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The Unexpected Joy Of Raising A Teenage Boy

Previously I doubted my capacity for mothering a son.

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Mother and her teenage son laughing in their kitchen
Stephanie Rausser / Trunk Archive
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Age 26 and pregnant with my first child, I hid my disappointment when the ultrasound tech pointed out the tiny penis in the grainy, black-and-white image on the screen. “A little boy,” I said in what I hoped was a voice that conveyed enthusiasm, but on the inside, I felt like I was falling. What on earth was I going to do with a boy? Boys have always been a mystery to me.

My only sibling was a sister, and my few male cousins lived far away. The boys I knew from school were — to me — burping, farting, teeth-gnashing aliens. They’d whoosh by in blurry, shrieking streaks of color, baffling and unknowable. They didn’t seem like they had real emotions. Or, if they did, they weren’t any emotions I could relate to.

My father always told me teenage boys were trouble — they only wanted “one thing.” So, I kept my distance. I never could hold a deep conversation with a boy or learn about his true self because my suspicion always got in the way.

When I was a teenager, I wondered about what the “one thing” was, and whether or not I had it.

It has been almost 14 years since the day in the ultrasound room, and I’m still not sure I understand boys, but here is what I know about my teenage son: He is good. He is good to his very core. He cares about doing the right thing, cares about being kind to others, cares about the fate of the world.

We tangle ourselves in lengthy, nuanced conversations about how to make the world a better place. He craves an understanding of history, science, current events, war and politics, and he wants to use that information to think of ways to make things better. His goodness astounds me.

He is helpful. He reminds me to recycle, takes pride in helping me unload groceries, and muscles the lawnmower over our crazy-thick Florida grass. When he sees his little sister up on her tiptoes, straining for a bowl just beyond her reach, he hops up to get it for her. He’s independent.

My son has always struggled with school. He does great on tests, but incomplete assignments and forgotten homework have often dragged down his grades. I’ve always had to nag him about his work, and even then, there was no guarantee it would get done.

This year though, at age 13, something clicked. Jammed into the clear-cover front pocket of his binder is a sheet of notebook paper on which he wrote in big block letters: “LUCAS, DON’T FORGET TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK.” His report card this past semester was the best it has ever been.

He’s hilarious. He’s so much better at puns than I could ever be, he memorizes and regurgitates jokes like nobody’s business, and he’s not afraid to act silly. His antics make me laugh every single day, sometimes to the point of crying. He is vulnerable. This may be a mom-son thing. At this point, my son still shows more vulnerability with me than he does with anyone else.

I’m his safety — his soft place to fall when he needs comfort or reassurance. It still sometimes comes as a surprise to me though, when he climbs into my lap with his nearly grown boy body made up of sharp, unforgiving angles, needing love. He’s way too big, and yet somehow, he still fits.

What a beautiful gift, to be so uninhibitedly cherished. He plays rough — but he’s gentle, too. My son was just 6 when we rescued our fluffy little lap dog from the shelter. I worried we were making a mistake bringing such a little dog into a house with a rambunctious 6-year-old boy.

What if my son was too rough and hurt the dog? We had some scary moments early on, but my son has learned to be gentle, and every day it is a joy to witness their sweet boy-dog bond.

In hindsight, it seems ridiculous that I ever doubted my capacity to mother a son. This amazing kid teaches me so much every day about goodness, tenacity and purity of heart. I am so incredibly grateful life has given me the opportunity to experience the sweet, awesome wonder of being mother to a teen boy.