What do you know? He listens after all.

I had lunch with friends yesterday. It was a gorgeous day, so we sat outside on the restaurant patio and took some time to catch up on each other’s lives.  One friend was talking about how things were going smoothly–her kids were happy and all was well. It’s great, she said, but it’s okay when it’s not, because that’s how they grow. It can’t be easy all of the time.

I know she’s right (she usually is), but what I was really thinking, was,  Oh please, let it be easy all of the time. I am fine with that. I always tell my son that he can learn as much from failure as he can from success, but success is so much easier on me. My next thought was, it could be easy all of the time if my son would just do what I suggest instead of putting on the “whatever” face.

When my husband and I give my son advice, I count the number of sentences I’m able to get out before his face goes blank. The lights are on but no one is home. He will listen for a few more sentences, until he can find some way to turn the topic onto videogames or football.

I’d like to say that my husband and I take his blank stare as a cue to cut our losses. I would really like to say that. Unfortunately, like most people, our instincts drive us to completely belabor our point until we can’t remember what it was in the first place. I tell my son this is human nature. When someone has a bee in their bonnet it is because their emotional need to be heard and acknowledged goes unanswered. If he’d just prove he got the message, we’d have to let it go.

Either he is very stubborn, or he likes to hear us talk. I’m going with the latter. It makes me feel better.

But just when I think I’ve wasted my breath, he surprises me. He spent the dinner hour giving my husband and I a breakdown of the current football season with a detailed description of the Patriot’s most recent loss. He quoted numbers and stats, and spun their current record with the skill of a political operative.

“It’s actually good that they lost.”

“Really?” This I’ve got to hear.

“Now they know what they are facing. After all Mom, you learn as much from failure as you do from success.”

Not exactly the context I was looking for, but I’ll take it.  I guess the Patriots need to ditch Bill Belichick and hire a Mom.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Robyn Kalda © 2010 Creative Commons

Hello Muddah Hello Faddah

My son hates camp.  I expected he would. He told me he would, pretty much every day leading up to check-in.

It’s a Spanish Immersion camp run by a well-respected language institution. From the minute we stepped on campus, English was gone.  Even check in was in Spanish, which, by the way, I speak almost none of. A perky camp counselor introduced herself and rambled off instructions. My son’s eyes expressed nothing but resentment, not even a flicker of understanding. She finished talking, and I know it was a question because her voice went up at the end.

My son grunted. Something like “uhm.” I had no idea what that meant. Neither did the counselor.

After she left, my husband and I suggested that he might want to say something more substantive to indicate whether or not he had a clue about what he was supposed to do next.

“I know what they said.” He had that geez Mom tone in his voice. He rambled off a long list of tasks we need to complete, in order. “Happy?”

Oh yes. So very happy. Couldn’t he tell?

They handed him an elective sheet and it did nothing to better his mood.  Singing, Dancing, Cooking, Remedial Spanish and Aztec Culture. Aztec Culture it is! “Don’t worry,” they said. “He’ll get to try the others over the four week period.”

I looked at him and he mouthed the word “lame.” I told him that maybe cooking would be okay. “You beg to go to Chipotle every day. At least you’ll get to eat.” He moves right to the death glare. Time for us to leave.

The next day, they let the kids text or call their parents during a quick pre-dinner break. He can text with multiple parties at once.  Call his parents and he’s stuck.  That, and he’d have to actually speak.

Camp sucks.

We were ready for that.

Exactly what makes it suck?

The people, Spanish, the classes, the atmosphere, the phone policy, the activities, people’s energy, the food, the beds, the showers, most teachers, the fields, the air, the water

It sucks the life out of every living creature

If I trip and ACCIDENTALLY break my knee, can I come home?

How does one respond to that? Please, please don’t break your knee? I resort to what I know best.

I can send cookies

He continues on to tell us that he’s bored, it’s too easy, and he has no time to run, which makes me snort because he didn’t run a single day all Spring. Luckily, he can’t hear me, so I can still try the sympathetic mother approach. I’m good at that, too.

