You are only as happy as your saddest child. This is a phrase I’ve heard before but have never felt the sharp punch of, until now. As we move further into the teen years, life as a parent seems to get a little harder at each turn. There are the things I am anticipating after feeding my curiosity and need with parenting books about what to expect in these turbulent years. It’s a long way off from What to Expect When You’re Expecting and I sometimes think back, if I only knew then… But what would I have changed? Absolutely nothing. From the moment I first saw the amoeba-like sac that was to become our son in April 2006, after months and months of infertility treatment, heard the steady th-thunk of his beating heart, I was a goner, I was his mom. Maybe it started the moment I saw the word pregnant on the blue and white stick from Walgreens. Yes, that was it. It was love. Immediate and immeasurable.
By the time you hit a wall with your child, that wall where you are no longer the one they want to confide in, the thing that is weighing heavily on them, it is too late to flip through the pages of one of those books for a magical remedy. Here is a foolproof way to get them to talk. I gave him space. Offered him food. Cajoled him into watching a couple episodes of our favorite sitcom which never fails to make us laugh. But when the credits rolled his face slammed shut again, he retreated to his room, needing space. How is this not working anymore?
I have worked hard to make myself an approachable parent. Have pulled all sorts of worries from him in the not so distant past. Have kept my face blank of judgement for whatever he is going to say. Have dug for a relatable chunk from my own adolescence to show him this isn’t the end of the world even though it sometimes seems that way. I have failed a test, fought with a friend, disliked a teacher, felt like I didn’t belong. Life is messy and hard. My favorite quip is something I heard not too long ago. Feelings have a shelf life. They expire. They will end up in the trash with the leftovers we forgot to eat. This too will pass.
But none of it worked this time and we go about the day in our separate worlds. Mine has me feeling inexplicably angry and I find myself slamming a door, scraping a chair harder than I need to, banging the pans in the cupboard. It scares me and I stop and go to my room to quiet myself. This is when it hits me, the thing I know but always forget. I can pray.
I was named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, by a childless aunt of my mom on whom she wanted to bestow this special honor. Maybe it is because of that I’ve always felt a special kinship with our Blessed Mother, although our lives couldn’t be more different. But she was also a mother and that’s what I appeal to when I talk to her. How do I do this, Mary, I plead as I recite the Hail Mary prayer over and over like a mantra even though these are not the words that are asking for the specific answers I need.
The prayer is a meditation, a quieting of mind and heart. No, the answers are inaccessible, mysterious, but this simple prayer paves the way for me to go on with my day, to let go for now.