“My friends absolutely love you,” my son tells me.
I raise my eyebrows in a question.
“Yeah, I’ve told them whenever I get in trouble, you make me a root beer float.”
It takes me awhile to stop laughing.
“Do they believe you?” I finally ask.
He snorts. “Of course they do! They’ve met you!”
I take this in. I’m the mom who doles out root beer floats instead of punishment. It’s actually not a bad philosophy. When life gives you trouble, make root beer floats.
I think I already know the answer, but I ask anyway.
“What happens to your friends when they get in trouble?”
“They get their stuff taken away or they get yelled at or they’re grounded. D. is basically grounded for life and he doesn’t even care. His parents found hard drugs in his room!”
I don’t know if my son even knows what hard drugs are. I’m fond of D.—a big goofball who always has a book in his hand and positively glows when I ask him what he’s reading—but I also make a mental note NEVER to let my son go to his house.
“Yeah,” my son continues. “His parents are divorced and I think he has a lot of feelings. Somebody needs to help him.”
I turn away so he won’t see me smile. This is the miracle root beer floats have wrought. A teenager who recognizes that acting out is a sign of pain and needs to be treated accordingly.
“You grounded me once,” he says. “Remember?”
He loves to remind me of my past failings. In my first couple of years of being his mom, they were plentiful.
“Vaguely. It seemed kind of stupid.”
I think about the pain he was feeling that one time when we grounded him, and I feel ashamed of myself.
Here’s something else the root beer float has in its favor: I never need to feel ashamed afterwards for offering one.
Root beer floats are a leap of faith. They are my way of meeting my son’s anger and fear with love and acceptance. They are my way of transforming my own anger and fear into something productive and positive.
There’s a part I think my son probably leaves out when he tells his friends about what getting in trouble looks like at his house. Root beer floats are like truth serum. A couple of sips, and he’s spilling it all. And that’s where the hard work happens.
The hard work of figuring out what’s really going on, finding words for it, naming it, the vulnerability and the bravery of owning his feelings and admitting he made an unkind choice or a mistake. The hard work of finding a way to solve the problem and make things right. The hard work of connection and forgiveness and understanding and acceptance.
There is nothing easy about root beer floats.
Photo CC-By Joy