Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Hierarchy of Fun

I guess 17-year-olds have a hierarchy of what's important. And I suppose it's normal that it differs from their parents'.

So here's the deal. We are taking our son to a college upstate this weekend, where he will engage in workshops and other activities, including an interview on Sunday, all designed to help the school decide whether he should be one of 15 kids selected for their scholar program, an honor that carries with it a full tuition scholarship, and annual all-expense-paid trips to other countries to do good works. It's a great school, his two cousins go there (the freshman loves it, the senior loved it once, but is ready to graduate to more citified pastures), and it's high up on his/our list of Really Good Options for college. In fact, if he gets into the scholar program, he will most likely go to that school.

The college is a five hour drive north of New York City, and we had planned to leave in the early afternoon tomorrow. Our daughter, who turns 15 on Saturday, is coming too. She has resigned herself to spending her birthday traipsing around a college campus for the sake of her brother's future. More likely, she will go hang out with her cousin, the freshman, which could be fun for a 15 year old. So far so good. But then our son tells us that we can't leave till much later, because he's agreed to give a talk on friendship at the freshman retreat at his high school. His friend Jack is running the overnight, and tapped him to give the talk, which starts at 5 p.m. No problem. We'll just leave after that and drive in the dark. I like that he told Jack yes.

Serving his community. Good.

Not so fast. With teenagers, the situation is always evolving. Just now, at 10:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, he called me from school. His friend Jaime is turning 18 this weekend. I held my breath, ready to burst. I just knew he wasn't going to propose staying home so he could go to Jaime's party. Turns out he's still in possession of his faculties. Most of them, anyway. What he wants is to go paintballing with Jamie and a bunch of their friends tomorrow (school is closed for the freshman retreat).

What? But I thought you had to give a friendship talk at five? He spoke to Jack, he tells me, and Jack said, no problem, I'll find someone else.

Ditching his commitments. Not good.

Jack no doubt understands the hierarchy in which paintballing with your friends takes precedence over giving a talk on friendship to a bunch of freshmen. But I'm having trouble with it. And here are a couple of other things I'm struggling with. Paintballing is dangerous! They make you sign papers that say you won't sue, even if you die! Still, he's played paintball before, and I'd probably get my mind around his doing it again. But the paintballing place is three hours upstate! A bunch of 17- and 18-year-old boys, with spanking new drivers licenses, are providing the transportation. Are you starting to see my problem? Plus, how can he guarantee that they'll tear themselves away from an afternoon of fun to get him home in time for our five hour drive back upstate to his scholar interview?

But mom, it's the guys last outing together. After this, we all scatter. You'll have other chances to get together before school ends, I promised him. No, he insisted, this is it.

A psychologist once told me that teens have two, and only two, time frames--"now" and "not now." I tried to remember that and not debate the point. I also didn't say no right away, though I wanted to. Instead, I am going to talk it over with my husband, and together we'll decide. Nothing like a unified front to weather a teenager's displeasure when he doesn't get his way.

Update: My son just texted me. He's not going paintballing after all, and he's back to giving the talk. Don't know what changed. Maybe Jack couldn't find anyone else. In any case, crisis averted. I so appreciate that my son got to this decision on his own. Good man.


  1. A bit of divine intervention maybe? Or perhaps the good upbringing that his parents gave him finally kicked in. In any case I'm glad he made a good choice and that you can breathe a bit easier now. Hope he aces the interview.

    Several of our friends have kids in this age group, and they all have similar stories... nothing must interfere with "now". I guess we must have been the same way... and look how great we turned out ! :)

  2. I often wonder why and how does life become so excruciatingly complicated with teenagers - always.

    Congratulations on the scholar program. Just to be considered must be an honor - good luck!

  3. Thanks, Deborah, for the credit you give his parents!

    Lilaphase, thanks for the good wishes. Yes, teenage reality can be dicey.

    He got into the program! Proud of him.