We live on a cul-de-sac, which is neither significant nor insignificant, except that after the school bus picks up my kids, it has to go up the hill, pick up a few more kids, and then swing right back past my house. At which time, my two youngest kids wave to me with their little faces pressed against the window so it looks as if they are only that: two floating heads and four detached hands. To me, this is a highlight of my crazy morning, because it means that at least two out of my three children aren’t completely embarrassed of me yet, and in fact are actually happy to see me standing there every morning for our departing ritual.
I’m still puzzled about my oldest son’s behavior though. Not only does he not wave, but he does his best to disappear into the swarm of kids so I can’t even see him as the bus drives by. I mean I understand that he wants to be more independent and I realize that he’s approaching 12 — which puts him smack in the middle of the pre-teen years — but really? He’s not that old. And frankly, I thought I was different. I thought I somehow got an exemption. I mean, I’ve showed him how to do all sorts of hip things. Things that he actually uses, and things that his friends also think are hip. Like how to throw properly, how to do a nasty crossover dribble, how to use his hips for power when he swings a baseball bat, and how to ride a Ripstick. We also love the same movies. We laugh at a lot of the same jokes and we really enjoy our conversations when we’re alone. So what could I possibly be doing wrong? How did I traverse to the land of square parents who can’t do or say anything right? It’s a mystery to me.
Of course, I remember being mortified by my own parents. All they had to do was get within a football field of me and I’d start getting sweaty palms. One of the most memorable infractions occurred during a few of my high school baseball games. My mom would take it upon herself to stand behind the backstop while I was up to bat and give me hitting tips. I know she had good intentions, but talk about embarrassing. This “tutoring session” would no doubt give the umpire a good chuckle and the catcher a knowing look that said, “I feel for ya buddy. But I’m glad it’s you, not me.”
Pre-teens are just beginning to break free from their parents. They want to feel like they have some control over their own decisions. They want to be treated like adults even if their brain development is lagging far behind their quickly maturing bodies. Basically, they want to be autonomous. But does that really mean they have to discard the people who love them the most during this time of self-actualization?
Page 2 of 2 - My wife was lamenting about this during halftime at a recent basketball game. She said she tried to talk to our oldest son before the game started and instead of getting a smile and a hello, she got a scowl as he turned his back. Yes, I’ll be talking to him about this later, but I reminded her that he cares so much about what his friends think that he can’t figure out how to balance fitting in with being polite to his mom.
I get a bit more leeway than his mother, since I seem to know a thing or two about the things he cares about, but it’s also painfully clear to me that no matter how cool I think I am, how hip, or how current I am, it’s not possible for me to stay cool during this period in his life. As all my kids search to discover who they are, and who they want to be, my wife and I are pretty much standing in the way of their goals, at least in their eyes.
For now I’ll keep waving as long as my two younger kids wave back, because every day I remain a “cool dad” to them is a victory for me. But the more I think about it, the more I want to keep waving even if they don’t wave back. Because I know that someone on the bus will wave to me. Some delicate little kindergartner who misses their mommy or daddy will see me waving and wave back, believing my gesture is meant for them. Our newly formed relationship will be mutually beneficial. I will make them feel more relaxed as they head to their busy day at school, and they’ll serve as a channel for me to send love to my own kids. Because I know that somewhere on the bus my kids will be observing this interaction and will be happy that I’m standing there, giving them support even as they push me away.
Saelen Ghose is a freelance writer and father of three. He can be reached through his website, www.theguysperspective.com, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.