There were butterflies everywhere, so many that I was hesitant to open my mouth for fear one might accept the invitation. Besides, taking this walk was my turn to listen.
The only sounds were a panting dog and the distant waves of traffic.
My oldest son, on the cusp of 16, was a step ahead, leash in hand and disappointment everywhere. The walk had been my idea — even though he and the dog have a daily date to do so — this one wasn’t to schedule and being voluntold for the excursion conflicted with his plans to plan nothing. The dog, however, was thrilled.
The hope for a conversation was fueled by my latest parenting fear: the lingering thought that I haven’t done enough. This came on the heels of a brief respite during which I accepted a decade of melancholy, watching windows close and hands grow too big to hold. That was apparently over now and often for naught. After all, the teen years have been a pleasant surprise in independence and new levels of bonding. Sure, the kids are somewhat more skeptical now, and my advice is routinely challenged, but that’s OK. They should be skeptical. They should question authority. I’m as full of crap as the next guy.
But now, with two teen boys on the constant verge of yet another milestone, my moment of zen has been bombarded with doubt. Watching them melt into their own devices, usually at the expense of family time, kind of hurts.
My wife and I have talked about it. A lot. We want the boys to do their own thing, to find whatever it is that they enjoy and then enjoy it; but when that thing is being away from us, not doing much of anything, well, that hurts, too.
We give them space. We give them choices and support, ponder options and consequences in their general direction, keep them fed and hold them accountable. So what is the “enough,” or lack thereof, that haunts me? Change is a challenge, be it something we want to see or the downright Kafkaesque.
Welcome to the teen chrysalis. We are pupa-adjacent, and it takes a while.
The butterflies fluttered as they do, floating flowers on cartoon wings against the brilliant blue of the morning sky. They flew independent of one another, together in focus and direction, yet separate through the slipstreams. Between them was space to stretch and grow, traveling companions always on the horizon. None of them seemed particularly interested in my mouth.
“Do you know what they call a group of butterflies?” I asked as we turned around the oak tree.
“No,” he said. “What?”
“A kaleidoscope,” I said.
“That’s a good name,” he replied. I agreed.
We stood in the shade for a moment, watching the park breathe with kids, parents and dogs. The only sound was a swarm of laughter.
The words flew easier with our backs to the wind.
Teen years photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
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