Today my biggest boy is fourteen. It's the first time he's ever had to go to school on his birthday as it's usually at the end of the Christmas holidays, but I think he enjoyed it anyway. We started with a McDonalds breakfast, met up in town after school to buy new clothes and have a Costa, ate Chinese food for tea and finished with a head-to-head on his new game, The Rivals for Catan.
I got a much needed kick up the bum a few weeks ago when it came to this boy. In the last year I've been a bit too confident about this parenting teenagers thing and thought I would just take it all in my stride. I've focused very much on behaviour and responsibility and trying to turn them into men. What I haven't been focused on is the emotional change in me while watching them turn from boys to men. It's a weird thing when the boys you once threw around and wrestled can now look you in the eye without stretching their necks. It's weirder when I keep thinking there's a man in my house and realising it's just the voice of my eldest son. It's weird when they unexpectedly do things that seem really mature and grown up, like taking responsibility for making a meal, and then immediately after get into a an argument with their five-year-old sister about nothing just to see her reaction.
These things don't make sense in my head and I feel like I'm having to jump from one mode to another as one moment I speak to them like adults and the other moment as if they're children. It requires way more flexibility and mental awareness than I want to devote to it most days, and this is why it's an important part of my "being present" challenge for this year.
When I do it wrong, I look into the past and I just want them to be children again, to be bundled in bed at a certain time, and be unaware of the grown up conversations around me, and not to be wrestling with the opinions of their peers as if they are on a par with their parents'. I tell myself if their dad was here they wouldn't use that tone of voice or giggle when I'm telling them off because I'd have back up all the time. Or I look too far ahead, and I think that because these boys are starting to look and sound and even smell (it's true) like men, that means they can shoulder the responsibility of an adult and do a thorough job of every task I set them, and understand where I'm at emotionally and be leant on when I need them.
And of course, that leads to frustration and disappointment and them not being able to match up to my expectations because I'm not looking at how things are, I'm looking at how I wish they were.
After a run of clashes (over stuff I don't even remember right now), we had a particularly huge one at the beginning of the Christmas holidays where I totally lost it with this biggest man-child for not reacting how I though he should react in a particular moment, and he got the brunt of my anger. We rushed off to wherever we were going next (because these things always happen when you're in a rush and have lots to think about and are determined to have a day of fun and so you feel like you've failed before you've even begun) and I spent the next few hours trying to fill my head with other things to cool down.
That night we went to a carol service at another church and I was really blessed by the way it was put together and also by the kids' behaviour throughout. Then as the guy got up to speak, it was all about grace and receiving the good things God has for us. Suddenly my son was receiving a gift out of nowhere in the middle of the sermon, to demonstrate God's gifts. It was a voucher to drive a Ferrari - an experience most people wouldn't have in their lifetime. In the middle of watching him receive it, keeping the other kids occupied for the rest of the sermon, and trying to listen to the message myself, I was trying to manage my son's expectations. At first I was whispering "I'm not sure if it's real, we'll have to open it and see," and then it was "Dude, you're not even fourteen yet, I think they've made a mistake, this is probably a voucher for an adult - you might have to give it back at the end," etc. When the service finished we had a proper look, and there it was in the print - a junior experience for an under-16 to drive a Ferrari. It was real, and it was for him.
I really felt God's conviction that night. I felt like I'd been looking for satisfaction in other areas of my life and trying to find crutches. I had at times tried to make my children into those crutches and that's not what they're there for. The word on my heart was grace. God's grace is enough for me, in everything I need. And therefore grace is what I need to be giving out to others, even when I don't feel they are being enough of what I think I need.
My man-child was given a costly packet of grace that night by someone who doesn't even know him, and I felt God gently prod me and say "That's what you need to be giving him more of too."
Shortly after this I was given a voucher too, by an anonymous person at church, for a massage at a local beauty spa. These two gifts have been some of my favourite from this Christmas season, not just for their extravagance, but for their timing and the smile God seemed to show as they were presented into our lives. I think He wants us both to chill a little more and enjoy this ride.