Sometimes in the summer, when we see a lot of each other, Essie and I go to lunch and we take books or kindles or phones or magazines and each of us totally ignores the other. Sometimes we eat at separate times or I let Essie eat in her room and we don’t even have a family meal time. I know children and parents should be forced to talk to one another at mealtimes and….I’ve seen the FB memes lamenting the end of civilization that has been ushered in by the smart phone and the end of family dinners…I’ve even heard the sermons about how it should be a rule that mealtimes are for talking to each other. We must always be communicating with our kids. Always, always, always….especially teenagers. Talk, talk, talk to your teenagers. (This begs the question – do these people actually live with teenagers on a day to day basis? But I digress.)
In my experience, however, communication doesn’t always work that well when you turn it into a rule. I understand the point of communication during mealtimes. I don't allow my kids to use phones during a mealtime with friends or family or even most of our “normal” family mealtimes (if there is, in fact, a time when we can be called normal), but sometimes not communicating is as important communicating when you have teenagers. Sometimes, letting other people have their own thoughts and feelings and space is just as important as telling them your own feelings and thoughts and opinions ALL THE TIME or asking them what is happening and pushing for answers. Sometimes if you give someone enough space, they might relax a little around you and a funny thing happens. They start talking to you. And talking, and talking, and talking. I have come by this knowledge the hard way. Ever try ‘How was your day?’ with a fifth grade girl? The results can be disappointing. But walk through the grocery store with a list in your hand muttering about the fact that you can’t find the broccoli and the floodgates of conversation break open. While you are trying to remember if you need garlic salt, you will be privy to the immense angst of the fifth grade social wars and the details of how Beth told your daughter’s best friend Amy that she (your daughter) was not “cool.”
If you don’t press too hard you will find that often enough these staring, nocturnal, uncommunicative creatures will seek you out to talk to you. And it will be when you are least prepared for it. Your kid will follow you to the garden while you are pulling weed and getting stung by sweat bees and your back is turned and your face is dirty and your knee hurts and start telling you about her pregnant friend who had to go live with her aunt, and suddenly you are having an important conversation about sexuality and love and having and raising kids (and you have a garden helper).
You might be driving along trying to remember why you are driving along and where you are supposed to be going after the grocery store because you know you are supposed to be going somewhere else….was it the drycleaner? Or maybe that doesn’t happen to you and you always know where you are going…but imagine yourself driving along anyway, and suddenly you are listening to the sad story of the guy she likes who doesn’t like her back or the guy who likes her whom she likes but not that way. And, of course, you forget to go the drycleaner….but that’s okay...your kid wants to tell you something.
I suspect that the big conversations happen this way because somewhere deep down they know we’re off guard. Our own agenda is put away for the moment and they can tell us these important things and we might actually listen. Times when we expect them to talk we may already have advice or a list of complaints or opinions or questions at hand and all those things can prevent actual listening.
Our family is composed of people who require a certain amount of time alone with our own thoughts, time to work things out for ourselves. During the summer we see a lot of each other. So, while others may judge, there may be times when we are better off if we each quietly enjoy the company of the other while we get lost in reading, writing, or sketching or even texting with friends on the phone. The big conversations will happen while I’m baking a cake or trying to clean the barn or digging a hole for a fruit tree. (Or as any mother of very young children knows…from outside the bathroom door.)
There’s nothing wrong with scheduled family time…but there’s nothing wrong with leaving each other alone sometimes either.
I never expected to win mother of the year anyway, I guess.