Last night the boys came home from football practice tired, sweaty, and very sore. It has been a rough week; temperatures have been well over 100 and, with two-a-day practices, they leave home after lunch and don't get home until after eight. Understandably, in the evening when they walk in the door they are not chatty.
But last night Nicholas was especially subdued. After eating he went upstairs to shower and didn't come back down.
"Nothing is wrong," he insisted later when I went up to check on him. I nodded, but sat on the edge of his bed because if there is one thing I know it's this: when your child says nothing is wrong, it usually means that something is. I waited him out, not saying anything while what I really wanted to say was, "Talk! Just talk!"
Eventually he did. I listened to him talk about sore muscles and hard hits, about lineups and depth charts, about whether or not all this hard work was worth it; there was not one thing wrong, but a bunch of little things that were getting him down. I nodded and used words such as I love you and tomorrow will be better and things will look better in the morning -- words that a teenager really doesn't want to hear.
Joe and I are discovering that one of the hardest things about parenting a teen is finding the wisdom to step back and allow him to work things out on his own. Our son had a bad day, I knew that, but I also knew there was nothing I could do to fix the problem. Offer words of encouragement? Yes, of course. Pray? Yes, often and sometimes desperately. Bring him some comfort food? Gladly. But fix the problem? No, not all the time.
And not this time. It was a long night for all of us.
At breakfast this morning Nicholas came downstairs and I watched him while pretending not to. He teased his brother and got his football gear ready. He poured his orange juice and sat down at the table. He seemed better.
"How are you?" I finally asked.
"Good," he replied. "I'm good."
"Things look better this morning?" I wanted to know.
"Yeah, things look better," he said.
And that was that. He had worked it out on his own. I kissed him on the top of his head, and he grinned as I set a platter in front of him piled high with waffles dripping with butter.
Maybe, at the very least, he learned that things always do look better in the morning and that a little comfort food doesn't hurt, either.