Several years ago I spent the better part of the weekend cleaning out my son’s room. He was probably 11 at the time. He had requested a recliner in his room and since his daddy had just gotten a brand new one it worked out. I started clearing out a little boy’s room that was full of toy trains, stuffed animals, enough Hot Wheels to melt down and create a full-size Suburban, and enough Duplo blocks to build a replica of The Great Wall of China, and ended up that day with a room that definitely didn’t house a little boy. Gone was the toy box and instead there was a large plastic tote labeled “The Box of Juvenile Delinquency”. I watched as he threw in sword, sword, knife, light saber, gun, gun, sword, light saber, handcuffs, nunchucks, a flail, a mace, and mused that the box could very well end up as evidence someday. The Hot Wheels went to the top of the closet, the stuffed animals were re-homed, and the train-themed bed sheets were replaced with a manly camouflage set. My boy grew up seemingly in an afternoon, at least to his momma’s eyes.
When she was 13, my oldest daughter had to come to terms with her own mortality – something most people don't have to do until they are adults – when she learned that a former classmate had passed away. She had to face the horrible fact that sometimes kids die and we don't know why. She handled it with grace and maturity (at times more than her mother did) and even though I'm glad she had the capabilities to do so, it also pained my heart that she had to do it at all, much less as gracefully as she did. Her freshman year a classmate was killed in a car accident and once again I found my girl trying to process a why that can’t always be answered.
And now at 13, my youngest daughter is learning that girls are sometimes horribly mean. Her last year of public school was 4th grade and she only experienced a small smidgen of the meanness and hatred her big sister had endured in middle school. But she is now entrenched in an ugly situation at the hands of a girl with unmonitored social media accounts and a mean spirit. I’m trying to teach my daughter compassion and to explain that so often when people are mean it’s because they are hurting so much on the inside they don’t know where to store all that pain and it spills out. It’s something she’ll need to learn how to handle through her whole life, sadly. There are a lot of hurting people out there.
It’s no easy business, this growing up. Some days I’d love nothing more than to shelter them in my arms and never let them be sad or hurt, but I think I’d be doing them a serious injustice. No, I know I would. In a world of brokenness and misery and scary things no child should endure, there need to be people out there who are loving and understanding. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (NLT)
Not only are mean girls, heartbreak, fender benders, and yes, the death of someone young, rites of passage for the kids, but they are for us parents as well. As a young mom I thought there was nothing worse than skinned knees and bumped noggins, but as I caution my teenage daughters on the dangers of human trafficking, I wish for the days that band-aids would fix it all.
As difficult as it is, though, it’s okay for them to cry, fail, wonder, and question – they’re all rites of passage for this adventure called Life. I’d hate for them to miss out on any of it. It will make them who they are. And I rather like the possibilities so far.