when the phone doesn’t ring
i have a hunch that i’m not alone. i have a hunch there are kitchens all over the city, all over the country, all over the world, where there are tears, and telephones that don’t ring quite so much.
where there are kids, good kids, great kids, kids without twitches and warts on their noses. kids with big bold ideas, and marvelous senses of humor. kids who are dear, kids so amazing you would like to bottle them, copy them, fill whole conveyor belts with them. kids you’re convinced could take over the world, right now, if handed the keys and told to start driving.
but for whatever reason, whatever twist of the popular culture, whatever roll of the die, the phone doesn’t ring. not nearly as often as anyone wishes, hopes, crosses their fingers. not nearly as often as some heart-aching mother gets down on her knees, begging for just a wee dose of mercy.
maybe you remember the feeling. maybe once there was a saturday and you called the gaggle of kids to whom you were most closely connected. and you asked if maybe they wanted to play, and you heard, in the background, the giggling. only the person there on the phone made like no one was around, and they weren’t so interested in playing with you.
so you hung up the phone, there in the upstairs where you’d gone so no one could hear you laying your shame on the line. and you stared out the window, into the yard, while you felt the sting singe you in a way that, even now, even 40 years later, you still remember. it still makes you twinge.
you wondered, through eyes burning with tears, what in the world it was that made you so very uncool.
and going to school the next monday was the hardest thing that you ever did. looking them in the eyes, knowing they spent the rest of their afternoon, maybe, laughing about how they dissed you.
and so it’s been off and on through all of the years, when someone you love, someone you birthed maybe, comes down in the kitchen and wonders out loud why they’re so all alone. you suffered through sixth grade where the stories were awful. where you heard of the girl who called your kid names. who shrieked as if he was poison when he happened to take the seat next to hers.
and now you field questions like these: “shouldn’t it be more like 50-50, you approach kids, they approach you? shouldn’t other kids sometimes wanna call me?”
or observations such as this: “i’m realizing there’s a distinction between kids respecting you, appreciating your ideas and the way you express them and liking your sense of humor, and thinking of you as someone they’d want to hang out with.”
you listen to a kid you love tell you he’s heard all about the parties and getting together that will go on throughout a long weekend. and then you watch him call one, then two, then three kids. and each time you hear him say, oh thank you, as he hangs up the phone, and reports that the kid who he called was already out, already hanging with friends.
and it rips you, really it does, from one end of your heart to the other. so you pile in the car, you go get a movie. you pop popcorn. you laugh. and you sit very close.
but it’s a saturday, for crying out loud. a saturday night. and the whole time you’re watching scene after scene you are wishing you could do something to fix all the pain. you wish you could call other mothers, or put up a billboard. hello, great kid sitting at home. any chance you’ve got one to spare? one who might care to spend time with just another great kid on the planet?
but you can’t do that, not really you can’t. so you sit and you suffer in a way that you haven’t since back on that saturday, long long ago. when it was you who was drowning in a bath of pure pain.
and now, 40 years later, you realize you’d take a double or triple or a quadruple hit, if only, maybe, please, that darn phone would ring.
someone, turn off the silencer.
there’s a great kid who i know, a marvelous kid who makes me laugh harder than anyone i know, and he’s sitting alone, just doing his homework. it’s a saturday, or a sunday, or a monday or tuesday, and there’s no one but us in this house, it sure seems, who realizes how sorry that is.
and i have a hunch, really i do, that he’s not alone. that in kitchens, and bedrooms, all over the city, all over the country, all over the world, there are kids, there are tears spilled by the ones with no one to play with.
it’s not so easy to say i know a kid who is quite rather lonely sometimes. not always, mind you. but often enough. too many saturday nights. do you know a kid like that? do you wish, sometimes, there was a worldwide registry for really good kids who just weren’t finding their groove? do you know kids who are going to make really fine grownups but these kid-hood, it sure can be bumpy? are you a grownup who once heard the giggles on the other end of the line? what wisdom would you share? who wants to start a saturday night club for the coolest kids in the world?
p.s. cool photo above taken by really cool kid i happen to know…
I’ve got a couple of cool kids who could join that Saturday night club. The older one – my 16 year old daughter has fears of rejection, I think, and that holds her back from initiating the calls that might make her social calendar a little busier. I think your cool kid is amazingly brave to make those calls. My other cool kid – a freshman in a new high school many miles from home – has clicked with some kids at school and sports help alot there, but he’s still deeply tied to the kids in the neighborhood which I’m thankful for, but he often waits too long before making the call to get together only to discover that the guys are already out somewhere and they would have loved to have had him come along, but didn’t know he was free. And then my other cool kid is only a 6th grader. She’s a mystery. She was the one who clung to my skirts, who was practically paralyzed with fear all through preschool, and very, very shy in her early school days. And now, she’s the most social in my little clan. How did that happen?
