It’s a typical early morning for me. I am at home doing home stuff, the kids are off to school, and my husband is at work. I’m listening to music while I water the plants and run the vacuum to attack the dog hair. I pass through each bedroom to pull up a comforter, open the blinds, and pick up the abandoned dishes from yesterday’s late-night teenage eating marathon.
As I am about to leave my younger teen’s bedroom, something stops me. I can’t explain what it was, but something told me to go back and look around a bit. I should mention here that I am all about personal privacy—to a point. But while my kids are under 18 and living in my home, I tell myself I have a right to know what they might be harboring without my awareness. Ok, if I’m being completely honest, I remember very well a few things that were hidden (poorly) in my own bedroom as a teenager that my mom found when she cleaned out my sock drawer while I was away at camp. Things don’t change that much as generations pass.
Hidden out of sight, but not hard to find, I encountered the reason why I believe I had that gut-nagging feeling that pulled me back into his room. What I found was a long, slim, metal device that I had never seen before, not here or anywhere else for that matter. My mom instinct knew this wasn’t a good thing.
So, like any typical mom trying to keep up with the fast-moving trends of her tweens and teens, I immediately got in contact with Google. What is this slender device that looks like trouble?
Immediately Google knows. It’s a vaping device.
Ugh. Ok, Google, what could my son be doing with a vaping device? I come to learn that vape pens use a battery to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that users inhale. The “e-juice” that fills the cartridges often contains nicotine as well as many other harmful chemicals. Next to this slender pen are two little plastic bottles with 2-3 ounces of liquid with handwritten labels as to their contents.
As a storm of emotions competes for dominance in my heart and mind, I sit on the edge of my bed feeling my heart race, and I pause to take a breath. What am I feeling? What is he thinking? How should I approach this? What is the end goal for him and for us?
As I anticipate his arrival home from school, I rehearse my words over and over in my head. Then the door flies open, and there he is. He looks different. He is different. And I am different.
From the time he left for school that morning to the time he came through the door in the afternoon, a whole new awareness had been birthed. He is growing away from me. He will no longer tell me everything he is doing, and his peers have pulled the magnet of the compass away from me and toward them.
The shift is happening.
More deep breaths and inner pauses, but this time on my feet as we move toward each other and toward the hard conversation that is about to take place. I scan my mind for the questions I asked myself earlier: What am I feeling? What is he thinking? How should I approach this? What is the end goal for him and for us? I feel clear about most of this, but I am also feeling very much like a novice entering into these more complex conversations with him.
I am afraid for his safety and the new kinds of choices he is now making for himself, and I feel sad that I don’t know everything he is doing anymore. I realize I can’t know what he is thinking until I ask him. I believe in my soul that I must approach this with love, grace, patience, acceptance, and honesty. And my end goal is that I am able to secure this footbridge between his heart and mine so we can walk across it to meet each other somewhere and know that it will not crumble beneath us.
So, I ask him to come up to his bedroom. We sit together on the edge of his bed. Me with the slim, black metal vape pen in one hand, and my heart in the other.
I simply ask him to tell me the story. And he does.
He tells me what it is, the name of the friend who gave it to him, and of course, that “everyone is doing it.” I ask him if he knows what is in the handwritten colored bottles of “juice,” and he tells me that someone just made it. One says “nicotine.” Without a lecture, we talk openly about chemicals, how addictive nicotine is, and also about his life and future as an athlete. I stay curious with him, and he freely shares his thoughts. He listens as I share mine.
In the end, he knows I don’t want him to do this. In the end, I know he is at the threshold of making his own choices for his life despite what I want or don’t want for him. This is the beginning of me letting go of my boy as he finds his own path to being a man.
I realized at this moment that my job title is changing. My new assignment is no longer about control, but about staying close as my teenager gains new skills to self-regulate and navigate his way through uncharted territory. I can’t force what direction he chooses or tell him how to get there, but I can be the banks to his river, his support, the softener to life’s sharp edges, and forever a safe place for him to land.