A Mother’s Day Gift: My Son, The Prom, And the Lesson He Taught Me

This post originally appeared in The Good Men Project on A Mother’s Day Gift: My Son, The Prom, And the Lesson He Taught Me

“Live is meant to be lived.” Lisa Levey’s son taught her the lessons he himself learned from trying and failing. And that is the best mother’s day gift of all.

Today is Mother’s Day and the usual onslaught of ‘don’t forget mom’ advertising is all around us but for me, the best Mother’s Day gift is watching how my son navigates life. This morning, I saw a little blond boy crossing the street with what looked to be his grandfather. My son was once that small little blond boy, in constant motion, and seemingly always with a smile on his face. He is someone who exudes joy. When he was just a few months old, he had a plastic yellow rattle with a smiley face that would send him into fits of laughter. My husband used to love to put him in the snuggly, facing outward toward the big windows at the local coffee shop, where my son would watch and smile at the people walking by.

Fast forward 17 years and now my son stands over 6 feet tall, lanky and with a mop of blond curly hair. In many ways he is a typical 11th grader, dealing with school, friends, sports, music and starting to think about college. But watching the way he deals with life – the challenges and the disappointments, the triumphs and the joys – is an inspiration to me. Take how he’s dealt with his first romantic relationship as a powerful case in point.

This past fall he told a young lady, someone for whom he had been harboring a secret crush for a few years, that he had feelings for her. They ‘dated’ for a few months, talking on the phone every night, hanging out at her house or ours, and seeing each other at school and youth group. Then he came home one day after school and told me she had broken up with him. When I asked how he was doing, he responded, “I just feel really sad.” That seemed to capture it perfectly. He wasn’t angry or bitter, just sad because he really cared about her.

A few months later he mentioned that he and his friends were talking about the prom and who they might ask. He told us he wanted to ask the young woman that he’d dated in the fall, much to my husband’s and my surprise. We wondered if this was the best idea but it was clear this is what he intended to do. My son and this young woman are still friends and sometimes drive home from school together. To stage the asking, he put a very real-looking but fake parking ticket (google does have everything) in her car windshield. When she pulled the ticket out, he told her to turn it over where it said – Would you go to prom with me? At the same time, he pulled out flowers he had secretly stored in a tube like an architect would use for drawings. She said she wanted to think about it and wasn’t sure she was going to go to the prom at all. It turns out she decided not to go. He was clearly disappointed but he accepted things and moved on.

Next, he decided to ask a long-term female friend to the prom. He waited a few weeks, got up his courage, bought some spring flowers, drove to her house, knocked on the door and asked. Relaying the story later that evening, he reported she couldn’t go because she had an away sports tournament on that weekend (she is a pretty serious athlete). When I asked a few more questions, his responses were along the lines of, “I’m fine”, “No it wasn’t awkward”, and “I said hi to her dad when he answered the door.” Ultimately my son decided to hang out with his male best friend (who doesn’t go to the local high school) on the night of the prom and just have fun.

I was really blown away by how he handled the whole thing – everything from going after what he wanted, making himself vulnerable, dealing so graciously with disappointment, not getting too discouraged, stepping back up to bat, not over personalizing when things didn’t go his way, and ultimately making the best of things. To my mind, he showed so much maturity and actually grace.

These experiences are emblematic of how he lives his life. He rolls with the punches and most importantly sees the good in situations even when things are hard. My son seems to have this positivity about him that feels infectious to me, not happy-go-lucky exactly but somehow just happy to be alive.

I tend to be someone who takes herself, and life, way too seriously at times. I can struggle to feel joy, focusing too much on my responsibilities, and feeling weighed down by the hard things in life – both personal struggles and the struggles of the world. My son’s example is a gift to me, both his world view and how he models resilience in his life. Earlier this year, my son had to write a sermonette for church (as did several other kids) about his core beliefs. Here’s some of what he had to say:

Life is meant to be lived. What I mean by that is I feel that in today’s world, stress reigns supreme. Most people are so absorbed by trying to become their image of success that they forget to seek enjoyment in life. 

Now please don’t take this as I’m saying you should just roll over, be a slacker, and forget about your dreams. Hope and hard work are extremely important. But I believe there is a fine line between hard work and hope, and obsession and unrealistic expectations. For me, ‘it’s about the journey’ means that you should work diligently to achieve your dreams but also live life to the fullest while you’re at it because after all, if those lofty goals can’t wait, why should your happiness have to?

For this mother on Mother’s Day, I’m celebrating all that my son has to teach me about living life to the fullest.

Note: This article originally appeared in The Good Men Project.