“Why are you playing video games when you have homework?”
“Feed the dog, please.”
“Did you shower today?”
“Pick up your socks.”
Far too often, this is my interaction with my teen. Last night, we had a particularly tense dinner table conversation where I got on his case about not signing up for an extracurricular activity, and he declared that he’d never sign up for any school sport or club, period!
We both carried that tension throughout the evening, peppered with my requests that he switch to new contact lenses and put his backpack away and find where the dog hid his other shoe (because he didn’t put them in the closet like he’s supposed to).
Later, as I tried to sleep, my mind raced through all the nagging and worries that soured the evening. Would he pass the test tomorrow that he barely studied for? Should I wake him up early to shower in the morning, because he never did get around to it before bed? Did that math homework get finished? Do I try to force him to sign up for an after-school activity?
But then my thoughts flashed on something else. Something more important, which I nearly had forgotten.
It had been a miserable day, dark and cold and pouring rain outside, as I waited at the curb to pick him up from school. As he raced down the block, I noted he wore a hoodie instead of a proper coat. But even after spotting my car, he veered away from me and made a detour.
A young mother was crossing the street with three little kids, while juggling an umbrella and pulling a wagon behind her. Before she could even notice, my 13-year-old predicted that she’d have trouble getting the wagon up and over the sidewalk curb. He made a b-line for her and hoisted up the back-end of the wagon, just in time so she could ease it over the curb, still clinging to her toddler and umbrella.
The woman turned to him, surprised by the sudden appearance of this soggy, under dressed, gangly boy whom she’d never met. She sincerely thanked him, gratitude flashing across her tired face.
He shrugged back and mumbled, “Sure.” Then he jumped in my car, and that was it.
I meant to tell him how proud that made me. I meant to tell his father and brother at dinner that night.
But I didn’t. We got onto another topic, and instead, I told him to shower, pick up his socks, and please consider trying out for the wrestling team. Do your homework, feed the dog. And why aren’t you studying?
And I felt terrible. Because, really, none of those things matter so much in the grand scheme of life.
What does matter: My teenager went out of his way to help a stranger in the rain. He didn’t even hesitate.
It’s just like his younger brother. Every day I watch him hold the door open for his classmates as they barrel and push their way out of the elementary school. Before my boy reaches the threshold, I observe the other kids dropping the doors on top of each other, oblivious or in a hurry. But my kid stops and holds open the door until the flow of children peters out.
I see this every afternoon and never comment on it. Because I expect this behavior out of my children.
But you know what? I should comment on it. And I will. Because being decent, caring human beings is more important than remembering to pick up their socks. And gosh am I proud. And they should know that.
Of course, I’d still like for them to pick up their socks. But truthfully, I need to step back more often and remember that my job is to help mold them into good people, good men. The socks aren’t so crucial. Even putting off the homework and skipping the shower probably aren’t worth an argument.
If they’re willing to help a stranger without any prompting, well, I’d say they’re doing just fine.