A friend of mine once said, “Your kids never love you as much as they do their freshman year.” I think about that a lot these days. There’s a lot of wisdom in that seemingly glib phrase. We’re about done with our first semester as empty-nesters, and I have noticed a change in my relationship with my sons.
I find that I still worry too much about how they’re doing in school. I find that the triggers that could cause friction still exist. But I’ve mostly found that the things we enjoyed most about each other are purer extracts. We laugh harder, we’re less guarded, and we share more. I suspect it’s because we’re not living in a boxing ring, jockeying for position, worrying about exposing our chins. I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture, that raising kids is a combat exercise.
Whatever. That’s exactly what I’m proposing. It’s a loving death-match. A caring to-the-victor-go-the-spoils affair. Every engagement is in the service of a favorable outcome. Eat your dinner, take your bath, be in bed by nine. Don’t put that fork there, don’t go outside without pants, don’t stomp on dad’s CD collection. Be home by midnight, finish that paper, let me know where you’re going to be. Here’s a quick example of The Dance: It was the last parent/teacher night of our public school careers. Not many parents of Seniors were going. But I decided I wanted him to know I was still checking in. It was a weird scenario. He’d already been accepted into his chosen program at a really good business school, his grades were solid, and he wasn’t really coasting. But we’d made an agreement at the beginning of the semester. We wouldn’t check his grades at all, but he had to. We expected A’s and B’s, no missing or incomplete work. It certainly helped the mood in the house, but I found myself compelled to at least go to conferences. As I was about to leave he said, calmly, “Don’t bother checking in with my P.E. teacher, there won’t be anything to report.” Ok. First stop is the P.E. teacher.
At the boys’ high school, conferences were set up in the common areas so parents didn’t have to wander around so much. As I walked up to the table his P.E. teacher was sitting at he and his aide started laughing. Not like they were winding up a private, humorous story. They were looking at me, and laughing. Oh, what had he done?
“First, your son is a great kid. Love having him in class.”
“Second, the three of us (the teacher, the aide, and my son) were talking today about how amazed we are that a two sport letterman and captain of the ski team can be so impossibly un-athletic.” More laughter.
So, here’s the question: Did I get played? Did my son tell me not to talk to his teacher because he knew I would go straight to him first, hear something nice about him, thus setting the tone for the rest of conferences? Because believe me, it wasn’t Celebrate Troy’s Progeny Night at the high school. Not terrible news mind you, but definitely some themes… Or did he tell me not to bother talking to his teacher because there really wasn’t anything to report?
Ah, The Game.
I loved raising these boys. But make no mistake, they could be manipulative, cagey, twitchy, even dishonest. But really, I’m guilty of the same things. Again, on both sides, loving war games.
So they’re gone now, and from now on when they live with us it’ll be a temporary condition. So we enjoy the time we’re together because we know they’ll be heading back soon. But also it’s because with some of the pressure lifted, we realize that we truly like one another. And truly enjoy each other’s company.
I know, with 100% certainty, that my boys are grateful and thankful. I believe that they enjoy our company almost as much as we enjoy theirs. I’m not always sure how that happened, what with my talent for lathered-up arm waving and mush-mouthed fire breathing. So as I eat, cook and shop my way through this, my favorite time of year, I am profoundly happy in the knowledge that The Game may have ended with a tie and the competitors have retired to enjoy some time together.