is you took over.’
He continued on.
‘You have a good heart and soul. You always try to be kind to people. I know that is also within me because I feel that way about people, like the man coming out of the petrol station. So just as I was thinking something not nice, the part of me that is you jumped in and thought, he’s just a man doing the best he can.’
I was totally dumbfounded by what he said. I know he has a good heart and is generous and loving beyond measure, but it touched me by how night and day he saw his thinking. It made me feel sad he thought the bad thoughts were from his dad and the good from me. His dad is a good man. His thinking might be very off at times but he has a good heart.
We talked on the way home about encouraging more kindness and compassion and he said that he was going to be more mindful of his thoughts and his judgements about people.
It occurred to me that with little effort he was already being mindful – he noticed the pause and in that brief millisecond had been mindful of thinking something bad about someone and instead brought forth a kind thought about them.
Change happens when you notice the pause…