The Miracle of Teenage Boys

The pressures to pull back as our children grow up are enormous, particularly as adolescence has such a terrible rep. What a treat to get chances to notice how wonderful our teenagers are.

When I had babies, I never actually believed I'd have teenagers. It wasn't that I thought they'd die early--I just couldn't imagine them being that big. And I certainly couldn't imagine being a teenager's mom.

But there's something inevitable about the process... Last summer my son got invited by his buddy on a fishing trip--one single mom and three boys. I was awed that the mom was willing to take it on, and glad that it wasn't me. Then this summer my son announced that he would host the second annual mother-and-son fishing trip--if I would take them. I couldn't believe he asked me. (There's a lot about this parenting business that I've had a hard time believing.) After all, for goodness sake, he has a father. And the idea of spending a weekend alone with three by now fully-fledged teenage boys was, frankly, terrifying. Oh, I'd known them since they were little, but now they were big. How would we get along together? How could they possibly have a good time with me? I couldn't imagine pulling it off, but even less could I imagine turning down his invitation. Who knows if he would ever ask me to do anything with him again?

So we planned our destination, shopped for his carefully-developed food list, gathered gear, rushed around for last-minute, almost-forgotten items--matches, flashlights--and set off. We listened to music I don't usually hear in the car. After all, they were in the majority, and it was their trip. As we were slowly cruising the backwoods of the campground, looking for the perfect site, they looked out, then leaned out, then leaned farther. More and more of their bodies went out the windows till they were all sitting on the roof--one of the many times I got to decide that there was no pressing reason to impose adult restraints on youthful exuberance.

It wasn't a perfect weekend. Their messiness wore me down. The big fish that we could see so clearly swimming among the weeds refused to bite. My son's goal of bringing to life the memory of last year's trip left him disappointed in many ways. But it was a good time--and I had a good time! We were in a beautiful place. Their language was foul, their interests different, but they were good kids, pleased to be together on this adventure, and fun to be with. They made me laugh.

The best time was watching them play at a dam in the river. Three strong young bodies--stretching, climbing, sliding, jumping, delighting in using all their muscles. Three lively minds--looking for the potential in every moment, building on each other's ideas to create adventures out of water and rock, making each other laugh. I felt incredibly privileged to see them so clearly in all the beauty of their young manhood.

It's so different from the picture we usually get of teenage boys--surly, non-cooperative, dangerous to themselves, each other and the world at large. That message may have truth in it, but I wonder if we do our boys a grave disservice to give it any credence at all. It can so easily color what we see. People could have listened to these boys and heard only their swearing. They could have watched them horsing around and seen only mischief and danger. And they would have lost out on the chance to really know and see three delightful young men. It's a chance that I'm pleased beyond words to have gotten.