For all my newfound piety, I was still fifteen years old, and all too conscious of “cool.” Just months before, I’d left behind several years of juvenile delinquency and accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. My parents, who were not particularly devout Presbyterians, noticed the change in me and heartily approved. If it took religion to keep me out of juvenile detention, so be it.
Zeal for my new faith consumed me, most of the time. But one spring day, I was aware of something else consuming me. I had a stomach bug, with all the unpleasant symptoms. I explained my predicament to my homeroom teacher, who sent me to the school nurse. The nurse, after taking my temperature, told me to lie down while she phoned my mother.
From the conversation I overheard, I could tell I’d be going home. I felt instant relief and dozed off.
I awoke to a sound that cut me like a razor. It was my mother’s voice, and it was saturated with maternal pity.
“Ah,” she said when she saw me lying there.
Then suddenly it dawned on me. My mother is taking me home. What if my friends see her leading me out of the school? What if she tries to put her arm around me? I’ll be a laughingstock . . .
Humiliation was on its way. I could already hear the guys jeering at me. Did you see his mother wiping his forehead?
If I had been Catholic, I might have recognized the next fifteen minutes as purgatorial. But to my evangelical imagination, they were sheer hell. Though I stared at the ceiling above the nurse’s couch, all I could see was a long and unbearable future as “Mama’s boy.”
I sat up to face a woman approaching me with the utmost pity. Indeed, it was her pity that I found most repugnant. Implicit in every mother’s compassion is her “little” child’s need—and such littleness and neediness are most definitely not cool.
“Mom,” I whispered before she could get a word out. “Do you suppose you could walk out ahead of me? I don’t want my friends to see you taking me home.”
My mother didn’t say a word. She turned and walked out of the nurse’s office, out of the school, and straight to her car. From there, she mothered me home, asking how I felt, making sure I went to bed with the usual remedies.
It had been a close call, but I was pretty sure I’d escaped with my cool intact. I drifted off to sleep in almost perfect peace.