Oh I know we’ve had this conversation before, but let’s have it again. Just so I can remember why I ever doubted myself.
The 16 year old son of some wonderful friends of mine came over for dinner the other night. He arrived before his folks. This is the stuff of which parents’ nightmares are made. Not the horrible kind where your kid slips of a high ledge and you grab him by the straps of his overalls, and then the easy-change snap crotch of the overalls pops open snap by snap and he slips out of your grasp…
Not that kind of nightmare, but the kind where you aren’t close enough to know what your kid is doing, and he is doing something which, had you been there you would have nipped in the bud with either an “evil eye” or a well timed spilled drink. The kind where he opens a direct conduit from your kitchen table to the outside world. Old enough to hear and talk, not old enough to keep his mouth shut. I love that age in other people’s kids.
But they weren’t here and he was. And he was old enough to listen to his parents conversations and young enough to not know what he shouldn’t repeat. That’s my guess anyway. He was also old enough to know the intoxication of righteous indignation, but too young to know how fuzzy righteous is, and how frequently indignation is misplaced. Old enough to think that what he said mattered, but too young to to understand how much what he said mattered.
This is the same boy who got terribly upset with me when I told him last summer something about how fun I thought it was to hang out with Somalis and Hmong people. He told me that was totally racist. I allowed as how it is impossible to know any individual based on their country of origin, but that I felt it was entirely possible to generalize about the people within a culture. We went back and forth until he finally got out of my car and slammed the door. “I can’t believe you’re saying that. We fought a war because of that kind of thinking!” He’s handsome, tall, graceful and articulate. He’s funny, smart and in spite of myself, I care what the thinks. If only because he’s just dumb enough to say out loud what other people are thinking, which has always been one of my own mixed blessings.
He arranged his lanky self on one of our kitchen stools and looked at us with a look that belied his need to unburden himself. No ambivalence like many people have about criticizing other people. No self doubt or pesky urge to soften the blow of telling us what we needed to know. He heaved a huge sigh and grabbed a carrot stick.