Cool Moms Tie Ties: Unexpected Lessons Learned From a Single Mother of a Teenage Son

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I don’t think my weekday mornings are any different than other parents of teenagers. After pressing the snooze button at least once, it’s a blurry mix of showers, the morning news and half eaten scrambled eggs. A request for money (him), a request for an explanation as to what happened to all the money given to him the day before (me), the never ending search for his keys, my never ending search for an extra 15 minutes, and wishing I had washed that extra load of clothes the night before because have nothing to wear to work. You know, the usual.

But one morning threw me for a bit.

My son is in his first year at a Catholic high school, which is a bit of a shift for us since we’re not Catholic. But since it’s one of the best schools in the city, we’re making our peace with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Every few weeks students are required to attend mass and wear a shirt and tie instead of the usual uniform. This was the first one of the year and like the typical hurried single parent that I am, I forgot about the required mass and the fact that he outgrew all of his old shirts and ties. So, the night before, I ended up making a last minute run to the store for replacements. I felt kind of proud of my purchases since it was the first time I bought a tie for him that wasn’t a clip-on. And when I brought the items home and showed them to him, my child--who would probably wear jeans and gym shoes to my funeral—surprisingly approved. Why, this was cause for celebration and a commemorative glass of Malbec with dinner. My mini “cool mom” party was short lived however, because that next morning he came storming out of his room into the kitchen where I was about to take my first sip of coffee, handsomely dressed in his slacks, new shirt and tie. Only the tie wasn’t tied at all. It just hung around his neck like a scarf.

“I don’t know how to tie this!”

I stood at the kitchen counter, mouth dropped and dreading the question I knew would come next.

“Can you help me with this?”

And I hadn’t even had any caffeine yet.

My ex-husband and I had been apart for a while now. Even though we’d endured several stints of separation throughout our tumultuous marriage, I’d gotten very used to—and quite content with—the fact that I am now on my own. However, there were still moments here and there then where the reality of not having him around as much to do the “dad stuff” stung like a bee. This was definitively one of those moments.

As my one and only approached me, almost helpless, he had a pained look on his face that was a mix of confusion, panic and distress. Or maybe I was just projecting. I had no idea how to tie a tie (clip-ons remember?) so, I reasoned, I had no idea how to help him. Such a foreign situation for me as I’d always known how to help him. It’s kind of my job. From teaching him how to read when he was two years old to helping him give his first speech when he was in the 1st grade, to helping him perfect his instep kick for the Bitty Soccer Team, I’d always been there for him for whatever he needed.

But I couldn’t help him with the tie thing and as he grew older and developed more into a young man, the less sure I was about how equipped I was to help him at all. And this was one of the few times since his father and I divorced that I actually wished he was there. Not just to teach him to tie his tie, but to teach him all the things that I felt I could not. After all, his father was the one who taught him how to drive a car when he was only 7 (Don’t judge, he’s an excellent driver!). He taught him how to throw a football like he was in the NFL and of course, he was the one who taught him how to pee as I had no point of reference for that one. He had been the one to teach our son all the “guy” stuff—things that I am clueless about-- and as he grows there’s a lot of more “guy” stuff he’ll need help with. Like how to tie a damned tie.

Self-doubt and tons of questions began to creep in. What else is my son lacking by not having his father around? Did I do him a disservice by ending the marriage and raising him on my own? Am I not enough for him as a mother? Is he suffering terribly because his father isn’t around much? I may have been helpful when he was younger but what could I teach him now, as a 14 year old young man who is faced with so many challenges that I as his mother, could never relate to?

But for all the questions I had about what he may be lacking I immediately had a million more answers proving he possesses far more maturity, wisdom, strength and compassion than most adults. I thought back to a horrible fight with my ex-husband years ago, and my son was the one who came to me, as I sat at our kitchen table with my head in my hands, and said, “Mom you deserve better than this. We need to leave.” And so we did. Later when we were watching a movie where one of the main characters was cheating on his wife, my son, looked over at me, put his head on my shoulder and asked if I was ok, knowing full well that I had endured the same heartache with his father many times over.

While I wished he hadn’t found himself in a position to have to comfort me, since it should be the other way around, I was proud that he was such an empathetic and caring soul. Then I remembered—I taught him that! I’ve taught him to be compassionate. I helped him understand the importance of caring about others. I mean, this is the kid who will give almost all of his allowance to every homeless person we pass by on the street. He even lectured ME on the importance of giving at the tender age of 4, after I declined to give a dollar to someone in need. He always asks me for advice on the ‘right” thing to do in any given situation and hopefully I’ve been able to help him make the best possible decision. I may not be able to throw a football or appreciate video games, but I can show him what a strong woman looks like and instill that same strength in him. I can make sure he never forgets the importance of helping others and always remains that same compassionate toddler who got highly upset with his own mother for not being as charitable as he is.

I realized that I’ve also helped him many times recently: research for an English paper, how to respectfully ask a girl he likes to a school dance, and even how to properly flip pancakes. Hell, a few minutes prior I even helped him to a $20 bill in my wallet. I may not have all of the answers or know enough about Formula 1 racing, but I AM enough. I am good enough and I am strong enough to help my son with whatever he needs. I’m also smart enough to know where to go when I need a little help myself.

In this instance it was YouTube.

We found a 4 minute instructional video online on how to tie a tie which worked perfectly since we only had about 8 minutes to spare before he was officially late for school. After a couple of tries and an assist from me, we had an almost perfectly tied tie. Crisis averted, he was on his way to school and my coffee was now cold.

I haven’t the slightest idea how to teach my son how to be a man. I can, however, teach him how to be a good person who just happens to be male, all while being the same cool mom that I imagine myself to be in my head. And who knows, maybe I can actually help him with many other things MALE-related despite my high estrogen quotient. Like all of the other cool goddess mothers I stand with in solidarity, I can help him with anything he needs because I am enough. The same way I just helped him to my last bit of cash, which now means I need to stop at the ATM on the way to work, thus making me late for the second time this week. Yep, this was just a typical weekday morning.

Hilary Christian is a Chicago-based freelance writer and fundraiser who writes about love, sexuality and social issues when she’s not busy raising money for nonprofits. Her work as has been featured in Arielle Loren’s Corset Magazine, Rebellious Magazine and Wild Sister Magazine. In the meantime she obsessively wears high heels all day because she’s short, craves pasta because it’s yummy and drinks lots of red wine without needing a reason. Check out her blog Did I Say That Out Loud? And like her on Facebook:!/IamHilaryChristian

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