“Did anyone really know their child? Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you…”
Big Little Lies
I’ve decided that I don’t know my kids very well. I keep thinking that I know how they will respond to things but, lately, I’m always wrong—especially with my youngest. It’s not like he’s trying to be difficult (that’s a whole different story). But if I say black he says white – even if he was nowhere near me when I said black.
I started thinking about this last week when I attended the advisory parent night at my younger son’s high school. When we first walked in we were handed a sheet to fill out about our son – questions like “What’s the best thing about your kid?” and “What is your kid most looking forward to in high school?” Questions, that as a parent who has had hands-on experience, 24/7, with this kid I should be able to answer easily.
But I was stymied.
What is he looking forward to? What is he struggling with? Why can’t I answer any of these questions??!!
The one about the best qualities about my kid should have been easy…or so I thought. I started to realize as I wrote down my pat answers: sense of humor, love of learning, blah, blah, blah, that those answers were, perhaps, not true of the kid he has become. Sure, he loves to laugh and I think his sarcasm is the funniest thing ever but was I really answering the question about him as a 14-year-old?
Well, since the first question – the easy question – was such a bust I moved on to the next question that asked what my kid gets excited about?
Hmmm…nothing? He’s a teenager!
What academic class does your child enjoy most?
No idea. He won’t talk to me about school, but he doesn’t grumble as much when he’s doing his Latin homework so I guess the answer is Latin!
I wouldn’t be so focused on this if I weren’t constantly reminded lately that I don’t have a clue about him.
For instance, I was certain that he would have a melt down when his brother left for college. I was so worried that my sobbing on the way home would be really hard on him because he would be dealing with his own emotions.
Boy, was I wrong.
As we toured the campus and attended family activities, he kept checking the time and asking when we could leave! “I have school tomorrow,” he kept reminding us.
That was not at all what I expected.
And there have been other moments – like when he had a very strong emotional response to a soccer gaffe or when he decided he should be a Buddhist which is in sharp contrast to his desire to be an Atheist. Then just last week, I was POSITIVE that our youngest doesn’t eat avocado and yet, he assured me when I got home with his sandwich—sans avocado—that he LOVES avocado and how could I not know that?
Shouldn’t I have noticed this change? Shouldn’t we have talked about it?
Sure, his older brother had moments that threw me for a loop – like the time when he started talking to girls – actually talking to girls – I mean, using words in long sentences and not just grunting at them – but, for the most part, nothing he has done has been a great surprise. That’s because he likes to talk.
When he stopped eating mustard there was a discussion about it. We talked about what it was about mustard that he didn’t like. We talked about other types of mustard and whether he would like to try those. Clearly, it was a long discussion because I can remember the moment vividly.
Our youngest, on the other hand, doesn’t mull things over out loud. He just changes his mind and forgets to tell us.
He also has a very extensive inner life that none of us are privy to. When he was five or six-years-old he started having these moments when he would stare off into space, often with a smile pulling on the corner of his lips. We knew that he was, as he called it, “telling himself a special story.” He was the toddler version of Walter Mitty—with long, complicated daydreams that involved him saving the day or traveling the globe.
(He probably learned to love avocado during one of those daydreams. But, I digress…)
So, why am I so worried about what my kid wants on his sandwich?
Because I want to know my kids. I don’t want to be that parent who says, “My kid would never do that!” only to find out that my kid has most definitely done that…and more.
So, I ask them questions and talk to them during car rides and dinners and talk to their friends when they are in our house – all in an effort to get a glimpse of who they are.
But, I’m not naïve. I know there is plenty that my 18-year-old doesn’t share with me and I actually like that my youngest is very much his own person who tries to figure things out on his own.
I know that I will never fully KNOW my kids and I’m good with that. I want them to separate from us – they need to separate from us. But, I think that I want my 14-year-old to be who he was when he was younger because if I acknowledge that he is changing I also have to acknowledge that he will, one day, grow up and need to leave and I will know him even less.
But until that time I will keep peppering him with questions—whether he likes it or not—and I will assume I know nothing instead of assuming that I know anything because tomorrow he will probably be vegan…or a Buddhist.
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