I sit in the parking lot of the 7’Eleven and bang my head on the steering wheel, wishing, for once, that I had a cell phone so that I could call for back up.
“Help, help, help,” I say to no one– hoping that someone will magically pull up beside me in this parking lot and tell me what to do. Maybe my doctor.
“Help, help, help,” I repeat, until a truck pulls up beside me and the driver stares at me strangely. I worry that he saw me banging my head and then I stare right back at him, wondering if there’s any chance that he could be helpful. (If only I had a flat tire.)
I want to restart the car because I’m shivering from the stress, but I don’t want to pollute the environment for 5 minutes of comfort.
“Breathe, breathe, breathe,” I tell myself, and I try.
The boys are in line at the check out so I don’t have much time to figure out what to say next. “Remain present, remain present, ” I say–trying to be present–while simultaneously freaking out.
I think about pulling my teen aside and consulting him before they both get back into the car. But that would be bad parenting form, right? I have to be the grown up, right? (I don’t want to be. This is a stupid job.)
Instead I tell my son that Pepsi and cheap chocolate aren’t great choices right before bed, let alone any other time. (This customary commentary on food choices seems out of place–even for me– given the topic at hand.)
“TMI!” I wanted to shout on the ride home from the game when his buddy unraveled his life before me.
I hadn’t expected a detailed confession, let alone extraneous ones.
“What do I say, what do I say?” I asked myself over and over again. But I had used up all my courage with the original prompt that had launched me into this deep end of parenting.
It was my own fault. Actually, it was my nose’s fault. I have incredibly strong olfactory senses–and that’s what I told this friend of my son’s when he got into my car.
“Did I ever tell you that I can smell just about anything– on anybody?” I say.
The car gets quiet. And then it just spills out of him–so softly– that I have to tilt my head toward the back seat to catch what he’s saying.
After the stop at 7’Eleven, we turn toward small talk but it just feels flat and forced. Mostly we sit without talking–which is a surreal experience with two teens in the car. What are they thinking? I wonder.
“You know I care about you, right?” I finally say aloud to this boy I have known– since he was a boy. Now he looks more like a man. “You know this puts you at risk. You’re too young,” I tell him.
He isn’t apologetic or dismissive or anything that would give me something to push back on. He is simply transparent, just like me–and we fall silent again.
It seems like everyone in the car has aged in the twenty minutes since I picked them up at the school.
“Talk to your parents,” I say as we pull up to his house. “I’ll follow up with them this weekend.”
I can tell that I’ve just dropped a bomb on him with this request. Actually, it feels like the weight of a hundred years is on his spirit as he gets out of the car and drags himself toward his front door. I wonder if I should have gone in with him. He seems so tender.
As we back out of the driveway, my son launches into weekend plans and I put up my hand. “I can’t talk about anything, right now,” I say, and he uncharacteristically silences himself without another word.
At the bottom of the road, I pull over and flop my head onto the steering wheel, finally taking a deep breath. “I want to quit,” I say. “This is too hard.”
I’m not sure if this confession of mine evokes compassion or concern or something worse so I start driving again. You can do this, I tell myself.
You just did.