Lessons from my eldest 'pancake'

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First children are like the first pancake out of the frying pan, mushy in the middle and a little burned around the edges. The rest of the batch are evenly browned, of uniform size, and cooked all the way through. Also, the other pancakes give you less trouble.

My eldest was the first (and last) of our offspring to escape through his bedroom window. He was the first child I bribed into toilet training with M&Ms, and the first to spend two years of swimming lessons demonstrating just how determined he was not to swim. And, of course, he led his siblings in fighting me on clothing choices.

One incident when he was a teenager showed me just how much learning I still had to do as a parent.

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In a feat of derring-do, my son had leapt off our porch roof and grabbed hold of a branch, which smashed through a window in the baby's bedroom next door. We grounded him for the weekend.

As I walked past his room, he growled that he should really be outside fixing the window instead of inside listening to music. He tersely accused me of not knowing about the appropriate discipline of a teenager.

I removed a stack of CDs from a chair and sat down to listen to his tirade. I started to justify my decisions based on nothing more than my authority as his mother. Suddenly the planets tilted and I saw the situation through his eyes: a teenager dealing with a first-time mother of a teenager. And I apologized for something over which I had no control.

I apologized for his always having to be the first pancake out of my frying pan. But as soon as I said it, I realized that we're taking this trip together. Everything I was saying to him could be applied to me as well. Each of his stages is virgin territory for both of us. Together we are learning to navigate the unmapped wilderness of his path toward adulthood.

I let him run on with a detailed list of my shortcomings and then I said, "Look, could you cut me a little slack here? You're always going to be the first one to feel the brunt of my inexperience, and that's just the way it is. If you think there's something I should know that would make my job easier, please share it with me. I need all the help I can get. Besides, your sister and brother are coming along right behind you."

He looked at me for a long moment, and then his jaw relaxed and the corners of his mouth struggled, fighting a smile. And then he laughed. I think it was the first time he saw me as Mom, the struggling pancakemaker, rather than as Mother, the perfect cook, goddess of all knowledge and kitchen wisdom. Both of us liked the first one best.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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