Thursday, June 30, 2011


The day had started with a small blood bath. A big, framed poster of Batman had fallen off the wall, down the stairs and shattered into hundreds of little glass daggers on the landing. My husband and I picked up what was big, vacuumed what was small, and pulled out the remaining few shards that had lodged in the wall. But neither of us had checked the bathroom and that’s where the little one cut open his foot, emitting a surprising amount of blood, just minutes before he had to leave for school.

I had too much work to do that day. And the Scrabble app was down on Facebook, so my usual method of wasting time wasn’t available to me. I’m not sure what all else went down, but when the teenager came home from school I was ready for a fight, I could just feel it.

The teenager sat at his regular place at the kitchen table, eating his regular after school snack, with his usual look of disinterest in anything I had to say. We started talking about the upcoming SATs. He was about to take two subject SATs (not the regular SATs) – Math and Chemistry – and we’d been arguing about it for a week.

“I don’t want to take the Chem,” he told me again, probably the fifth time in as many days.

“You’re already signed up. Just take it.” This is how the dance always starts. We began it again.

“I’m not going to do well, so I don’t want to waste my time,” he said.

He wasn’t going to do well because he didn’t study enough. That didn’t seem like a good reason to me. I said what I usually say. He said what he usually says. And then he said something new. He actually gave me a reason for not taking the test that seemed well thought out and solid. It changed my mind. So I said this:

“Ok, teenager, do whatever you want.”

“Why do you have to say that?” he said. “Do you say things that way just to make me feel like I haven’t won?”

I was about to argue him down again, but I instantly knew he was right. That’s exactly why I say things that way.

I was too ashamed to admit it, but he could tell by my silence that it was true.

“If you just said, ‘Ok, you’re right,’ then we could all leave here feeling good,” he said. “But now I have this kernel of doubt in my head that I’ll keep going back to and wonder if I’ve made a mistake. The whole process could turn me into a depressed teenager with big emotional problems. Is that what you want?”

No, that’s not what I want. I just want to be right all of the time, which is my big emotional problem.

And if I’m not right, I at least don’t want to be called on it. But mostly I want to learn how to graciously back down from an argument and not feel like I’m defective in some way.

I want to be able to talk about the merits of taking an SAT test as dispassionately as I am able to clean up a hallway full of shattered glass. And when I see that the teenager is right, not clench my innards as if something is being ripped from inside me, but instead feel my heart light and buoyant at the wonder of having he who I taught how to speak in the first place, able to now speak up for himself.

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