My son loves to have his friends over, and I usually plan some kind of outing when I can. But sometimes when we do this, he goes a little cray-cray.
Like the other day when I was driving with three hyper boys and our excitable dog in the car. We were listening to pop radio on way home from the park. I spent 40 bucks on lunch they didn’t eat and let them run wild while I played with the dog. I was taking them home to change so we could head to the pool.
Awesome mom, right? So fun, so chill.
Suddenly, the car door my son was sitting by flew open. I panicked, slammed on the brakes, and turned around to see him sheepishly trying to pull the door closed. Then I noticed he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I screamed, as his friends looked at me with mouths agape. “You opened the door of a moving car and you don’t even have your damn seatbelt on?”
And then I saw his smirk, and my rage reached a new level. When my quite bright son told me with a straight face that door “accidentally” came open, I completely lost it.
Yelling, swearing, name calling, idle threats. Not my proudest mom moment, but I know a lot of you have been there too.
“Do not try to tell me you did not do that on purpose! You do not have to act like an IDIOT when you are with your friends. You are not impressing anyone! If this is how you’re going to behave you can play BY YOURSELF the rest of your life! I can’t believe you would do something SO STUPID!”
I mean, this kid is 9 1/2. I thought I was past the point of cheerfully saying, “Buckle up!” when we get in the car. Apparently not. And maybe we’re not even over those child locks. Seriously?
Yelling, swearing, name calling, idle threats. Not my proudest mom moment, but I know a lot of you have been there too. When I told this story to my friends later that night – over wine of course – they laughed out loud, told me to give myself a break for losing my cool, and toasted to the fact that I got through the whole episode with dropping any f bombs. They got it.
And they understood too that behind my total freak out was fear: Fear that this son of mine, this confident, smart, funny, talented kid, could be hurt, not by accident, but by his own foolishness. Instantly my mind filled with thoughts of his brains splattered on the pavement, his legs mangled, he and the dog tangled in the leash, run over by my own car. I was literally shaking. Tears filled my eyes as I tried to calm down.
There are enough things to worry about when raising kids – especially daredevil boys like mine who start swordfights with sharp objects, wrestle like they’re part of WWE, and walk across the top of the monkey bars and jump down, ignoring warnings of “That’s too high!”
There are a million ways for these boys to hurt themselves, and only so much we can prevent. I mean, kids get shot in elementary schools and movie theaters these days, and babies get sick for no reason. That random violence and heartache we have no control over, but don’t we all try to avert needless danger where we can?
My son wants to play tackle football and I’m like hell no, you could get hurt. I make him wear his helmet over his protests when he’s riding his bike and his electric scooter. I teach him not to open the door to strangers or touch a hot stove and look three ways before crossing the street. But he opens the freaking door of a moving car?
I want him to push himself, to be brave, to be fearless. I don’t want to be overprotective or overreact. I want him to be independent. I want him to be bold. But I also want him to be smart, to avoid intentionally putting himself in harm’s way.
I was able to explain this to him later that night when he was getting ready for bed. He said he’d never seen me so mad before.
“Sorry for losing my temper, especially in front of your friends,” I told him. “But you really scared me.”
I told him he’s the most important thing to me, and keeping him safe is my job. There will be a lot of things you will confront as you get older that can be bad for you, I said, so you might as well start now with making the right choices.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” he murmured.
And then I laid down beside my growing-up-way-too-fast-but-still-little boy, kissed him and hugged him.
And he let me.