• Game Changer

    As her teenage son begins making his own decisions, one NYC mom has to find a way to let him take the lead.


    “I’m not going out for the team,” said my then-16-year-old son, Luke, when I asked the dates of his school’s baseball tryouts. Apparently they had already come and gone.

    Gauging from my gasp alone, you’d think he was a major league player walking away from a multimillion-dollar contract. A teenager retiring his bat and glove really isn’t that big a deal or altogether uncommon. The idea that he’d made the decision to give up the sport he’d been playing for over a decade didn’t both me; the “game changer” was the suddenness and independence with which he reached this point, without so much as giving me a heads up.

    This was the first time I found myself out of the loop. As a stay-at-home mother, I was always there when he got home in the afternoon. I also volunteered at his school regularly, and of course when sports required parents to participate. I knew the ins and outs of his life as well as I knew my own, from his class schedule to his evolving friendships.

    Luke seemed to embrace my contributions. I was his go-to person when he questioned how to maneuver the day-to-day. “What do I say to…? When should I hand this in? How do I get this to do that? What do I wear to this kind of party?” I was even invited as advisor on his first trip to Tiffany’s for a gift for his girlfriend.

    I grew used to not only being needed, but consulted at every turn. It made me feel necessary and important. I thrived on that he can’t make a move without me feeling that provides as much buzz as a champagne cocktail.

    Now I felt like Mary Tyler Moore’s character in Ordinary People, when she has to hear from another parent that her son (Timothy Hutton) had quit the swim team.

    I realized I was no longer mothering the same boy who once began sentences with, “Is it OK if I…?” but instead the parent of a young man capable of making his own decisions and embracing the power to do so.

    Shortly after his announcement that the national pastime was no longer how he would be passing his time, Luke showed me a card with a catcher in full uniform crouching behind the plate. The caption read: I started playing rugby because my face was too pretty to hide behind a mask.

    Rugby? Another conclusion reached without a discussion or a heads up.

    At this point, I’ve had a little over a year and a half to get used to finding things out from him later rather than sooner; that and having the word “scrum” as part of our family’s vernacular. (Thanks, rugby practice.)

    Luke recently turned 18 and in about eight months he’ll be going away to school. I’ll miss him, but I’m confident he’ll be able to take care of himself.. The decisions I’ve seen him make on his own have shown thought and good reasoning behind them – even if I might’ve gone in a different direction. Luke also knows that Neil and I are here, when he wants a second opinion.

    He’s now looking at schools that will allow him to study engineering and offer an outlet for his new sport and potential passion. But no matter what sport he plays, or choices he makes as he winds up for some of the most exciting years of his young life, I am always on “Team Luke.” And perhaps that’s the decision he needs me to make so he can get even more comfortable making his own.

    Lorraine Duffy Merkl is a freelance writer in NYC and author of the novel, FAT CHICK. Learn more about her writing at lorraineduffymerkl.com.