Monday, November 19, 2007 – 02:00 PM
bless you, as always, hh for your honesty. it is, as i perceive, not a matter of black and white, cool or not coolness–as i know it now feels to a particular cool child. but, as you explain, a matter of a whole host of gray areas, calling too late, convincing yourself that you’d be bothering someone who might actually welcome your call, etc. etc. until you reach the point where it is 7 o’clock on that saturday night and there you are with your mom and your dad and your little brother. and that’s fine, really it is, except when it isn’t. when you realize once again a weekend has passed and mostly you’ve hung out with your same old family. thank God i say for the undying sense of humor that allows him to laugh at the fact that, yup, when someone asks where he got the cool new gloves (an outing one night of the long weekend) he’ll say, oh, me and my mom got em…….i might be old and gray but at least we share the same quirky sense of humor and he’s not up in his room moping. at least we’re down here laughing together. but geeeeeeezzzzzzzzzz, could the phone ring just one night, please?!?!?!?!?!?
Monday, November 19, 2007 – 02:33 PM
I think your dear one has been blessed with sage abilities, which will follow him all of the days of his life, but in the early years it isn’t as easy. I remember in high school, I always felt more relaxed with teens one or three years older than me. This happened organically on the ski team, as I was the youngest person on varsity. I loved my weekends with the ski team, but it only amplified the challenges of fitting in with people the same age as me. Bless all of the adults who would tell me, “it’s so beautiful, you have an old soul.” During high school, even if I knew that was a good thing, many days I wanted to trade in my old soul for a hip teenage soul.
I know it doesn’t help a lot. But knowing your dear one a bit, I would love to have him hang out with my dear one and I some Saturday night. If he is up for a meal or movie or whatever with a thirtysomething gal and a late twenty-something guy, I would love to get together. I know that we would laugh a ton and have plenty to talk about in the realm of life and all that it entails. Perhaps we could take some potion from Hogwarts and appear like we were teenagers in public.
Monday, November 19, 2007 – 04:10 PM
I can identify. My now 22 year old is home again and working. His friends are scattered and he is back to hanging around with mom. It is a replay of some of his early high school life. I find myself interviewing potential “friends” for him when I get my hair cut, buy groceries, etc. I can’t seem to fix it now any more than I could when he was younger. When I had guests for dinner Saturday, he actually asked me to invite their 4th grader so he could play video games with him! They had fun!
Monday, November 19, 2007 – 06:07 PM
Maybe there is only one group going out and everyone else is calling these folks, then feeling left out. I have had three daughters go through the same high school as your offspring–1000 students in a class, meaning 500 of each gender, is just not condusive to making quick, fast friends. My oldest kept friends from her old school. My next didn’t realilze until 10th grade all the social gatherings she missed being included in for 9th. My current junior is just now feeling like she has a “group” or, even more than one. Each were home A LOT, especially freshman year. Believe me, once they start having a very active social life, it will not be all sunshine and roses. There will be experimenting with all sorts of behaviors and there will be use of bad judgement–some of these will sadly be potentially dangerous and life-threatening. This is not to say that your child will be the experimenter or the one lacking in judgment–BUT, even passengers in cars can be injured and unsuspecting friends of a shoplifer in a convenience store, or a sneaker of alcohol can be taken to the police statiion.
I hate to be so negative, but don’t wish any more teen sociability on your household than it already has! Good things will come soon enough and in the mean time, you might be avoiding some bad things, too.
Monday, November 19, 2007 – 08:51 PM
oooh, this is a painful one. It’s some amalagam of hurt for one whom you love and hurt for those frozen parts of ourselves, the parts which still can recall the sting of that phone call with the mean gigglers. I always wonder how those kids who know when to call and when not, or are almost always included, or the ones who seem not to feel hurt by the exclusions, get like that?
