Both my boys were born determined to shape their own characters, regardless of any ideas their father and I had. And you know what? They are both doing a good job becoming excellent human beings. Obviously, as a parent, I need to step in from time to time to make sure everyone’s doing their work, staying safe and being nice to one another. But for the most part, they seem to have the most success when I get out of the way and just let them be themselves.
My 16-year old son, Will, is a case in point. Wildly creative and completely immune to any efforts to organize his life or even clean his bedroom, I like to joke that Will was put on this earth to test and disprove all my parenting theories.
I hope that doesn’t sound like I don’t enjoy his company. In fact, Will is fun to be around. He’s charming, funny and full of 16-year-old opinions, which make for great conversations. We enjoyed many of those conversations when we trained together for the Ottawa Race Weekend last spring. We did most of our long runs together. It was precious quality time for a busy working mom and a teenager starting to spend more time out of the house.
Will wasn’t too enthusiastic about running the half. While he’s an incredibly active person, athletics don’t interest him in the least. I got him to run the half by making two promises: I’d make muffuletta sandwiches to eat for dinner after the race, and I’d never make him run another race again.
He did an awesome job – never missed a training run and completed the event with ease. I think he even impressed himself. And the muffuletta? Delicious – I don’t mind saying.
Since Will’s an artist (he attends an arts high school in the visual arts program), I often ask him to draw pictures. Birthday cards. Pictures to post on my bulletin board at work. Posters. He usually complies good-naturedly, but resists any attempt on my part to dictate the subject matter of those pictures. He favours pictures of zombies, pop culture icons like Rick Astley and Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski. I’m always saying stuff like, “Grandma likes birds … why don’t you draw her a card with a chickadee?”
This week, he was noodling around on the computer, doing “10-second portraits” of his friends. They were awful and wonderful at the same time. Quickly scrawled, rudimentary and child-like, but with great energy and humour. (Hey, I’m his mom, not an art critic.) He was telling me about the pictures and his friends’ positive reactions to them and then made an offer he’s never made before: “I can draw you.”
“But they’re not nice pictures,” he said. “They’re quick – not really that good.”
Of course, I didn’t hear any of those warnings. I thought, “My son is going to draw my portrait! Using a cool new medium! His picture will probably reflect his appreciation of the love, wisdom and guidance I’ve given him over the years!” “
“You know, you don’t have to draw me with my glasses,” I told him as I followed his instructions to turn my head to the side for the less-than-30-seconds it took him to complete the drawing. “Nope, I need the glasses,” he told me. I turned back to the computer to see his drawing of me:
Yup, that’s me. As seen by my 16-year old son. Would you want this woman as your mother? I wouldn't. She looks mean. “Can’t you at least draw me smiling?” I asked. He rolled his eyes and looked pained – an artist misunderstood by the ignorant masses.
I got my revenge, though. Guess who’s signed up for this year’s half marathon? And you can bet he’ll be making his own damned sandwich.