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Letting teenagers tend to their own issues — was it a good idea?


It all started with my family’s energy ball craze. Deciding what to eat for breakfast was a constant challenge for me. When I was introduced to energy balls made with chia seeds, flaxseeds, oats, and other healthy ingredients, I was happy. Three energy balls and a coffee became my go-to for breakfast.

It was great. No more indecision.

I wasn’t so happy when my kids decided they also liked them. Not because I didn’t want them to eat healthy, but because they disappeared rather quickly, leaving me with no breakfast.

In particular, 19-year-old Shimmy was totally nuts over energy balls. He offered to buy the ingredients and make them himself. That worked out well until one day there were no more left. At this point, my enthusiasm over this breakfast had disappeared. I didn’t care that much that there were none left, but Shimmy did.

“Mommy, I’m making another batch of the energy balls,” he informed me. “Esty says you need to soak the chia seeds before you form the balls. I’m gonna soak them in this stainless-steel bowl on the counter. Okay?”

And there the chia seeds stayed.

“Shimmy, what’s happening with the chia seeds? When are you making the balls?” I asked him one evening after supper.

“I dunno. I’ll make it later.”

But later he was in bed. The next day, he asked me if I wanted to make the balls. It wasn’t such a big deal for me to do it, but I felt it was his project. He’d started by soaking the seeds. He needed to take care of it.

The bowl stood stoically on the counter for the next two days, irritating me. I won’t make them for him. Let him finish what he started. Don’t get in his way, I thought.

When it was still there on Erev Shabbos, I cringed.

And then I had a flashback.

On a frosty night in January, I’d asked my 17-year-old son, Ushy, to drive me to a simchah. As we drove, I noticed him suddenly go pale. “That cop’s signaling me,” he said grimly.

“Oy vey,” I said.

He prepared his license and registration and waited tensely. “I’m so nervous,” he admitted.

The cop tapped his flashlight on my window. “Do you know why you were pulled over?” he asked as I handed him my son’s license and registration.

“No,” my son answered.

“You didn’t stop at the sign,” he said and disappeared into his police car, leaving us wondering about the outcome of this episode.

“Are you his mom?” the officer asked me when he returned.

“Yes,” I answered proudly.

“Well, you’d better make sure he follows all the rules so you don’t hike up your insurance.”

“Sure thing. Thank you!” I replied.

My son was so relieved he didn’t get a ticket.

When I arrived at the wedding and saw my sister-in-law there, I told her what had happened. She asked me how I reacted.

“Me?” I asked. “I was calm. Ushy was nervous.”

“Really?” she said. “Wow.”

“Look, Tzippy,” I said, “it’s his responsibility. You speed, you get a ticket. You miss a stop sign, you have to pay the price. That’s how you learn.”

“I hear,” she said.

On the way back, there was a police car behind us. My son looked in the rearview mirror. “He’s not gonna pull me over. I’m not doing anything wrong,” he said quietly.

Now, I wondered about my obstinate stance with Shimmy and what could have come of it. Letting teenagers tend to their own issues — was it a good idea?

I don’t know if I mentioned anything to him about the balls, but on Sunday morning, Shimmy called me over, all excited. “Look at this, Mommy. You hafta come see.”

I looked into the big stainless-steel bowl where the chia seeds were. They’d sprouted!

“Oh, my goodness!” I said and laughed.

“I didn’t realize what would happen if I ignored those chia seeds.” Shimmy smiled.

I looked into the bowl again and saw green growth.

The next morning, the stainless-steel bowl sans sprouted seeds stood on my counter, gleaming.

And I knew the answer to my question.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 744)

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