Christy Oglesby and her son, Drew
Courtesy of Christy Oglesby

After a rougher than normal day, my son’s resistance proved to be exactly what I needed.

Doubt stalks single mothers raising sons, like shadows on sunny days. It’s a hard feeling to shake when you’ve never been a little boy and you’re really just guessing what it takes to make a man. I’m equipped to show him how to navigate this world as a black person. I’m no expert on maleness.

So when my child emphatically declared his independence, all but flat-out stating that he was not and would not be a clone, that signaled strength to me, not defiance. And good Lord, that felt good.

I’m among those who count courage as a desirable trait in a man and something I work to instill in my son. So when my second-grader exuded boldness while strapped in a booster seat, I sighed with relief. My heavy-handed approach to obedience had not backfired. Andrew was living up to the meaning of his name: strong and manly.

It was the Christmas season, and Drew wanted to break from the tradition I’d established. I didn’t know that when he blindsided me on the commute from school. 

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Drew had always known two things. His special day was in September, and his birthday parties were borderline-over-the-top celebrations focused on him. Second, Christmas was not about buying presents for people who have plenty. Helping “the least of these,” as the Bible says, was the closest we could get to giving a birthday present to the honoree.

In years past, when I asked Drew to pick our Christmas gift, he decided we’d pay for nights in a shelter, help a family living in an extended-stay hotel or buy coats for homeless children. My son had never gotten a Christmas gift, didn’t expect one and until that day, didn't want one—at least that’s what I thought.

“Mom, don’t you like it when you go to a birthday party and you get a goody bag?” That’s how it started. That child knows I love birthdays, anybody’s birthday. I was all in, and he let me prattle on for several minutes about favors I’d received at parties and weddings that were memorable. Talk about a rope-a-dope.

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“I think Christmas is sort of like that,” he said when I finally took a breath. My brow furrowed as one corner of my mouth rose in confusion. 

“At Christmas when everybody is giving each other presents, it’s like Jesus giving everyone goody bags. It’s his birthday, but everyone gets something,” he explained cheerfully and excitedly.

Now I had a clue. That was slick. “It’s not the same,” I said flatly, in that "this discussion is over" voice. “Birthday guests don’t bring presents for everyone at the party. The person who is having a birthday hands out the goody bags. Your logic is flawed on that one, bud.” 

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The minutes-long silence made me think he was processing the error in his thinking, realizing that this was an argument he couldn’t win and accepting his defeat. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

“Mom, you want me to be you. I am not you. I am me, and I want a Christmas present.”

Forget that backdoor approach. He went straight to the issue. I was stunned but proud. That response showed courage. It told me that he knew who he was. It told me no one would decide what he believed or what he should want. But I saw other glimpses of getting something right. He was respectful. There was no tone, no attitude, no anger. Drew had remembered that how you say something often matters more than what you say.

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The respect for authority was as evident as the boldness. I know both of those traits will make a world of difference for the rest of his life. It was the affirmation a single mom needed. 

Maybe that day foretells his future as a litigator or philosopher. That’s anybody’s guess. I saw a boy who knows who he is. That means no one else will define him. I saw a boy who can be an advocate. That means he won’t ignore a wrong that he thinks needs righting. More than anything, I saw a boy on the road to becoming a man. What momma doesn’t want that?

Hop on Facebook, and tell us about when you know you got it right as a mom or when you wish you’d done something different. Invite your other mom friends to share their stories. We know they have some.

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Check back next week: "When a Fake Jail Worked"

Christy Oglesby lives in Atlanta. She's a veteran writer for newspapers, websites and television.

Christy Oglesby lives in Atlanta. She's a veteran writer for newspapers, websites and television.