Because We Need To Let Go With Compassion

Allison writes: Meredith and I met in Raleigh, North Carolina, when Greg and I were engaged and Meredith and her husband were newly married. All of us were, at the time, working journalists. Our families have grown and moved since then, but we have kept in touch for nearly 20 years. Meredith and her husband now are raising their three children in Noblesville, Indiana. 

Guest post by Meredith Cummings
Thursday didn’t begin well. I  looked at my eighth-grade son’s online grades before he left for school and then failed to hold my frustration at him in check. There he stood, head down, shame on his face, as I let him have it with my angry words. I managed a “Have a good day,” before he left, but I didn’t mean it, and he knew it.

An hour later, I drove to my children’s school, for Mass and the May Crowning of Mary. I usually love this day, as the school’s new First Communicants come dressed in their handsome suits and beautiful white dresses and veils. The soon-to-be graduating eighth graders dress up, too. But today, I was mad at my son, and I had too much to do. I didn’t have time for this. Later, reflecting on Our Blessed Mother, a mother thrush in the rosary garden, and some words by the Dalai Lama shifted my perspective.

I ducked into the last pew in church but glanced at my son standing next to his friends up front, so many fine-looking young men and women in their almost-grown-up suits and dresses. My son stood among them. I couldn’t tell by looking at his expression if he had forgotten our morning encounter.

After Mass, I followed the crowd of happy children to the parish rosary garden, home to a magnificent statue of Mary. The sky was azure blue; the fragrance of spring flowers perfumed the air. As everyone gathered together to offer prayers of thanksgiving for Mary and this special day, I glanced at a corner of the garden and remembered the momma bird and her babies who’d occupied that space a few years ago.

A mother thrush had built a nest in the mulch, and when the children gathered for the May Crowning back then, she was none too happy. She squawked and flapped her wings and defended her babies with all her might. The school children respected her warning cries and gave her space, and so she and her babies joined us in the holy ceremony.

Now a few years later, I thought more about this bird. As a mother, she instinctively protected her newborns; loved them, nurtured them, cared for them. I recently heard the Dalai Lama speak. Tibetan Buddhists believe he is the latest reincarnation of  their spiritual leaders. He said  he believes people who are truly compassionate themselves first learned that compassion from loving and protective mothers. I believe he’s right. And yet, at some point, mothers must let go.

After loving her babies and caring for them, the thrush taught her children to fly and explore the world on their own. Mother Mary was no different. Upon hearing she was pregnant, she said “yes” to an unborn child and suffered many unpleasant consequences as a result. Once the child was born, Mary and her husband escaped to Egypt to protect their young son. As he grew and began to assert his independence, she was filled with worry when she lost him in the temple. But she, too, eventually had to let go so he could make his way in the world. It was hard, I’m sure, but she did it.

A tear trickled down my cheek, which had warmed in the late morning sun. I looked at my son, standing so tall and handsome among his peers. It’s been a tough year for him as he’s juggled Scouting, children’s choir, exams and choosing a high school, and it will get tougher as he moves forward. And yet, I know instinctively that he’ll be fine. He’ll struggle. He’ll make mistakes, but he’ll be fine as long as he has a mother who protects, is compassionate, but also knows when to let go. After the crowning, I walked up to my son and apologized. Of course, I wouldn’t dare give him a hug in front of his friends, that would humiliate him, but I did squeeze his shoulder. He grinned at me and apologized, as well. He even let me take his picture by the Mary statue.

As I walked to my car afterwards, I said a prayer of thanks for the two mothers – Mary and the thrush – and for the wise Buddhist monk, who helped me realize the importance of my role as a parent. Just before I reached my car, I thought about running into the school to get my son’s suit once he’d changed into his school clothes, but I thought better of it. “No, he’s a responsible young man. I’m sure he’ll put it on a hanger and get it home without any problems,” I said to myself.. Later in the day, as I waited in the car at pickup, one of his friends came barreling across the parking lot.

“Hey Charlie, you forgot your suit.” The boy opened up his backpack and threw a wrinkled, mangled wad of clothes at my son. I bit my tongue and said a quick Hail Mary, and then I turned to my son and asked him about his day.

  • Carrie Sue

    What a gorgeous post! Thank you for sharing. I'm not a parent but I have 11 nieces and nephews to "worry over". There are times when they are the strongest tastes of having children of my own. This also is ringing true for me in other relationships, especially adult friendships.

  • Anonymous

    Oh! Thank you for that post.

  • Sandy C.

    Exactly what I needed today. My recent college grad son is looking for a job and I've been praying for the right balance of protection/compassion and push out of the nest. ;)

  • Sarah Harkins

    How true- being loving and compassionate as a mother is one of the most important if not the most important role we play. It's the quality I cherish the most about my own mother and the reason I still come running to her for advice or just to hear her voice. I hope my children will cherish that quality in me even when they are grown. And I hope they forget all the times I lost my temper on them too!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for reminding me that my own two sons are not the only ones…. 8-)dads have those feelings too.

  • Anonymous

    In my humble opinion this is a beautiful post.Love is the answer. I told you, you should have a blog…I know takes time…but maybe you can find it.Laura from Argentine

  • JMB

    Since my 14 yr old son forgets just about everything, I'm certain that he will forget that I just scolded him. All teenage boys are the same!

  • Allison

    Whenever I read Meredith's writing, I am struck by how parallel parts of our lives our. We both have eighth-grade boys and know the joys and the pains of that age. Thanks for sharing a slice of your day with me and the rest of us!

  • Allison

    parts of our live are….(precaffinated here)

  • Mocha

    Thank you for a lovely post Meredith. I myself have had a tough week or so with my 5th grader whose choices of late have caused me not only great fear, but sadness. It is difficult to know the delicate balance between a tight rein and letting go. A guest priest spoke to my daughter and me last Sunday and reminded her that "your mother is your conscience, and she needs to guide you still…" He also kindly explained to her that the punishment I would mete out would be a reflection of my love and concern for her. It is really difficult to parent these days — especially as children are exposed to a secular progressive culture which can rob them of their innocence. I am grateful to God that he has protected my children from harm, despite some poor choices by them. Pax Christi.

  • Julie

    Thank you for sharing this. It is beautiful. Every parent of a young adult should read this. It definitely left a lump in my throat. Julie

  • Aunt Lisa

    Meredith,Finally I have had the time to read your beautifully inspired words. As the mother of three (two of them sons), I can completely understand your feelings. How fortunate that we have the Blessed Mother as a model and inspiration. Thank you for reminding me of this.