What would it say? This ancient oaken witness, the silent sentinel, observing the struggles and triumphs of my family within the sacred walls of the home that it guards? What would it say to me now, to calm my worn out nerves and to soothe a mother’s anxious heart? Nearly a hundred years old, its sturdy pillars and scarred front door with it’s smudged panes of glass which enters only those deemed worthy enough to breech the threshold of our most intimate spaces has seen a century of life unfolding upon it. If these walls could talk, what could they possibly say?
We have a large family. Two parents, four children, and our pets. Although the house is spacious, the porch is where we seem to spend most of our time when we are all together, unless the weather forbids it. Something about being outside makes us feel a little less suffocated, less like we’re breathing the same air, even when we’re in closer proximity to each other than we are when we are indoors. Our most important conversations and events take place here. I’ve been thinking a lot about this old porch, and the events that have taken place on it in the past two weeks.
Last Wednesday while driving home from a breakfast date with my husband of 18 years, I received a desperate and terrified text message from my fifteen year old son. He didn’t quite know how to tell me, but his girlfriend is pregnant. We raced home, entered the house, and found him hiding in the bathroom. Gently, we took him out to the porch for a dedicated conversation. How far along is she? How long had he known? Slowly, we teased all of the pertinent facts out of him. They are unimportant now. What matters was that I found out my life was changing. More importantly, my son’s life was changing and he needed his parents. We cried, of course, and we told him we would help him through it.
Three days later, still slightly jarred and numbed with shock, we hosted another dedicated conversation on our porch. This one was attended by my son’s girlfriend and her mother. I was terrified. We all were! Could we find a common ground when it comes to living arrangements? Do we all agree that the kids will stay in school? Are we adults committed to supporting these two young parents and help them raise this sweet little baby, whom, it is already clear is going to be deeply and fervently loved? It was agreed that we could, and terms were laid down. We all dispersed with a sigh of relief, though of course we were still quite on edge.
I’m becoming a grandmother. This is exciting and yet a little tragic, given the age of the teens involved. It’s not the way you want to reach this mile stone, but I didn’t get a choice in the matter. All we can do is embrace it and experience the joy we will undeniably receive. As a family, we will do as we always do when we are faced with a challenge. We will rise to the occasion and learn what lessons we can from it. It is a momentous change, but it was only the first that we would encounter over the next few days.
On Tuesday, nearly a week later, we held yet another dedicated conversation on our porch. This one was with our oldest son, who is seventeen. He had been listening intently to all of the talk surrounding his brother’s unexpected pregnancy, though he did not tell us why. I wish I had known how my words on the matter might affect him. I wish I had known that while sitting on the porch that Tuesday evening, lecturing him over his poor money choices, setting firmer boundaries between him and his girlfriend, he was already in a frenzied panic. We were angry with him for something that now seems perfectly trivial. We were hard on him, as I think many parents would be, and feeling the need to be firmer with our discipline. This was a terrible mistake.
The following morning as I ambled up the sidewalk exhausted from a night of hard work, I saw my tired and weary-worn husband sitting on the porch holding a sheet of paper. He looked grave. Without a word, he passed it to me as I sat down beside him. The note was from our eldest son, apologizing for being a disappointment to us. The note was two pages long and vented all of his frustrations that he had been too afraid to share with us. His career choice, for example, was a result of our pressure and not his own genuine desire. He would find a way to put right the issue we were angry about the night before. Also, his girlfriend is pregnant and he had known for two months, but he was afraid to tell us. Finally, he felt it would be best to go and live with her. That was where he was, and he had no intention of ever coming home.
Too bad for him though, I knew where she lived. After all, they had been dating for nearly three years. Without a word to my husband, I picked up my keys, got into my car, and drove to his girlfriend’s house. I knocked on the door. I pounded on it. I screamed at the top of my lungs that I would call the police if they did not open up. I was furious and afraid.
I was not angry that his girlfriend was pregnant. I was hurt that he felt he could not tell me. And I was enraged that he thought running away from home was going to do him any good at all. Foolish boy! When he opened the door, I stared for a moment at my bleary eyed six foot tall baby boy, clad in his girlfriend’s pajamas bottoms and a t-shirt and socks. I hissed, “Get in the car. NOW.”
