Yesterday was the first day of school for my high school attending teenage boys.
It dawned on me that it was the first time that I would be home to greet them after their first day in 5 years.
For the past five years, I would be getting ready to leave for work at the same time they would be returning home. Typically I would have a minute to say, "How was your day?" and then head out the door. I would then not return until 5 hours later near 9 pm when they were tired from their day and not interested in much conversation with me.
So last evening I was pretty excited.
I was home.
I was home to greet Son #1 when he walked through the door.
I was home when he came in with great excitement and a load of stories to tell about his first day of school. He was exceptionally animated as he recounted his day. I loved being present for that time.
"I'm going to fail Calculus this year. She gave us a test today on the first day of school. I failed it. Isn't that awesome?"
I could hear the irritation, frustration and sarcasm sweeping through his voice.
So we talked about it. Talked it through. What options he had. How disappointing it was that the teacher chose to do that on the first day. My son spoke about how it seriously diminished the hope that he had entered the school with that morning. The hopes he had for a great start.
I advised him that perhaps this was a good thing. At least he figured out right away that maybe he was going to need extra help with this class right out of the gate. I encouraged him to seek out a peer tutor soon.
Then we let it go.
He had gotten it off of his chest.
The weight he had been carrying since earlier that day.
I had been there to listen.
Now he was ready to break into the good stuff.
The funny stories.
The things he looked forward to...
Then he asked the words, "What's for dinner tonight, Mom?"
And I had an answer!
Son #2 stayed after school for football practice.
I thought about how all of the evenings that I worked I began cooking dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon so that the family would have dinner to heat up in the microwave later that night.
I thought about how today I was home to cook a fresh evening meal. I planned fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and corn bread.
More importantly, I did not need to take time away from homeschooling Son #3 and Daughter. You see, for the past 5 years, in order to make sure there was dinner for the family before I went to work at 3:30 - I would cook dinner in the afternoons. Sometimes this meant that I would have to tell Son #3 that I didn't have time to give him extra help on that composition he was writing. Or to tell Daughter that she would have to do extra math the next day so that I could make it on time to work.
This scenario never made me feel good. I always felt disappointed that I wasn't giving my family all that I could. More importantly, all that they needed and deserved from me. Which in turn came out in my tone and interaction. The stress I felt manifested as anger and impatience. Seemingly directed at them.
We schooled calmly. Patiently. I could answer anything sufficiently and fully. We had all the time in the world because they were all that I was focused on.
That evening for dinner we all gathered around the table minutes after Son #2 returned from football practice.
All six of us - together.
Dinner was hot and fresh.
Son #2 told his stories of his first day of school. We laughed at his football stories. Jokes from the coaches, the locker room and the new players that joined the team. I was able to ask all of the questions that I wanted to. No one was impatient with my questions. No one was irritated with me for inquiring. They were able to share everything that was important to them. It was the most talkative I have heard those teenagers in quite some time.
As I sat in my chair at our kitchen table I looked around at my family. I felt instantaneously grateful. All of their smiling faces. Such positive interaction.
No bickering. No fighting. No impatience. No hurrying from one place to the next.
The first day of school was a complete success.
I was not required to put any one of my children on hold as if there was anything more important than them and that dinner.
And you know what?
And last night they knew that.
I'm convinced it makes all the difference in the world.
The environment you create.
The atmosphere that permeates throughout the house in the evenings.
It can set a mood conducive to enjoyable family living.
Teenagers act like they don't want you around...
And in some ways that is true.
They don't want you to "parent" them like you have in the past. Telling them what to do or not to do -
They want you to "consult" them - listening carefully to what they are trying to tell you.
It's hard to hear that when you are too busy.
Thinking that my teenagers didn't need me at home in the evenings because they are old enough to fend for themselves was wrong.
They need my company. They want me there. They just don't say it out loud.
Last night as I was turning off all of the lights and closing down the kitchen for the night, I turned to Son #1 who was still standing there talking to me about that day...
"So how was it having me home on the first day of school?"
He said, "It was sort of weird. You're never here."
Then I said, "Weird?"
He laughed, "But it was good. And dinner was good."
I hugged him and said, "I thought so too."
I think we are definitely on to something here.
When your children reach adolescence, they fire you as a parent. You’ve got to scramble to get rehired as a consultant. ~ Mike Riera