Last week, I made a 36-hour visit to Chicago’s western suburbs to spend time with my father. It was wonderful. Mentally, dad was more alert than I’ve seen him in years. It only took him seven attempts to correctly remember that Saturday was Saturday and not Sunday. The victory there was that it didn’t take eight. I arrived on a Thursday night and drove home the following Saturday afternoon. Along the way, I saw both of my brothers and their families, rang in the New Year with my mom and her younger sister (my favorite aunt), and conversed for hours with a man I dearly love and miss each day. It was a blessing.
Along the way I drove within a stone’s throw of my blogging partner’s house without stopping to call. She is a delightfully kind and patient woman who has tolerated my absence from a homeschool blog that I started, recruited her to join, and from which I took a short break. One of these days we’ll meet.
The drive from my Kansas home to my father’s hospital room was a nine hour drive. As much as I wanted to see my dad, I dreaded the trip. There is nothing new or exciting to see on either Interstate 80 through Iowa or highway 36 through Missouri. Illinois is flat and boring, too. To help pass the time, I took along my fourteen year old son. His job was to keep me company on the ride, spend time with his aunts, uncles, and cousins in Chicago, and keep me company on the ride home. I barely saw him while I was in town. He had fun. I enjoyed myself. The extended family enjoyed his company.
Along the way, I entertained my son with stories about my time onboard a submarine in the 80’s. I told him the story of how I reported on board, jumping from a tugboat to the sub’s fairwater planes while the two vessels steamed down the Thames River in Connecticut. I told him about the time Senator Barry Goldwater toured the boat, and the build-up to the dog-and-pony show that marked his visit. I told him about the great popcorn versus nuts debate between the X.O. and Captain, and how much trouble I got into after I cut sponges into triangles instead of squares. We laughed. We listened to 70’s rock on the radio. I even told him a couple of dirty jokes.
Do you know what we didn’t do?
We didn’t fight. We didn’t discuss anything. There was nothing educational about the trip and there were no teachable moments. At least none that I capitalized upon. I recently read that when children are young, parents should grab every teachable moment they can, but when they hit the teen years we should let most of those teachable moments go. A very wise pastor friend of mine told me last year that my son is at the age where he is going to stop listening to me and start listening to other adults. The trick is to surround him with like-minded adults who share my beliefs. I’ve been working towards that end.
You know what happened? We had fun. We had more fun on that trip than we have had together in years. We laughed ourselves silly. There were several moments where I had him laughing so hard I thought he’d wet himself. I was even amused when he opened the car window to pour mandarin orange juice out of a can and managed to blow the juice back into the car at 70 miles per hour. What a mess! And I didn’t have to say a word about that teachable moment. He learned that lesson on his own, thankyouverymuch.
Somewhere throughout the years the little boy I knew and loved so much grew up and changed. During the process of teaching him day-in and day-out, of living life and working part-time, of dealing with personal issues and tending to my daughter’s health needs, I lost track of who he was. It was like teaching a stranger – a stranger with whom I did not get along. On this trip, I was reintroduced to the delightful young man who is my son. He really is a neat kid. He trusted me enough to show me.
My wife teaches him more than I do right now. If I didn’t take a break from homeschooling him, he’d have ended up back in a public school, something none of us want, and our relationship would have become one gigantic, messy battle, another thing that none of us want. This arrangement isn’t easy, since she works full time and I am home teaching our three children. It won’t last forever. But it gave me the opportunity to meet a fine young man who otherwise might have slipped through the system.
Mr. Arby, meet your son. He’s a really a neat kid.