About an hour into the trip, I blew a royal gasket.
“If you think for one cotton-picking minute that I’m just here to play chauffeur while you visit these colleges, you’d better think again!” I blared at my teenage son from the driver’s seat as our car chugged down the Massachusetts Turnpike.
I knew our weekend trip to visit two colleges in Upstate New York was one of those ephemeral opportunities for me to bond with my son, and I had planned to make the best of it.
Problem is, I forgot — he’s a teenager.
Ever well intentioned, I peppered my son with friendly questions about his interests, friends, school, in hopes that one of my probes would ignite an in-depth mother-son conversation to pass the time. However, my inquiries were met with typical resistance, eliciting only grunts, one-word answers, and dreaded eye-rolls.
I just couldn’t take it anymore, and snapped.
During my cathartic rant, I explained to my son that the college trip was an important step in him becoming an independent person, a responsible adult, a man. I told him that refusing to converse with his mother who was facilitating and financing the trip was not only rude, it was immature.
He hated that word, so I strategically ended with it, and fell silent.
A few miles later, my son asked me a question. Not “are we there yet?” or “when are you going to buy me dinner?” but a well-planned dialogue starter. We conversed for a few fleeting minutes, before he fell sound asleep.
Three hours later, he awoke to our GPS announcing, “You have arrived at your destination.”
I quelled the awkwardness of sharing a hotel room with my 18-year-old son by ordering pizza and resisting the urge to remind him to brush his teeth. Surprisingly soon after his three-hour car nap, my son sprawled on his bed in sweatpants and headphones and dropped off to sleep for the night.
Knowing that the days of seeing my children sleep would soon be over, I lingered a minute or two before turning out the light, watching his chest heave and his eyelids twitch.
In the morning, we found ourselves following a bubbly backward-walking female tour guide along slanted walkways, between ivy-covered academic buildings, and through student unions. The campus looked beautiful in the autumnal morning light, but I was watching my son for hints of reaction. I knew that, if I asked him what he thought of the school, he’d give me the same half-grunted response every time: “N’good.”
Despite my warning, my son wolfed down a meatball sub for lunch in the car on our way to the next college. Once in the lobby of the admissions building, I showed him to the restroom so he could blot the red sauce stains off of his tie, without saying, “I told you so.”
After the tour, we had a scheduled meeting with a professor, to discuss the requirements of the computer science degree. His bio indicated that he had done extensive research in social networks; so we were surprised to be met by a sweet old Russian gentleman with white hair and a mild palsy in his left hand.
He spoke softly, pausing to emit an almost imperceptible gasp, before continuing. “You must use this time in your life …. [gasp]…. to become a man,” the old professor whispered across his cluttered desk to my son.
Still splotched with signs of lunch, my son listened intently, unable to hide his utter admiration for this master in computer science. With eager eyes, my son asked questions about programming languages, algorithms, and data structures. I sat, dumbfounded, while the old professor and my son built a delightful rapport. Forty-five minutes later, they exchanged wide grins and sincere handshakes, promising to keep in touch.
On the ride home, while my son slept soundly in the seat beside me, I thought about the old professor’s “you’re a man now” advice. My husband and I had told our son the same thing so many times. Why doesn’t he listen to us?
An exit or two later, I recollected that, during the meeting with the old professor, I saw my son successfully communicate his intentions, ask mature questions about the degree, and show genuine respect like an intelligent adult.
I glanced over at my splotched, grunting, stubborn little man and realized, “He listened all right.”