I rolled over restlessly at the first morning light and spotted the thick, folded pile of papers that had been pushed under my door. My heart dropped to my feet and I jumped up to grab them. For an eighth of a second I thought – did he run away? did he hurt himself? – but I knew better.
My precious son and I had a heated argument the night before and there was no doubt the letter was from him. I was afraid to read it. Craig was gone, traveling for work, and I was upset to be handling this situation with our teenager alone.
Brett had been furious with me – he wanted to go to a friend’s get-together and spend the night and I had drawn a line in the sand. I made up my mind that the answer was no and nothing was going to change it. I knew he was exhausted and I was too, and I wouldn’t budge. I saw his utter frustration and remembered, I truly did, being sixteen years old and feeling that burning disappointment of not being allowed to do something that I thought I should, yet still … for me to stand my ground on this particular night was the right thing to do.
What struck me the most about his letter, besides how long it was (six written pages), was the respectful, loving tone that he kept throughout, and his expressing that he felt we weren’t connecting as a family as we once had. As I read his words and feelings of being treated, in his mind, like a five year old – I had flashbacks to his younger years and memories of us snuggling and reading piles of books together, visiting the zoo, going for bike rides, swimming and singing and dancing. When he was a three and four-year-old little stinker, he used to insist that he was going to marry me. Once he got a bit older, he swore he’d never move away and would always live next door.
I truthfully could see his point in much of what he wrote. He always showed himself to be very dependable and reliable and really, theoretically, should’ve been allowed more freedom. I wasn’t ready though. His younger brother was in early middle school at the time and his little sister in kindergarten and I have to admit that by about 7 pm each night, all I really wanted was for everyone to just go.to.sleep. Like most moms around the world, I was tired and worn-out and sometimes not gracious and compassionate.
After reading twice and then checking to make sure he was fine and in bed, I went downstairs to find some paper and penned him back:
“Dear Brett, Thank you for your letter and for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I care very much about your feelings and am thankful that you feel comfortable to be open and honest with me. I don’t know where to start so I will just write randomly as my thoughts come. I love you lots and appreciate you saying that you miss family time and family togetherness, too. I know you are not little anymore, and I will always cherish the days when you were, and all the time you and dad and I and CJ and then Rina spent together playing, reading, doing fun things, traveling, going to exciting places – just being together.
Our lives since 1993 have been focused on being good parents and loving parents and wise parents, and we’re so thankful for you and Collin and Marina. Every stage we go through with you, being the firstborn, is new and different and challenging for us. We kind of learn as we go along and you have taught us so much. I’m so very proud of you. I always have been and I always will be. You’ve always been kind and thoughtful, smart and funny, hard-working and caring … the list can go on and on … God just made you a very awesome human being! I’m so proud to be your mom and always want to do what’s best for you.
Your letter did open my eyes to the fact that evening, many times is, the only time you have free to spend with your friends. Dad and I were both involved in sports, but didn’t have the summer practice or game schedule that is required of you now. I really do hear you and want to compromise as often as I can. You’ve always shown us how trustworthy you are and I want you to experience as much as you can before you go to college. I’m not going to get crazy and promise the world or anything, but I will honestly try to see each situation through your eyes and make the very best decision for you and Dad and I. We love you very much and can’t believe how quickly you’ve grown up.
Please promise me a few things too (maybe several things). Always remember and never take for granted that no one else in the world is going to love you like Dad and I, CJ and Marina, and then someday your own family. God has blessed us all richly! Okay, you can start rolling your eyes now, and of course you’ve heard it before, but please keep God in the center of all your relationships and always make right(eous) and God-pleasing decisions in your relationships with girls. I know the world is trying to tell you something different every time you turn around, but listen to God in everything and you can’t go wrong.
Just like your friends and teammates, we love your company also and always want to spend time with you! I know how important your friends are to you, and I’m so thankful for all your great friends and all the friends you’re going to make throughout your life but please try to schedule time for your family (us) everyday too. Replace facebooking time and texting with more bonding time with those that are with you. I know it does get hectic around here because we have a big, busy, wonderful family, but I always want to make time to connect with you. We just have to be proactive and intentional to make that happen. It’s a challenge in every family, not just ours!
Please limit your texting on our vacation to in the car only, so you can make plenty of time for your brother and sister, Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. So many people love you and want to spend time with you. No one loves you more than God though and He’ll help all of us as you make the transition from a teenager to an adult. Love You, Mom.”
Moods were much brighter later that morning, and after Brett read the letter that I pushed under his door, he came downstairs and hugged me tight. I silently thanked God, as I have thousands of times, for my insightful, handsome, strong and sensitive oldest. The one that first taught me what pure, unconditional love looks and feels like. The one that in my heart will always be my baby boy.
That day was a turning point. I started to see my son as the young man he was becoming instead of the little boy he once was. I realized that the countdown was on until he would be leaving us and heading out into the world, ready or not. He was able to identify and express that he needed more down time to balance out the hard work and many hours he put into school and sports. I respected that. A balance was something we all definitely needed in that season of life. Since early on, I tried, everyday and still do, to make meaningful connection with my kids, but after that night I did so even more.
God uses conflict to grow us and the results can be tremendous if we’re humble enough to let Him.
There was doubt and uncertainty for Craig and I, similar to most parents I suppose, at the time of launching the boys, questioning if we’d done our job sufficiently. As the saying goes, raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart. Brett and Collin have long been out of those temperamental, up and down years, but we’re still wading through them with their sister. I’m grateful that God gave me, over time, the vision and wisdom to relate to and parent each one of my children as differently and uniquely as He created them. I still hold tightly to His hand every minute.
That “baby boy,” now an actuary with a stressful job and a beautiful fiancee’ he’ll marry in eight short months, is a humble and considerate man, turning twenty-six years old today. And no, he’s not living next door, but in an unpretentious, midwestern capital city, two hundred and forty miles away. I’m thankful that we see each other often and that distance will never break our bonds and our love for laughing and sharing life together.
Brett, you’ve always been a huge source of joy and pride and wonder for Dad and I, and one of the most blessed and greatest gifts we’ve ever received. Your birthday is the twenty-sixth anniversary of us being granted the title of “mom and dad.” There is no other designation that has stretched and evolved us more. God gave us a tremendous offering the day you were born, entrusting you to our care, and we’re infinitely grateful.
Happy birthday to you, our oldest son. We’re so excited that Abby will become your wife and join our family and can’t wait to see all that God has in store for you both. We pray that He continues to bless you lavishly and constantly guides your every step. Life is endlessly changing, but one thing never will.
Our deep love for you … always and forever.
1 Corinthians 13: 7 & 8 “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”