My daughter’s freshman advisor told her in passing that there is a lot of eighth grade-ness left in freshman kids. Also, for what it’s worth, a lot of my daughter’s middle school friends seem similarly lost. I notice with her that she’s not as quick to want to do just anything so that she’s with kids. Her tastes in people and in how she spends her time is becoming more nuanced. She hangs with people at school for a while before she even thinks of getting together outside, and often finds in that process that they’ll probably just be school friends, and not more. Sometimes she finds that she likes someone new, and she may find that the new funny friend is unspeakably mean the next day, and nice the next, and…
She is sorting, I can see, like when new kids talk about getting together, does she express interest in joining, or wait until she’s asked, and if asked, is it because she was sitting there or because they want her? And when something’s unpleasant, she’s always evaluating whether she provoked it or she’s dealing with someone who may just often behave badly. It’s like she’s studying what it is to be human, and the answers aren’t usually clear cut like she’d hope (and we still hope) and usually bring more questions. It’s not so different than what my friends and I still struggle with at times but with more experience at the struggle.
As I watch this, I also see that she doesn’t exactly know herself this way and is sort of a mass of developing rooms in a house with no frame yet. It’s both exciting and daunting to witness, and when it’s most potent, I do best when I remember my own unfinished rooms.
Lovely piece and the thought and heart behind it, bam.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – 09:07 AM
ahhh, the thoughts up above are precisely the reason i took the risk–to myself and a child i love–to put this out on the table. because of the wisdom, say, of jan, and the experience of carol, and the heart and the similar stories of everyone else. i believed before i wrote it, and i believe now, that if we take off the cloak of secrecy, if we strip away the trying to hide the fact that there are children who are lonely–not because there is one single odd thing they are made of or are doing–but simply by virtue of the shiftings of a social scene that is fluid and without form, well then we allow the myth to continue. the myth that all kids are happy and coagulating. except for the loners who aren’t. what if, as is suggested above, there is a slow stepping into the river? what if there is wisdom in taking it slow, in discerning, in studying the nuance, the shadings? the darn thing about parenting is we do it, so often, in isolation. we are, those of us without twin or triplet, doing it one kid at a time. and even with twins or triplets each one is his or her own story. so if we don’t talk, even about the hard parts, then how do we acquire the wisdom to know when to worry and when not to. when to roll with the saturday night blues, and when to stand in a pantry, brushing away tears. have i mentioned lately that i love the cumulative wisdom–and heart–here at the table……
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – 09:33 AM
I’ve been computerless…..so a bit late to the table, but wanted to share that I have your basic average kinda children who have had their lonely nights and weekends…as did their mom! Part of the pain is reliving my past. My wise sister suggested that since family is where you learn love, that mom and dad keep social plans VERY flexible and be available for those quiet nights. We did that and had some wonderful adventures, dinners out, movies and theater moments during those adolescent years. I know we did not heal the pain of social sadness, but we provided a great distraction so the night or day did not seem so long. After all family will be together forever and “friends” from junior high and high school are really just chance travellers who will leave the caravan – at least about 98% of them anyway. I never regretted cancelling something to take out my lonely one or go rent a movie. The social landscape constantly shifts in adolescence – sometimes leaving whiplash. Home is where you deepen love and sense of self…the rest is add-on.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – 01:34 PM
lamcal, you just made me cry. again, the reason for this table. to bring wisdom, and offer it around like a great plate of cinnamon buns. that wisdom was just seared in my heart. it is the wisest,lovingest thing i’ve heard in a long long time. bless you. and the computer that got you plugged back in. xoxoxoxox
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – 02:59 PM
After reading the elegant entry and all the nuanced comments that followed
I laughed only because aren’t teens always thinking, ‘my parents don’t know me’
HA!, It is , so clear all you parents do know what is going on in their hearts, whether they do or not.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – 07:03 PM
Very late to this discussion, no time to even check in these days.
But I had a very few minutes this morning and was struck by the fact that, timing being everything, my middle-schooler came home with this question yesterday – an idea the kids he’s in rehearsal with (theatre kids being quirky by definition) had been throwing around:
If you could be born as one of the “cool kids,” would you?
And his response?
“No. I just don’t think I could do as much for the world if I weren’t me. And my head just doesn’t fit into a cool kids’ world.”
And the answer later, from my highschooler (who, by the way, spends plenty of his weekend evenings home, watching Monty Python with his brother and parents) — was an equally emphatic “no way!”
The ensuing conversation was enlightening, humorous and affirming. My boys know and like who they are, and understand that sometimes that means they will be alone, not quite fitting in the world of their adolescent peers. Being bored at the banquet often happens simply because the speakers are boring — and what a joy to realize that you really, honestly, truly, have no desire to be a participant in that world – even if it means hiding out at home on Saturday night, too embarrassed to call someone at 7 or 8 and admit that you have nothing to do.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007 – 10:49 AM