Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘When Your 17-Year-Old Baby Cries’

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article: “When Your 17-Year-Old Baby Cries.”
I haven’t shied away from the fact that I am a lucky, lucky mom. I have two healthy boys who, for the most part, were easy to raise and well behaved. We’ve had some issues – one child spent a week on a ventilator when he was 8 weeks old and nearly died. One went through a (thankfully) short bout of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that we managed with behavioral and cognitive techniques. One needed some anxiety medication around the time of puberty. Both got tubes in their ears. One had a broken foot. One might have gotten a little too personal through text messages and needed a lesson on appropriate social media usage. But, in general, each “issue” was handled within a matter of weeks with appropriate parenting, discipline and outside specialist help. Overall, being a mother to my two sons has been nothing but a joy.

My oldest, Noah, is a seventeen year old senior. For those of you who are parenting younger children, just take my word for it that when your child hits seventeen, you can still remember toddlerhood like it was yesterday. I clearly remember my blond haired baby at 2 going through a stage where he would say, “This is my best!” (He meant, this is my favorite.) “Hot dogs are my best!” “The Wiggles are my best!” “Mommy, you are my best!”
I also remember when he was two, and playing outside in the sandbox with his father. I called out the back door that lunch was ready. My darling Noah walked to the sidewalk, put his hands on his hips, stomped his foot, and said, “Dammit!” I laughed for twenty minutes, knowing that it was totally my fault. I KNEW where he got that, and it was not in daycare!
When my sons were infants, and I got up with them at 2:00 am, held them in my arms in absolute silence, and gave them a bottle while they gazed up at me, I could not have loved them more.

When they began to walk and talk and made me laugh, I could not have loved them more. When they went to school and made friends and started to have their own interests, I could not have loved them more. The first time that I pulled into the garage with them, and they opened the trunk to get groceries out without me having to ask them to? I could not have loved them more. With every good report card, with every sport or instrument that they have played, with every compliment that I have been given about them, I could not have loved them more.

I have never been that parent that dreaded my children growing up. I have been the parent that enjoyed every stage that they went through. I may be a rare breed, but I’ve got to be honest. Now that they are 17 and 12, and can have real discussions, debate the issues, and ask intelligent questions – my adoration for them only grows. I do not lament the passage of childhood, because I absolutely love the young men that they have become. Watching one kid take his first drum lesson, and being told 3 months later that he was ready to have a full professional drum set because he was that talented was awesome. Watching the other kid pick up a guitar, find a free online class, and two days later be able to play a recognizable song….woohoo!

Watching Noah learn to drive, and realizing when he got his license that he was way better than average – outstanding. Now we are touring college campuses, and Noah is applying for scholarships. He won one a few weeks ago! Watching him analyze six different campuses offering the same degree, while he tries to determine which campus he is most comfortable with, which program is going to be able to offer him the best externships, and which costs less – again, I could not love him more.

So, the tears. Noah eats, sleeps and breathes football. He loves to play that game more than anything else in this world. For many years, he played on a losing team. A few years ago, the school got a new coaching staff, and slowly, slowly, improvement was made. It got a little better every year. THIS year, Noah’s team was 5-5 for the regular season. It probably doesn’t sound to you like they set the world on fire, but for the past several years, they were 1-9. This year, they were five times better, and they made the playoffs. They won the first playoff game – the first time for his school in THIRTEEN years. If there is anything better than watching your 17 year old young man walk around on cloud nine, I don’t know what it is.

So Saturday, they played the second playoff game. The team that they were up against was district champion from the year before, and came into the game 11-0. We were 6-5. IF we could beat them, it would be an incredible upset. Despite the odds, my son’s team believed with all of their hearts that they stood a chance. It wasn’t a good day, and the stars were not aligned. Despite the fact that every player had at least one great play, it just seemed like they all couldn’t have a great play at the same time. Noah and his team lost this second playoff game 60-13. They were done. After shaking hands, the team knelt at the far end of the field while the coaches talked to them.

I managed to get around the field to the side where the boys would come off of the field to go to the locker room, and watched my Noah walk to the gate. When he got close enough, I could see the tears shining in his eyes. He was trying to hold them back, but when he saw me, they broke through. The other players were also tearful, and shaking hands with the parents/fans who were standing at the gate, saying things like, “Hey, get your head up. You guys had a great season. Nothing to feel bad about here.” But my boy, my Noah, came directly into my arms. A big bear hug. I whispered into his ear, “I’m so sorry that this turned out this way, but you guys had an amazing season, and did more than this team did for over a decade. I am so proud of you, and I love you with all of my heart.” He gave me a squeeze, and went to the locker room. I watched him go, fighting tears of own. When you love your child like I love my child, their pain is your pain.

By the time I reached the car, five minutes later, I realized that Noah wasn’t really crying over the loss of the playoff game. While he was disappointed that they weren’t going any further, it was the realization that he had just played his last football game that got to him. Like most kids who play high school football, he isn’t likely to play college ball. In Noah’s case, he’s 5’6. For him, it was the end of an era. He most likely won’t play that game again, unless it’s a pickup game for fun, and he certainly won’t play with the same teammates, who he now considers his brothers. For him, this was mourning the end of his childhood, and trying to accept that he was moving into adulthood (like it or not.)

One of the differences between parenting a 7 year old and a 17 year old is that a seven year old will still let you kiss their booboos, and will still let you help them deal with their issues. A 17 year old needs to deal with a lot of issues on their own.

It just so happened that “Light-Up Night” was held the same evening of the football playoff game, so I had to boogey back to our hometown. My company had a float in the parade, and I was to walk with it. I texted Noah while he was on the bus coming back, and invited him to join me downtown. I wanted to be there for him, wanted him to know that he didn’t have to sit around depressed.

The game was over at 3:30 PM. At 7:30 PM, my Noah was down at the parade, with his teammate and close friend Tyler. I met up with them, and took them for a bite to eat. While we were walking around, we ran into other football players. All of them were laughing, filled with holiday cheer. When we sat down to eat, they were showing me video of Tyler’s touchdown, and Noah’s best plays. Within four hours, these young men had cried, accepted their playoff loss, figured out that there was nothing that they could do about the end of football season, and had accepted the advice of the adults… happy about what you DID accomplish. Tyler calls me mom, and I refer to him as my “son from another mother.” When we were done eating and it was time for us all to move on, Tyler gave me a big hug, and said, “Thanks, mom!” I said, “You’re welcome son!” Noah gave me a big hug, and said, “Thanks, real mom!” I said, “You are welcome, real son! Love you!”

So what is the take away here? When my son suffered a devastating loss today, and chose to come into my arms and let the tears briefly flow, I could not have loved him more. How incredibly honored I was that I was still his safe place, and he knew that he could trust me with that. When, four hours later, he was able to laugh, smile, and move on with his life, I also could not have loved him more. Who do you think taught him that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and make your own happiness? That’s right. The one who could not love him more.


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