Sitting across the table at the mall from my world-traveling seventeen-year-old son, I’m complaining about the words some people in an online group are using. “It’s not just online,” I say, “it’s at park days too. What’s wrong with these people?” My son reads what I’ve shown him, “I have no comment for that.” “But how can we combat this? How do we get people to understand they are hurting others and not being the ‘inclusive’ and ‘tolerant’ people they claim to want to be?” My son looks at me, “If you don’t like those people, if they are hurting you, don’t play with them.” My playground advice comes back to me like a boomerang, ten years after I said them.
He reminded me of other “rules” just before he left on his first trip last year. I was becoming more and more worried about sanctioning this solo-trip to Europe. He would only turn seventeen while he was there. What was I thinking? I was looking at my son, the one sitting in front of me for the last (nearly) seventeen years. I knew what he was capable of and his personality. He’d be fine, but as the departure date grew closer, I began to doubt. I had started to give him pointers. Funny, coming from someone who has only been across our own border once, with her mother, when she was eighteen and never left again. “If things don’t seem to add up don’t go, ok? Don’t be so trustful of people. If you get confused or scared, just ask an employee of the airport, or security, for help. They want to help you, it’s what they are there for.” My baby (that’s what he looks like to me) looks up at me, “You mean don’t take candy from strangers and look both ways before crossing the street?” Crap. Yes. I guess so.
It never occurred to me as I coached my sons on playground etiquette and personal safety walking home from the park, that they would use those same rules in their adult life as personal principles. I just thought I was trying to keep them from fighting or getting hurt while they grew up. Everything we do with our kids is training for the adult world, when they will be out there on their own without us guiding the way.
I’m happy we spent so much time together. I’m happy we never sent them to school. I’m content knowing they may have received a better academic education somewhere, but they couldn’t be better people, more human, than they are today.
I’m reminded of “Star Wars” as I enjoy my son’s company while he visits for a couple weeks before heading back to Europe for a few more months. “When I left you, I was but a learner; now I am the master.” The roles have reversed. My sons are my teachers. They reflect the world back at me in ways I never dreamed possible.