Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Good judgment

Perhaps it is yet another unavoidable fact of small-town existence: we parents tend to know a lot more about our middle schoolers’ lives than they necessarily realize.

We talk amongst ourselves and put together the various pieces from the stories we each hear, and eventually we have a much clearer picture of, say, the argument in the cafeteria or the budding romance in art class than any of our kids suspect.

Still, we can’t let on just how much we know. We don’t want our kids to stop telling us about their day, and we don’t want them to feel like they are under surveillance. So a lot of the time, we parents keep it within our own circles, presenting a bland sort of curiosity rather than a thirst for specifics when our kids do choose to share details from their lives.

All of which is why I can’t tell Tim why I am so impressed with him lately. I can only make heavily veiled references to his social situation, with comments like “Glad things are going better for you this week” and “Sounds like you worked things out well.”

And out of respect for Tim’s privacy and that of his friends, I can’t go into much detail here either. I can only say that three different parents whom I ran into over the past few days remarked on Tim’s mature behavior in a difficult situation.

In essence, Tim and some of his peers found themselves over the past several weeks in the kind of situation that middle schoolers for generations have found themselves in: just a timeless pre-adolescent maelstrom of uncertainty, rumor, and fluctuating loyalties. (There were definitely no nude photos exchanged by text message, though, so that’s a relief.) Without asking me for advice, Tim somehow intuitively did everything I would have suggested to avoid coming out on the wrong side of this. He treated the circle of friends who were involved in the issues with fairness, loyalty, and reassurance. He remained calm and dispassionate. He exhibited patience and avoided drama.

And in the end, everything turned out well for him. He fortified friendships and learned a lesson: sometimes your own moral compass takes you exactly where you need to go.

As another parent commented when we moms had one of our furtive discussions about our kids, that’s a lesson that unfortunately may be disproved for him at some point in the future. But I’m not sure that really matters. Right now, the important thing is that Tim discovered at the tender age of 13 that sometimes following your principles and being a kind and fair person reaps rewards. To say I’m proud of him feels inaccurate, since I can’t really take ownership over his actions. It’s more a matter of admiration than pride. He used fine judgment in a way that isn’t always easy for young teens to do.

Usually, when I hear myself saying about one of my kids “S/he learned an important lesson,” I’m referring to a less-than-ideal circumstance, whether it’s that a child rode a bike heedlessly, sent an incriminating email, lied to a friend or neglected to brush her teeth properly (all of which has at some point been the impetus for a lesson learned in our household). This time, I can say that the lesson Tim learned was that sometimes nice guys really do finish first. And even if at some point in the future he discovers the opposite can also be true, I don’t think he’ll ever forget learning this one.

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