I sat at the bus stop the other day, waiting for my freshman son to come home from school. As soon as he stepped off, I could tell he was beyond tired. When he plopped down in my passenger seat (which I’m still getting used to) and slumped against the door with his hood up, I could tell this wasn’t going to be a very social ride home. Still, I nudged, with reserved enthusiasm.
“How was your day?”
A barely audible grunt came from under his mop of blonde hair and hoodie.
“What was that?”
Another low caveman grunt.
“Are you tired?”
I wanted to launch into a barrage of questions about how he was feeling, thinking, what was he learning about, who was he hanging out with, but the teenage annoyance threshold was already close to being breached by just my basic line of questions. I dropped the “interrogation” and figured I’d try again later.
As I drove the rest of the way home, I was playing out memories of when he was excited to chat endlessly with me. His rambling from his car seat would be the best soundtrack on our road trips home from daycare. He would be back there just jabbering away, telling me all the details of his day. Even if nothing of any significance happened, he would tell me so vividly about any random thought that popped into his head. He would tell me his big feelings and his philosophies on the world he was experiencing. I always knew where he stood. If he didn’t have a topic of conversation, he’d sing—at the top of his lungs in incoherent toddler babble that only parents can understand.
There were days, I’ll admit, when there was too much talking or singing and when I’d hope for a little piece and quiet while I drove. There were days he’d ask me hard questions that I didn’t have answers to or he’d need more emotional support when my empathy battery was so drained from working all day. He never fell asleep in the car, so every car ride was basically a backseat podcast/one-man performance of the innermost thoughts of my toddler. Now, I couldn’t even get a response to a basic boring question. Times sure do change a lot faster than we realize.
My friends with teenagers warned me that this is or can be (not to overly generalize) the way of the teen—moody, broody, and non-communicative. This is a new stage of parenting for me, so I haven’t fully subscribed to “teenager daily” yet and accepted that this was a new way of interacting.
Later in the evening, when he’d perked up a little, I told him that I really do need a little more than grumpy, grumbled grunts. In a very annoyed tone, he asked me why, and I said because I needed to know he was mentally, physically, and emotionally okay at school that day.
High school is tough as it is, but he was taking advanced classes, doing soccer four to seven days a week, and having to get up an hour earlier than his classmates every day to take the bus there. It’s a heavy load. I was exhausted just being witness (and chauffeur) to it all. I needed to know that he was feeling supported, confident, and safe. I needed to know that he was handling it all and didn’t need his “cringey” mom to help at all. I needed some kind of pulse check that revealed he was good.
He assured me he was generally fine and usually just tired. Before he went down the hall to disappear into his teenage cave, he said he’d try to be more responsive when I picked him up from now on.
The next day when I picked him up and asked how he was, he said “fine.” It was not the full-fledged story of his day with a spontaneous musical number I was hoping for, but it was a distinct word and not a grunt. It’s progress I suppose. Maybe by the end of the school year, I’ll get a full sentence out of him.