I look up from my desk by the door. I’m making my way syllable by grim syllable through The Peloponnesian War; my poli sci professor believes that all students need a good, classical grounding. The young woman standing in my doorway hikes her ripped sweatshirt back onto her shoulder and grimaces slightly.
“Phone’s for you. I think it’s your parents. They sound kinda pissed.”
I sigh, stick a piece of paper in my book, and steel myself for what’s sure to be an uncomfortable conversation. I have been at college for all of five weeks, and up to this evening, nearly every time my parents have called, I have been out of my room. Now, these are the days before cell phones, and there are just two phones on my hall, so staying in touch takes will and coordination. The problem is that I have choir three nights a week, and play rehearsals have just started, and I would rather study in the library than in my room. I have good excuses for being out of my room when the phone rings. I really do. But I know that my parents aren’t imagining me wrapped up in my studies or cultural pursuits – they probably think that I am wallowing in an Olympic-sized pool filled with beer and frat boys or being chased across campus by an axe murderer. The post-it notes (“Your mom called” “Call your parents” “Your parents called and said to call them”) have become a mosaic on my door.
They worry. It’s what parents do.
I managed to allay my parents’ worst fears that night (although they still worried that choir and theatre would take too big a bite from my studies, and that walking across campus after the library closed at night was unnecessarily dangerous). We ended up setting a time for a weekly phone call, and we stuck to it fairly well over the next four years. But my parents never stopped worrying, and they never stopped wanting to hear from me. If I went more than a day without talking to my dad, he would greet me with, “I thought you left the country!”
You know what they say about what goes around. You know what they say about karma.
Tink is away at camp. Because it is 2018, because she is a teenage girl, she has her phone with her. In theory, this should mean that we hear from her more regularly than my parents heard from me
Every morning, Bruce and I text her. We send her pictures of the dog and cat. I tell her about our days. Bruce has an arsenal of dad jokes at the ready. In response, we get the occasional “Good” or “HA.” These little words are easy to read, hard to parse. I want to know if she’s learning, making friends, having fun.
But then I recall the last time she was away from home for any length of time. She was having Boy Troubles at the time. One night, at almost midnight, she sent me a long text about how sad and confused she felt. Hundreds of miles away from her, I didn’t feel the anxiety, the urge to fix things, that I might have felt if she were right there. I asked questions. I sympathized. I paid careful attention to what she wrote. I don’t know if anything I said affected any actions that she took, but I think that I did what she needed. I let her know that she could talk to me, that I cared about her and her worries.
With my teenager, no news is good news. Eight hours away, off in the woods, she is absorbed in the business of living. In the pictures that the camp posts every day, I see her: laughing, talking, active. She is caught up in the glorious Now . . . just like I was all those years ago.
Parents understand silence differently: when our kids don’t communicate, we think that something bad must have happened. For a person on the borders of adulthood, silence is only the status quo. When things go well, young people navigate these new territories with confidence. It’s only when things go wrong that they need advice or simple reassurance.
In the meantime, I will send my messages and my love out into the ether, and I will feel grateful when I hear nothing.