Talk to Me, or Else
Conversations with my teenage son.
I had my 14-year-old son in the car for twelve more minutes. It was now or never.
“You better talk to me,” I said. “Or else.”
He laughed, eyes glued to his phone. “Or else what, Mom?”
“Or else I’ll be left to assume there’s something you’re not telling me. Then I’ll have to start stealing your phone, reading your texts, haunting you in your sleep.”
He looked up. “How is haunting me in my sleep going to help?”
“I dunno. It just sounded stern and threatening, so I said it.”
He went back to his phone. He knew I already read his texts. Not all of them, but enough. It was one of the terms of him getting his own phone and accounts.
I looked at the clock. Ten minutes.
“I’m serious, bud. You’re a teenager. Your first instinct is going to be to pull away. But your dad and I know that you’re also going to be facing new stuff every day. We don’t want you out there trying to handle it all on your own.”
“I want to make sure we connect. Every day.”
“About what?” he said finally.
“Everything,” I said, then chided myself for the inane lack of clarity. But there was no satisfactory answer to that question. Any one of the words in my head — Sex! Drugs! School! Your entire future! — would have slammed the door tight against the faint breeze of a conversation I was enjoying. I looked at the clock. Down to eight minutes.
“We know you’re getting more and more independent. That’s what you’re supposed to do. We’re proud of you. Just …”
I paused. Just, what? Isn’t this what I’d always believed good parenting to be, to raise a child capable of navigating their way to a happy, healthy life? It’s impossible to say, “Be independent, but only when I say it’s okay.” And yet, he’s only fourteen. The line between his dependence and independence grows fainter by the day. Plus, I know my threats are just veiled fears — that he’ll get hurt, that he’ll fail, that one mistake will lead to lifelong consequences, that we, as parents, should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done something to prevent it … if only we’d known.
Parents are terrific at judging each other. How could they have let that happen, we wonder. They should have been paying closer attention. Right there, I realize then, that’s the impossible teeter-totter of parenting: mothering without smothering.
I look at the clock. Five minutes.
“You don’t want me to become a “smother,” do you? Call your friends? Show up at school unannounced? Because you know I will.”
Another grunt. “What do you want me to tell you?”
“Everything.” Again with the clarity. “What are your friends talking about? How is everyone getting along? What are you worried about?”
“My friends are fine. Most of them are doing the play. Alex is in it, and the others are doing tech crew. My grades are the same as yesterday.”
He looked at me. “Anything else?”
“No. Not until tomorrow.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
I pulled up in front of the school. He said goodbye, opened the door and was gone. I smiled, knowing his eyes would roll all the way to class. Then I drove away, confident that I’d made at least one thing clear in our twelve minutes together: I wasn’t going anywhere.