He did not pause or interject. He shuffled out to the car with his head hung low, got in, and I quietly slipped in beside him. I started the car and drove toward home. I think that I was out of my mind, but spoke to him anyway. I iterated that I was not angry about the pregnancy. He was nearly an adult and his plans for his future would need to change, but I would help him as I am helping his brother. I was devastated that he tried to run away and I made it clear that I would simply not allow it. I told him that nothing was more upsetting to me than the idea of losing him. He was far more important to me than anything else in the world.
Once home, I walked him to the porch where his father was sitting and told him to apologize for trying to run away. The three of us faced each other in awkward silence and slowly, we began the dedicated conversation. How far along was the pregnancy? Did her family know? Why did he not think that he could tell us? Has she been to the doctor? How can we help?
After half an hour of intense discussion, it was decided that we would go back to his girlfriend’s house and bring over her to ours. My son rode with me to her house, since he needed to pick up his car. I sat timidly in the driver’s seat, parked in her driveway for several minutes after he went inside to get her. There was an uncomfortable pause as she slid into the passenger seat beside me, and then I spoke to her.
“Congratulations.” I told her. I must have sounded unhinged, which I was. As we headed for my home, I made it clear to her that my son had a year left of high school and he was seventeen. He won’t be moving out of my house. It’s as simple as that. I told her that I wanted her to stay with us. I wouldn’t force her, but the offer is there and will last as long as she needs it. But I have not finished raising my son and he cannot leave yet.
As we pulled up in front of the house I had a few things to say to this girl that I wanted to keep between us. I won’t share it all here, but I let her know that I love her. I love her for all of the reasons that my son loves her and I told her what those reasons were. I wanted her to know that I was not angry, and I am proud of my son for choosing her to spend his life with. I meant every word of it.
When we finished talking, we joined the others on the porch. At this time, it was both of our older sons, my husband and myself. I poured myself a stiff drink, which, I think is rather understandable given my stressful morning.
We kept the conversation light, talking about our son’s baseball, plans for the coming school year, and hashing over memories of when the two of them were babies. A big black truck pulled up in front of our house, and a sweet looking young girl stepped out. The fifteen year old boy dutifully rose to greet his girlfriend, and the four young kids sat before us on the porch.
Although I was shocked, and, let’s be honest, a little disappointed by the circumstances by which I am becoming a grandmother, I am willing to embrace the blessings that are on their way. I have watched my sons grow from infants into toddlers. I was there for every milestone. Their first words, their first steps, the first time they ate table foods. I hugged them when they took a spill and skinned their elbows and knees. I did my best to educate them about bullying and be their soft shoulder to cry on when mean kids would pick on them at school. When their younger siblings were born, I watched them fall in love with the wee little babies and I taught them all I could about caring for infants. I stood back and watched with tremendous satisfaction as they blossomed into teenagers. I bragged shamelessly about my star athlete and the stalwart eldest son, who is a key leader in his schools Jr. ROTC program. I did educate them about the risk of being sexually active, and I made sure that they had what they needed to be safe. I did everything right. I basked in pride of my awesome parenting, as my sons earned top grades, walked with confidence, and completely kicked ass at life.
This week, as I settle into the new reality of my family, sitting on my porch and holding dedicated conversations with my children, their girlfriends, and their family members about futures and babies and relationships, my thoughts vary. Where did I go wrong? I didn’t. What could I have done differently? A lot, but it wouldn’t have done any good. What’s going to happen to them now? Nobody can know.
I do know this for certain: my goal as their mother is plain. I am to prepare them for the world they are going to live in. I am to give them the tools and knowledge they need to survive in this world and to thrive in it. I will be their soft shoulder, the voice of calm, reason, and understanding when life gets too painful and too hard. I will love them and be there for them as they face the ultimate milestone and become fathers. I don’t claim to be perfect at parenting, or even good at it, but I tried as hard as I could and I do not doubt that my sons will too now that it’s their turn. In the next few years, this old porch is going to see many more dedicated conversations. It is also going to see wee ones learning to walk and talk, relationships blossom, and life. My life. Our lives. The lives of our children, and the new lives of our new grandchildren. Bless this old porch, this old home, and the people who live in it.