LANDING THE HELICOPTER and LOVING MY SON
He’s had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.
Do I contradict myself? Not really. While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things. They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more. More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.
|My son, 3 years old, and me|
He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye. Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased. Fortunately he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight.
For me, that morning, seeing his adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer. It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.
Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD. We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework. Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him.
But he had a lot of friends. And that made him really happy. And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas. We love those boys. Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.
In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football. Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line. He was doing it, and doing it so well! What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week. And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur. He was out for the remainder of the season.
Now, in college, he’s had a huge awakening of sorts. He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade. Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds. Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.
Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself. Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow. We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle. Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself up without us lending a hand.
|My son and husband, 2010|
So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.
We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.