“Mom, you say you don’t care, but it kinda seems like you do,” was what my almost 15 year old son punched into my gut. 

“Oh, I care but I don’t want to,” was my only response. 

“Maybe you should go sit with that,” he wisely advised. 

So, I went, and I sat with it. And I continue to. 

Why did I care so very much? And, how do I practice letting go? 

My son is a brand new freshman, and a few weeks ago he was unexpectedly catapulted into the whirlwind of the high school Homecoming scene. From what I can gather, the Homecoming circus begins like this: everyone attends a friendly and unassuming social mixer, mobs of kids advance, and they begin asking other random and unfamiliar kids to attend Homecoming with them. Once it’s confirmed with a nod, the date is sealed*. SnapChat info is shared. This is their main form of communication-on Snapshit, I mean SnapChat – sending pictures of half their face. Once this meaningful and intimate connection is established, parents swoop in to manage all the minute details to make this spectacle as magical as possible. Questions such as: Handheld bouquet or corsage? Dinner at a country club or restaurant? Where’s the best place for photos? Arrival by  limo or bus or minivan? Who’s hosting the after party into the wee hours of the morning? etc, are asked by parents to their children. I’m 99.9% certain these particular questions do not go through the freshman boy’s brain, and are subsequently extremely annoyed at being bothered with them. And lastly, this exchange occurs between the local all boys and all girls schools. Both schools have to host a Homecoming dance because we are an equitable and fair society for the privileged, therefore this is done twice in a two week period. 

(* in some instances an “other” choice presents itself, thus the first choice is dropped without him even knowing he’s been dropped, until he connects to ask what kind of flowers she would like to which she responds, “oh, I’m going with someone else” – true story). 

The first dance was planned by the girls. My son knew half of his date’s face, and 1 other full person out of the 20 kids in his group. First, we drove in our minivan 25 minutes out of town for the photos to be taken, followed by the 25 minute drive back into town for the dinner at a local restaurant, then the actual dance, ending with the 40 minute drive to the after party until 1 am. We decided it was best for him to not attend the after party due to just participating in a 3 game soccer tournament that weekend, followed by many hours of homework he would need to be partaking in the next day. He was fine with it, and was sound asleep by 10:45 that night. He had a great time and was full of joy when I picked him up. 

For the boys’ turn to host, I told my son that we would be happy to host the pre-dance photos, and pizza dinner at our home. He half-faced it to the SnapChat group, and they agreed this sounded like a good idea. Someone immediately usurped the plan in exchange for dinner at a local country club 25 minutes out of town. He shared this with me, and told me he’d rather go to the country club. I was bewildered and said to him that I didn’t care what he did, but that his choice was wrong and ridiculous. This was precisely the moment I was called out on my “not caring kind of caring”. The healthiest choice I had was to walk away, and become kindly curious with myself.  

I sat. I listened to my mind rage, and I noticed all that was bubbling up to the surface. I decided it was best to be extra gentle and kind to myself as I sat in the mess I had become.

I was baffled. I like to get dressed up, I like to feel pretty. I like to listen to music and dance with abandon next to my friends. I don’t understand the need for all the other stuff – why the flowers, fancy dinners, photos, after party? Isn’t this what weddings are for? I don’t like to call a lot of attention to myself, and perhaps these things make me feel like they do. But, I’m not going to the dance, so why should I care? 

But I do care…

I was feeling enraged at what we, as adults, have placed on the shoulders of kids. All I could see was the desire for everything EXTRA. This is not the fault of our children; they are the recipients of what we as parents, and society, deem important: appearing physically beautiful, happy, and as rich as possible. “This is where your value lies, young one, in how you appear,” is the underlying message invisibly written in every social media outlet. 

And…I was revisiting the shame I felt as a child for how I grew up. My family was middle- upper class, and I had no real wants or needs. I felt safe, cared for, extremely loved and valued, and was taught the value of money and hard work. My childhood was idyllic. I was a sensitive kid, especially to those who had less than myself. With no fault to my parents, this sensitivity developed a shame within me revolving around how much I had in terms of love and money, in comparison to others who had less. I struggled with how and why I seemingly deserved it, while others did not. I had learned to equate how much a person had with how much they were valued as a human being. My shame was fueling a fear that was sitting on my chest. A fear that my son would not appreciate all he has. Even worse, the awareness that I was disappointed that he did not carry the burden of my shame on his shoulders. That somehow my shame made me noble and he should carry it alongside me. This realization about myself still hurts.

This is when my mindfulness and self-compassion practices become my best friends. I sat with the uninvited emotions of befuddlement, rage, and shame. It was uncomfortable. I spoke them each by name, and began to let them go with the tears trickling down my face, followed by screams into a pillow. I reminded myself that it’s okay to feel these disagreeable feelings and it’s helpful  to understand where they come from. Only when they are truly seen, can they release their tight grip. I forgave myself for feeling as I did.

Everything about this Homecoming experience has been a constant reminder of what is important to ME, and what I value as a human being. I am going through this experience as a 47 year old woman, who’s lived a lot of life, yet am still learning. My young son, whose brain, emotions, and full self are still developing, is just following what his peers are doing. He is behaving in the exact manner I would have at his age. It’s not my job to control or shame his actions and choices. It’s my job to gently guide him based on how I live my own life. It is also an important reminder that I can learn to trust my son. He will disappoint and amaze me in ways I’ve never expected. It’s only fair I give him the space to try it all out. 

It’s also shown me what I control in my life to help guide him. I can begin to create the change I would like to see for our kids. Over the next many years I will have 3 sons in high school, all attending various dances and activities. I can help create a space, where more of our youth’s full developing selves and minds can emerge revealing all of their faces instead of just half.

(Shared with permission from that kid in the photo with me).

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