Boys and Men

Today I was in a gas station with my 13-year-old son, Alex. I heard an older lady talking to herself while struggling to use the ATM. She couldn’t figure it out and was getting really frustrated and anxious. I hesitated to help because I thought she might feel like I was going to take advantage of her, but then it became more and more apparent that she wasn’t getting it. I asked if she needed help and she said yes, she did, that since her stroke she’s had a hard time understanding things. She was appreciative of my help, very sweet and friendly. 

As we worked on it together, Alex came down the aisle on the other side of her. I saw her look at him and felt her pull back, fearful. I looked at him from her point of view: a tall young man, hovering nearby, trying unsuccessfully to look inconspicuous. Suddenly I realized the inconvenience of being a male in that situation. We talk about women feeling afraid, but what about men, even helpful men, who want to do something nice for an older lady but are seen as threatening? I saw Alex and remembered my little guy who liked to cuddle and hug and play drums on the pots and pans, but she saw Alex as a man taller than she was, sidling up beside her to steal her cash. 

If only she knew that he looked at her slyly from the corner of his eye because he is shy and embarrassed and doesn’t quite know whether to talk to her or not. If only she knew that not long ago he stood in the living room hugging his big sister as she cried about the death of her guinea pig. If only she knew he has shaved fewer times than he can count on one hand and still feels nervous about going to the high school for band practice with the big kids since he is just in middle school himself. 

“Oh, that’s my son. Hey, Alex!” I said, and she visibly relaxed.

I won’t always be there to help the older ladies see him for who he is. I hope he can do that for himself. I don’t think he’ll have a problem. He’s pretty sweet. But I had just told him a moment earlier that if he heard someone struggling like that he had to think through whether to help her or not because she might feel scared that he was trying to hurt her. 

I know that because it’s happened before to his dad. Andrew has a particular appeal to older ladies. I don’t think he’s ever met a woman over the age of 50 who didn’t love him within minutes of meeting him. But once he was in a grocery store where an older woman was having a very hard time with the ATM. He watched, thinking about offering to help, when her friend appeared out of nowhere and started yelling at him. Accusing him of trying to steal the woman’s pin over her shoulder, she wouldn’t listen to reason. She called a security guard over. Finally, they worked it out, but I had to warn Alex of the potential for misunderstanding.  

How sad that we live in a world where a vulnerable person has to be suspicious of a 13-year-old! In a society where a kind man tries to be a gentleman and is punished for it or treated with suspicion, how can we teach our boys to make a difference to those in vulnerable positions? We instruct our children the best that we can, but in a fallen world we must face the fact that even people who are trying to help others can be hurt or can hurt them inadvertently. The man who wants to help a woman, the friend who tries to protect her, the boy watching innocently as his mom assists someone. I’m not sure a lot can be done about this, besides leading our children to care for others and be wise in the way they approach that caring, but I hope a consistently kind and loving, godly presence in society will somehow make a difference. I have to believe it will. 

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Beginning and Ending

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m getting ready to make dinner. It’s a special dinner, as it is every New Year’s Eve, since it’s Hannah’s birthday dinner. I told a friend today that our New Year’s Eve is always pretty boring, except for that one New Year’s Eve when we had a baby. That one was pretty exciting.

img_4211That particular New Year’s Eve, we were in the hospital early in the morning, and Hannah was born around 2:30 pm. We were supposed to go to a party with our small group from church, but instead we called them and told them we were in the hospital with our new baby. They all spent the night at their party and came to visit us in the hospital the next day. We were the first of the group to have a baby, so everyone passed her around, talking to her and cuddling her. Those are special memories.

The Beginning and the End

img_4212We had no idea how having a baby would change our lives. We had a cerebral knowledge that everything would be different, but we didn’t know how that change would feel on a day to day basis. I remember telling a coworker I’d decide whether to do some freelance work “when everything went back to normal” after the baby was born. She just laughed and said, “Nothing is ever going back to normal.” How right she was!

I had no idea how it would feel when absolutely no decision  would ever be made again without first considering how it would affect that little being and her siblings. Every single decision now gets filtered through the how-will-it-affect-the-kids filter.

The moment she settled her little self into my arms marked the beginning of the difficult process of thinking about someone else on a consistent basis. That moment ended my ability to live for myself while at the same time pretending to myself that I was living for others. This is something I never learned in Bible college, didn’t learn in ministry, had only begun to learn in marriage at that time. Each step in life has taken me deeper into the project of thinking about others, a huge endeavor to say the least, but the step into parenthood was like stepping off the high dive and jumping into the deep end of a pool of lava. Trial by fire!

img_4213I spent my whole childhood and young adulthood preparing for and doing ministry. I was 100% in when it came to my work. I loved living overseas, loved teaching, loved the kids I worked with, loved my friends there. I loved it all! Having a baby, we decided we’d be staying in the US for a long time. We decided I would stay home with the baby instead of trying to find a job that paid enough to cover childcare. I guess I thought motherhood would be my thing, but over time I still missed other things. I had trouble figuring out what my niche was in this new state of affairs. Besides childcare, did I have a purpose?

 

For a long time, I struggled with this. I felt alone a lot, and I resented my husband for getting to go to work and sit in a quiet office where he did things like read books and write lesson plans. Alone. With hours and hours at his disposal and an endless career to feed.

New Life

Gradually I got used to parenting, to thinking about children ahead of myself. Gradually I adjusted to being home with them, and eventually I did start working again. I earned a masters. I got jobs and now even have a career. Over time, I learned that being a mom can teach me more than I ever thought I could learn. I have learned a lot about sacrifice and trust. I’ve learned about patience and how my words and actions affect others. I’ve learned a lot.

I’d like to say I learned those things well. I’d like to say I loved it all. I’d like to say I didn’t struggle most of the time. I can’t say that, but I can say I’ve made it so far, and I can say that now that they’re almost all teenagers I enjoy parenting. That’s something, right? I love spending time with them and joking around. I like having intelligent conversations about truly important topics. I like sharing real insight and hearing theirs. I love seeing their interests and thinking about the people they’re becoming, wondering what they’ll do in their lives. I love those kids in ways that I could never have understood on that New Year’s Eve fifteen years ago.

Today my girl Hannah got in a car and drove us to the mall. Legally. And today she planned her whole birthday, including that trip to the mall with a friend. Today she made herself a birthday cake for fun with her boyfriend. I listened to them laughing in the kitchen and smiled at the fun they were having. Maybe we did ok after all!

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