Recently, I dropped my 15-year-old son off for a weekend away with friends. They were going canoeing and he was excited to spend 48 hours knee deep in water and sleeping on a hammock with his buddies. As I stood with him, waiting for them to pack up their gear, I assessed the group, particularly the adults going on the trip.
And I didn’t recognize one of them.
After introductions, I realized the parent I didn’t recognize was a friend of a friend and, while I’m sure it was all on the up and up, my parental “spidey senses” were activated.
These days, though I am learning to let my teenaged son make decisions on his own when he’s away from us, it’s still my job to make sure the activities he attends are safe. It’s my job to question who has access to him, who spends time with him and who will directly affect his daily life.
So I spoke up.
I asked the person in charge of the trip why a parent who was unknown to our group was attending a trip with our kids. I questioned why other parents weren’t told of the new member’s attendance on the trip. And I asked who had checked this parent’s background, as the other parents attending had all completed mandatory child protection training.
And, in doing so, I embarrassed my son more than a little.
“Mah, I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll be fine, I promise,” he said under his breath.
But, I’m not at all sorry that I took the time to open my mouth and question what was going on in relation to one of my kids’ recreational activities.
Because, as my friends will tell you, I’m that mom, the one with the big mouth.
I’m the mom my friends text when an unsafe situation arises and the authorities need to be involved. I’m the mom my friends call when our town’s zoning board has a controversial topic up for discussion. And, I’m the mom who will stand up at a PTA meeting and grill the executive board about inappropriate spending and misappropriation of funds.
Yes, I’m the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” mom. And yes, you’ve probably rolled your eyes at moms like me at PTA meetings and zoning board meetings.
But, though some have rolled their eyes at me on occasion, more often than not, there’s a sea of other parents silently nodding when I’m standing up, questioning why certain rules exist for our kids or why we aren’t addressing other safety concerns.
Admit it, we need big mouth moms.
Because they say what’s on everyone’s mind and you secretly like it. I’m the big mouth mom so you don’t have to be.
Do I like that I have the reputation for being opinionated?
Do I like having heated or uncomfortable discussions when it comes to our kids and safety? Not at all. Frankly, I’d love to be the parent who sits back and lets someone else argue about bus stop incidents and high school gun safety. I’d love to sit in the back and be unfazed by PTA moms on power trips and school administrators who are more concerned about state testing than hot lunch funding.
But, someone has to be the parent who is willing to have the difficult conversations. Someone has to be the parent who stands up when an injustice happens in our community.
And, much to my teens’ occasional embarrassment, that mom is me.
I speak out, not so that I can convince other parents to join my side, but so that parents who haven’t found their voices, the ones who are afraid to speak up, know they aren’t alone.
I speak out so that my teens and their friends know that I have their backs,no matter what. And I will help my teens’ friends tell their parents when they screw up.
Raising kids today is hard. Truly hard. And scary. One look at the news and it’s enough to send a parent hiding under the covers. And, if you have teens, it’s even harder to send them out the door. I worry every day about other drivers on the road and a myriad of other pressures that are facing our teens the minute they walk into social situations and their school hallways.
And, there are days that I feel helpless to change anything for my teens.
But, speaking up helps.
Even if it’s sending nine emails to our superintendent about the safety infractions that occur at our bus stop. Yes, nine emails. And several phone calls. And follow up emails. But, our bus stop location was changed and the kindergarten kid who was almost hit by a car is safer now. I’m pretty sure the superintendent runs in the other direction when he sees me but, oh well.
A few weeks ago, I met a friend at the gym to work out and catch up. She and her husband are close friends with the parents of a Parkland victim and have spent months supporting them in their grief. My friend and her husband had visited their friends over the weekend and as she relayed to me their profound grief and sadness, she pulled out a small box with a cross on it and handed it to me.
Inside the box was a rubber bracelet with the victim’s name and a Parkland school pin. The parents had the boxes made up for the victim’s funeral and, when the mother saw my friend, she gave her several to take home. She asked my friend to give them to people who would remember their child and not forget what happened in February.
My friend, with tears in her eyes, told me, “You are my friend who never stops speaking up and I know you’ll keep my friend’s child in your heart.”
Of all of the gifts I’ve been given, this one means the most.
Yes, I have a big mouth.
Yes, it’s gotten me in more trouble that I’d like occasionally.
And, yes, I’ve embarrassed my teens by speaking out in the name of their safety and that of their friends.
But, when I look at the victim’s name on the bracelet, I know I’ll never shut up.