One morning I am getting ready to drive my teen to a nature camp where he is a counselor-in-training, and he says something cruel and low to me. I've long since stopped being shocked at the words that issue from the mouths of teenagers, so I return, calm but firm, That was unbelievably mean.
On the drive I am silent. I have no desire to make conversation with him. He, too, stays silent.
But in the afternoon, when I pick him up from camp, he waits only until the car doors shut before blurting out, Umm, what I said this morning was really bad, and I'm sorry. I've been thinking about it all day.
Until now, I don't think either one of my kids has ever offered an unprompted apology so many hours after the offense.
So there's hope, and I learned that in the car, of course.
This year the teen has been assigned to a group of first-grade children, the youngest group he's ever had. He keeps shaking his head, stymied by their behavior. But he also finds them hilarious. As do I, I affirm. That's one of the reasons I like working with young kids. He tells me about a girl who on the first day kept complaining that she was starving. Call me 'Starvation!,' she wailed, as she clambered over a log on the trail. So he did, and even now, on day three, he greets her with a high-five and a Hi, Starvation! In return she giggles.
I like that he's listening. He's also learning:
They really don't want to obey, do they, Mom?!, he laments. They run all over the place and don't switch for stations when they're asked to, and you have to kind of-- Here words fail him, and he makes a circle of his arms.
Corral them?, I supply, amused. Yes!, he grins.
One of his charges (let's call the child John) is unusually inattentive. Today I had a better day with John, my son reports. I sat him down during lunch and talked to him, and afterward he seemed to listen better. I think that's what you have to do, just sit them down and talk to them, not even about anything in particular.
And hug them, or at least let them hug you, I add. My boy is finicky about his personal space. Do you allow them to hug you?, I wonder. Yeah, except mostly they're tackling me, not hugging me, he answers, slow and careful, musing: They seem to need to do that.
Yes, they do, and I'm glad you let them, I praise. I know that can be hard for you. He nods his assent.
Too soon we reach home. Yet again I find myself appreciative of and sustained by car time, because the minute we open the door to the house my son has applied his sullen makeup. I might almost believe that I dreamed these conversations, so out of (his?) adolescent character are they.
It is why I write them down: to substantiate them. Because they mean so much more than the space and time they occupy. They may even mean everything.