top of page
  • Writer's pictureStephanie

Oh Man - How to lose a child in 940 weeks (or less)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I lost my oldest boy.

It was summer.

He'd packed a handful of clothes, a good pocketknife, and some homemade jerky we'd made for the occasion. Then he hugged me with thin, sinewy arms, shook his dad's hand, and drove off in the car he'd bought as a 15 year old with his own hard earned money. He didn't look back.

I know, because I watched as he drove out of sight.

He headed a couple of hours north to lead camping and hiking trips in the New England wilderness for the summer. We heard very little from him while he maneuvered a world without WiFi. But I knew he loved it.

And I knew that I'd lost him.

It was weeks before I saw him for a mid-season weekend.

His blisters had turned to calluses. He'd grown adept at handling a canoe, cooking over an open fire, relishing the very basics of life without the distraction of comforts. Sunburn had turned tan. His arms and eyes had grown stronger. His confidence soared.

He came home with his dirty laundry and a generous tip from the last group of men whom he'd guided on a weeklong trip. He told his 6 siblings to pile into the car. "C'mon mom," he said. "I'll take you all out for hamburgers."

He regaled us with stories of the fish that got away. Of hiking in the rain. Of wilderness first aid. Of folklore, scars, and survival skills only gained by action. More than that, though, I saw the change behind his tanned complexion. He'd flicked a switch. He had taken the leap into responsibility.

And that meant I had step back, and relinquish it.

My boy was gone.

And I was so proud and so heartbroken at the same time.

That's how it's supposed to be, this growing up thing. All pain and glory, sweet and bitter. Bittersweet. I blinked and 936 weeks passed between birth and this birthday. And it doesn't seem nearly enough. But it's time. He's not moving out just yet, but we both know he's turned a corner. And there's no going back.

Today, he turns 18. He will register to vote. Last night, we made him steak and gave him some power tools. Tonight, he'll spend the evening with a sweet young woman and a handful of their friends, discussing future plans over board games, arguing theology, and microwaving grapes for fun. The next day, he'll get up and go to work and finish high school and get gas and pay bills and occasionally ask his dad for advice.

And just like that - he'll officially be a man.

And I'll be down a child.

I've loved (mostly) being a mom of 6 boys. They're exciting. Boys eat ants and pet bumblebees, roll in mud, and dump a 10 pound bag of potatoes into the bath just because it happened to be at hand. I've seen it all. Then they run over with a sweaty hug and a handful of wilting dandelions and steal my heart and my sandwich in one fell swoop. They are so much work and so much worry and I loved them hard through all their hardness.

But I don't just want to be a mother of boys.

I want to be a mother of men.

And that means launching them and letting go, imperfections and all.

The Bible says "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Clearly, there is a moment when a young man must set those Tonka trucks down. His mom has to accept the inherent challenge and risk when he picks up the keys to the real dump truck (or insert whatever metaphor you want.) It was safe in the sand box. His work was my responsibility, the sand tracked through the house was my problem. Ahead, there are cliffs, and costly mistakes, crude coworkers, and cranky bosses. Increasingly, it's all on him. But he's heading out to move some real earth, build lasting relationships, and make his own impact - for better and for worse. He has put away his childhood.

Which means mama has to lay it down too.

It's hard, because there's still so much I want to share with him. Moments I wish I could take back.

I cringe remembering when I relented when I should have stood my ground - or I said no when I could have said yes. There are lost moments when I should have paid him more attention - we'll never get those back. Lessons still unlearned. There were so many things I wanted to teach him that somehow we missed. I wish I could have spared him from feeling pain sometimes; misdeeds I wish I could have caught before they caused pain for others. I will always wish we could do over some days. Always.

But there are other good memories I'll cherish the rest of my life. There was the unparalleled gift of snuggling a newborn in the quiet of the middle of the night, just him and me and God, wrapped in quiet darkness. There were rainy days spent reading book after book on the old floral sofa, surrounded by toys and chores that all waited their turn until we finished more important business. There were discoveries - frogs peeking up from puddles, treasures hidden in a pile of sand, the surprise taste of leftover cookie dough in the bottom of the mixing bowl. His first word, first step, first loose tooth - those were firsts for me too. He's the first person I ever taught to pray. The first I taught to read. He was the first who ever ran to me on chubby legs as if his very life depended on it - because it did.

And now, the first one I have held so long and so tightly, I have to let go.

In America, you graduate from adolescence to teen at 13, and from teen to young adult upon high school graduation. You can be drafted into the military at 18. You can buy alcohol or rent a car at 21. But it's not until at least your mid 20s that you're generally considered a man. Some people have a coming-of-age ceremony somewhere along the line. I think the moment varies depending on the boy.

Boyhood is driven by desires.

I know many 13 year old boys whose voices have dropped and whose testosterone has taken over their mental capacity. They are not men. I also know fellas who have passed their 30th birthday and only have debt, broken relationships, and an embarrassing resume to show for their 3 decades on earth. They are more like boys in grown up bodies, still playing at life inconsequentially, like it's made of legos.

They think being a man is coupled with age, ability, money, or knowledge. They think it's automatic.

It's not.

You can have all those things and be a child. Or lack all those things and be a man.

In 1 Corinthians 16:13, Paul exhorted the men of a young church to "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong." In Greek, the phrase "be brave" is andrizomai. This is the only place in the New Testament where this power verb is used. You might have heard it translated "Quit you like men." It doesn't mean to give up like we think of quitting. Literally it means to outfit yourself like a man. To put on manhood. It's purposeful.

A boy, by nature, is driven by his desires.
But a man cannot be.
A man is led by his purpose.

"He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

A boy does not naturally do these things. He is not just, merciful, or humble before God.

He's naturally a ruthless, self-centered, strutting peacock with grubby fists and a cheap haircut. Ask me how I know. But somehow, it's been my job to instill this creature with his purpose. It has required all of me - my body, my mind, my sleep, my sanity, my time, and my kitchen - to build a man.

Tonight, I have to lay him down. He's not my project anymore. Not my little boy.

He's a young man.

And he's picked up the mantle of manhood.

I'll miss the boy I loved.

But I wouldn't trade him for the man in front of me.

Andrizomai, my son.



bottom of page