Last week while walking in my neighborhood I observed an annual back-to-school ritual; waiting at the bus stop. Only 6:45 a.m., the sun was scarcely peaking over the dunes that line A1A and the sky promised a beautiful clear day. With the first bell for our local middle school ringing at 7:20, a before-sunrise pickup was not unusual.
Even from a distance I could surmise a few things about the young scholar. He was nervous, really nervous. Every noise prompted him to anxiously peer up and down the street. Most likely a 6th grader, his growth spurt had not yet kicked in, his large backpack still seemed to envelope his small back, and his movements were that of a former 5th grader who, no longer the school top dog, realized he was once again at the bottom of the social food chain. The most telling portion of the scene, however, was the perceived detachment the boy had placed between himself and his mother’s car.
As I neared I could hear what turned out to be a one-sided conversation.
Mom, leaning out the open car window: “I know you’re going to do great.”
Mom: “Remember that I put money in your lunch account.”
His head was completely turned away, his body language stating the obvious. The young man wanted her to go away, far away. He did not want to make small talk and he certainly did not want his mom sitting there when the yellow behemoth drew near. The mom’s voice held a hint of desperation leading me to believe it was only the strongest measure of self-control that kept her from jumping out of the car to hug him one last time. He was her baby, all grown up (at least in his mind) and headed to middle school; he was her baby, all grown up (at least in his mind) and longing for independence. It was only the strongest measure of self-control that kept me from running up to her to let her know she would be okay.
I thought about that young man throughout the day, wondering how he was doing, if he found his classes okay, if he had friends to sit with at lunch. I thought about that mom as well and how that early morning scene was a reflection of my own current situation.
My youngest son is in 10th grade, a 15 year old in a man’s body. No, I do not wait for him at the bus stop; he rides to school with his brother or a friend. He also makes his own breakfast (his choice, not mine) and longs to be independent in every sense of the word. I am that mom, sitting alone in the car, trying to start conversations with a person who more often than not turns his head away. Just like the young boy looking with impatience for the bus to arrive, my son is impatiently looking for the arrival of adulthood, freedom, liberation. I try to warn him that it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be, this adult thing – that it is hard work – but my counsels are more often than not rejected as hovering and interfering. There are also times when he is on the verge of talking, of sharing a secret, but rather than listening without judgment, my inclination is to interrupt to point out the foolishness of his ways. He hurts my feelings; I hurt his. And so it goes.
And just when I think it can’t get any worse, just when I tell myself that I’m a failure and that he’s out of reach, a breath of grace appears. That gentle wind comes during a dear friend’s wedding celebration, my son laughing loudly as he and I dance across the floor together. It drifts softly from another mom who calls to tell me that my son is a great kid who always has such good manners when visiting their home. It comes in the form of a prayer, a text message from Texas saying, “God put your son on my heart during chapel this morning. I prayed. God is acting on your behalf.” It comes from his beautiful smile that I catch across a room. The messages are filled with hope and that hope rolls over me like a wave.
Thinking back to the bus stop, I want to fast-forward to day’s end and imagine that young boy coming home at the end of his first day of middle school. I want him to burst through the door and tell his mother every single detail about every single class. Realistically she was probably lucky to get a grunt or an “it was okay” as answers to her queries but I want to tell her to sit still and listen. Even when her son is silent I want to tell that mom to hold on and wait for the breeze. I want her to look for hope in the smallest of details even when the distance between seems to grow wider. I want to remind her to love. I want her to listen to my words and believe, because perhaps while reminding her, I will choose to believe them myself.