My kids used to talk my ears off. Really. I’d be listening to my son’s replay of a Spiderman comic plot line and my hearing sense would literally give out part way through. This phenomenon still happens – usually with the tween. He’ll wait for the perfect moment – I’ve got 12 balls in the air and the phone rings – to launch into a play-by-play of last night’s Canucks game. Then he’ll be downright insulted when he gets my conversation-killing Uh-huh.
Did you hear me, Mom? he’ll insist. Ummmmm…
I can’t blame him. Sometimes I get nervous to knock on my teen’s (aka comic kid) door to ask what’s up. That’s because he’ll un-velcro his eyes from the laptop screen as if it hurts. Badly. Like he’s being tortured. Then he fixes his stare on me and blinks, code for: You? Again? What now? A few weeks ago, he actually told me that instead of hearing my footsteps coming, he hears the phrase Uh-Oh forming in his brain. Nice.
And yet, I can’t stop my little intrusions into his space. All I get in the morning are mumbles and I understand the need to chill after school, to be alone for homework, and to eat in peace. Then the sun goes down and I miss his voice. I want to hear about his life – classes, friends, girls, whatever. Realizing you’re being shut out by your kid is the worst. You feel as if you’ve lost all your power. You’re like a dead battery, when all you want to do is connect. When I realize it’s happening, I’ll take anything. Even Spiderman.
My kids inhabit their own social worlds all day, every day. They’re basically on another planet, one that I remember only too well. Navigating the craters of high school is no easy feat no matter who you are. While they’re out there learning, making choices, getting high and getting hurt, I see them changing just a trace every day, moving away from the kids I know. And I don’t want to be so disconnected that I’m left behind.
We all know that relationships are built on communication and yet, with teens, we take for granted that it’ll just happen – the way it did when your 8-year-old told you about his first crush. It doesn’t. It’s really hard to talk to someone who spends half his life taking notes and the other half either grunting or texting. Especially when you have (arguably) a life of your own.
So recently, I stepped up my game. I figure the only way he’ll get used to me butting in on his time is to do it more often. Now, instead of just knocking on his door a twice a night and asking what’s new (a question that will never, EVER get me any news), I make sure I’m around when he’s around. And not just my ears. The rest of me, too.
I still wander in and out of his room at night (typically carrying some prop like a laundry basket or trash can) and I do more. I tempt him with the aroma of baking chocolate chip cookies and then pour us some milk and wait. I pop into the family room when he’s watching Community. I offer to drive him to the comic store (where he’s locked inside my van for a good 20 minutes, each way. Ha!). And I listen.
Lo and behold, I learned that when I turn on my ears, when I’m not so eager to lead the conversation, the kid does share, quietly, about what matters to him. There’s this tiny spark of conversation that I used to miss. The trick is to fan that flame. If I do more than my Uh-huh response, if I show a little actual interest, he’ll keep sharing. All I have to do is stop my juggling and tune into his frequency.
I have now come to appreciate my son’s take on religion (it’s definitely not mine), and on sci-fi movies I’ll never see. A few nights ago, he shared his headphones to play me a killer song he discovered then downloaded some classic songs I love onto my Mac. He also told me about a recent double date. In return, I told him about some stupid stuff I did in high school back when I thought popularity at all costs made perfect sense. (I’m a person, too. Remember?)
I think I have to be OK with being told I’m a Klingon. It’s worth it for a little connecting.
Spiderman? Canucks? Bring it on, fellas. I’m all ears.