You have to know I’d love to run up there and make it “all better” by bringing you home, but do you really think that’s the best solution?

What a dumb thing to say. I totally set myself up with that one.

YES. YES, THAT IS DEFINITELY THE BEST SOLUTION.

Before his texting time is up, we (and by that I mean I) agree that he needs to actually voice his concerns to someone who can do something about it.  If that fails, his father and I will voice his concerns to someone who can do something about it.

Our solution is to fix it, not toss it.

Some things need to be tossed. Like Kevin Youklis, or Manny Ramirez.

At least he didn’t liken camp to Julio Lugo.

No parent wants their kid to be miserable.  But isn’t figuring out how to make things work part of the learning process? Finding that one thing that makes a moment worthwhile? If you do that, and string all of those moments together, you can have a pretty happy life. I know he’d be ecstatic if we brought him home, and wouldn’t think twice about the life lesson lost, but I would.

It’s true that some things in life can’t be fixed. But in trying he will gain maturity and perspective. Honestly, there are a lot worse things he could be stuck with than four weeks on a beautiful college campus with a ton of other kids who are probably as miserable as he is, each of them thinking they are alone. In the meantime, I’ll send him food. That much I can fix.

If I bring him home, he learns that if you don’t like it, you can always bail. While some things need to be tossed, most things in life can’t. You need to deal with them. Just as I have to deal with an unhappy child.

Maybe my mom can send me some cookies, too.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Brian Richardson

In Spite of it All

The fate of Sunday evening hinges on the outcome of my son’s basketball game.   If it’s been a good game, the last night of the weekend is safe.  It not, we are in for hours of disgruntled teenager.  An unhappy teen is a like a tree falling in the forest–it requires an audience, even if he “doesn’t want to talk about it.” If his first words are “I suck,” it’s time to open the Chardonnay.

A good game is defined not by whether my son’s team has won or lost, but by whether his level of play meets his expectations.  He’s a solid ball player–neither awesome or awful–and he plays in-house league.  House league is akin to a well-organized neighborhood game.  All of the kids know each other.  They have one practice a week.  They don’t have to try out.  Everyone plays.  But that doesn’t seem to make it any easier for him.

I certainly understand.  I spent most of my teenage years thinking “I suck.”  We didn’t use that word back then.  It was a far stronger pejorative then, than it is today. As the R-rated meaning fades with time, it works for me, an apt description of the vacuum of self-doubt that can pull one down.

I’m a violinist.  Like my son, solid but not stellar.   I used to panic before  every concert and competition.  My mother, tired of the drama, suggested that it might be time to quit.  I was appalled. What was she thinking?  All I could say was, “But Mom, I LOVE this!”

I didn’t get a handle on it until a year ago. Until then, I treated performing like a roller coaster ride.  I’d close my eyes and breathe deeply until it was over.  I managed the stress, but couldn’t remember anything afterwards. No magic.  An instructor finally talked some sense into me.  She said that she enjoyed hearing me play, but watching me play was another matter. “Let it go,” she said. “If not, what are you doing this for?”

Half of a memorable performance is an audience.  I like performing now.  I smile when I play. I make a lot of mistakes.  No one has ever asked for their money back.

So when my son heads out for the game, I tell him to have fun. He scoffs. “What if I suck?” he says.  I tell him, “You don’t have fun because you don’t suck.  You have fun in spite of the fact that sometimes you do.”  And no one cares.  Least of all me.

So I tell him to go and find something to love.  The thump of the ball against the floor, and the chirp of squeaking tennis shoes.  The smile of his best friend after he makes a basket, and the sharp satisfying sting of the high-five they share afterwards.  The weightless feeling when he leaps for a rebound, and the faces of his teammates as they line up for a free throw.  And I tell him that if he hits that three, remember that too, and soak it in, because these moments are rarer than you think. And he ignores me.

Life Sucks, says the bumper sticker.  Yes, sometimes it does.  But in spite of it all, it rocks.

Photograph by Mvongrue