While sitting in a research meeting on campus yesterday, my phone rang.
Oh no. My son’s school.
“Josh is fine, but there was an incident, and we want to meet with you. Today.” My heart is beating out of my chest. I am told that I don’t have to come now, but that it needs to be before pick-up. “Wait…But hurry.”
Uggh.. This part is so hard. The waiting. The uncertainty. The fear. That out-of-control feeling when you realize your kid, however young he may be, is a real person capable of having his own thoughts and making his own decisions. She wouldn’t give me any details over the phone, but after hearing the director’s tone and choice of words, I was pretty sure my son was the offender. This filled me with a range of emotions from fear to guilt to concern to helplessness. “What if it’s really bad?” “How will I respond?” I realized that allowing my imagination to run wild was not productive for my stress level or sanity, so I tried to quiet those voices and pray. I prayed that I would handle the situation graciously and thoughtfully. I prayed that I would be receptive and not quick to judgment or anger. (Both toward my son and toward others involved). But mostly, I prayed for my son. I prayed that he would know the love and forgiveness of God and trust in the love and forgiveness of his parents.
I didn’t know how I would feel when I found out the specifics of the incident in question, but I knew this. I wasn’t going to reject my son, no matter what the school told me or what he had done. I know my boy. He is sensitive and empathic and intuitive, and he knows the feeling of rejection so acutely already. My mind was imagining the worst possible scenarios, and as I played them out, I pictured myself moving toward my son in love and grace, reminding him that even when I am mad and disappointed and hurt (which I will be at times because that is a part of relationships and the impact our actions have on others), his offenses will never be greater than my love and commitment to him as my son.
In typical Karin fashion, I have now built up this story to an anti-climactic point where I tell you that, although the offense was definitely disobedient and even dangerous, it was not among the worst of the fears that bounced around my head on my drive over to the school. That is a technique I use as a counselor, too. Think of the worst case scenario. Process how you would handle it and what it would feel like. Now imagine an equally plausible scenario that is not so horrible. How does that feel? Okay, if I am being honest, my approach in the car may not have been as therapeutic as I just described. But the relief I felt was palpable nonetheless. And for the record, I can say that his sweet and intuitive teacher handled it superbly, and I am grateful for that.
After a positive and encouraging interaction with the director and teacher, I was eager to walk down to my son’s classroom and receive him with grace and love. When I came in, he gave me a sheepish smile and wavered before walking over to me. He was trying to read my face and body language to see if I knew, and he was watching me to see how I would respond. I smiled and said, “Let’s go home.” He walked slowly next to me, looking at me every so often, then looking back down. I didn’t make much small talk, but I didn’t give him the cold shoulder either. I just walked with him. I put him in the car, then came around and sat next to him in the back seat. He was surprised and kind of laughed, not knowing what I was up to.
I looked my son in the eye, told him I loved him, smiled slightly but intently, then asked him to tell me what happened today. As we sat there together, I watched my son wrestle through the events of the day painfully in his mind, telling me bits and pieces, then withdrawing. This cycle went on a few times, then finally, after most of the story had been retold from his perspective along with remorse and guilt, he said the thing I had been fearing and praying through since I first got the call. He said he was afraid I wouldn’t forgive him. He spoke the words with such raw emotion and genuineness, and he wouldn’t look at me after he said them. I turned my son’s face to mine, kissed his nose, and told him that I forgive him and I love him, and I always will. Always. Then we had a serious conversation about obedience, respect, and thinking about consequences before acting.
There is a line from the movie Spanglish that reminds me of my feelings yesterday. The main character says, “Worrying about your children is sanity. And being that sane is enough to drive you nuts.” In the midst of all the stress and anxiety I felt yesterday afternoon, I also experienced a deep sense of gratitude. I have wanted to be a parent my whole life. Now I am a parent, and sometimes my child drives me nuts. I love this little person so much and so deeply that it makes me feel crazy sometimes. But in those moments when I get wrapped up in my own craziness of worrying about my child, I also remind myself that I cannot control him or protect him from the world’s problems or make all of his decisions for him. He is his own little person with a will and a mind and a heart and a body and a soul. I have been given the privilege of being his mother. And with that privilege comes a great deal of responsibility and diligence. But every day, whether we put our kids on school buses or home school them, whether they live in our house or have a house and a family of their own, we have to release our children into the world and hope and pray they will be okay. (Mom, I get it now.)
Being a parent is the most maddening and sane thing I have ever done. And even though yesterday was a tough day, it was important. Josh needs those moments. He needs to make bad choices and mess up sometimes. And I need those moments, too. I need to be reminded of my lack of control and trust God in my parenting.
The poet Kahlil Gibran sums up the complicated and beautiful mystery of caring for your children and releasing them at the same time. Here is an excerpt that is meaningful to me.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I pray that I will be a stable and glad bow for my son, the adventurous and spirited arrow.
And I hope for no more school phone calls any time soon.