Yesterday was Mother' Day. It was such a big deal for me that my producer at Fox News Channel bought me flowers. No, I'm not her mom, but I became a mom to a former slave teen from South Sudan who was blinded by his Arab slave master. I brought him here for eye surgery. He can see some colors and shapes, but he is mostly blind. He is learning Braille and mathematics. He is learning to read and write, and he is learning some American history. He loves learning about Abraham Lincoln and the history of slavery. He calls me his American mom. His own mother is still in the North, what is now just called Sudan.
I have learned new things too, things about being a mom. Below is some of what I have learned.
1) It is on their time not yours. Ker has taught me that I may be ready for something, but he isn't. Older people must have amnesia about timing. A teenage boy might be angry with someone, and adults may be able to say, "It is fine," you need to forgive and let go. But they are not ready to do so. It takes a much longer time for a teen boy to work something out than an older adult who has the experience to put things in context.
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2) Hormones many be tiny, but they pack a significant punch. We think only American boys think about sex a lot. No, no, this is a world-wide problem. They want to have girlfriends, and they want to touch them and charm them. They will do that at the expense of many other things. There is no stopping the thought process that goes along with hormones – none, zip, zero. Boys in the storm of hormones can't be reasoned with. I have new respect for that biological process.
3) Kids care about clothes a lot. I might have thought that a former slave who had nothing wouldn't care, but looking like other teenagers is very important. Of course, this could all be in the service of hormones. However, styles and being a part of the group is very important.
4) Music is a huge influencer. It was in our day, too, but our music was a bit more tame. Heavy metal and words we would never have set to song are right out there. The best we could muster was The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," which we always thought meant, "knowing she would," although it was denied by The Beatles. Now the music very far out there and the word choice have been shown to be a terrible influence on teenage behavior.
5) Small things can set off teens in a big way. We all know they would like to tell their parents to get lost. This is nothing new; all generations have had the same reaction to their parents. Knowing your teen is learning what kinds of words or actions can make them go off. Again, it is context. Saying something in front of someone else, or at the wrong time, can make teens very upset.
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6) They like money, a lot. Teens don't like to be dependent. They want their own money. They don't really want it tied to actions like chores, but they want to work. They also do not have the foggiest idea that they can't be self-sufficient and make their own decisions.
7) The ups are great, and the downs are terrible. I get such joy from small things like seeing him running track. But the downs when he is upset or angry are worse than I ever thought could be. He has only been in my life for less than two years. I have only been his mom for less than a year, but he knows when and where to push for life's joys and sorrows. Of course, like most moms, I react on cue.
8) Being a mom is very hard work. Of course, I knew that on some level. I had worked in mental health for years. However, seeing someone else doing the hard work is different than living it. I have a new respect for motherhood. As a friend of mine said, "I bet you have vindicated your mom for the adolescent years." I sure have, and I hope years from now I am vindicated, too!