She stopped as I jogged by, as if she suddenly laid eyes upon a specter. My gray, balding head and paunchy figure seemed to fill her with astonishment.
He looks like a grandpa, she seemed to think, but grandpas sit on recliners and give me a nice soft place to nap on top their bellies. They don’t run around the neighborhood. (I imagine she’d added, “If you can call that running.”)
She had drifted away from her own grandpa. The more he called her, the farther away she walked—until she came upon the chuffing of another aging warden, who might actually have the skill to catch her. She looked at me, back at her grandpa, then at me again. With a quick twirl, she turned her back on both of us and ran behind a holly bush, where she seemed content to wait out the siege in peace.
Most of the single-digit generation in my neighborhood are more outgoing, waving and crying out a heartfelt “hi” as I pass. “Hey, look. It’s him,” a six-something said to his friend. “Let’s go walk with him.”
“Walk? You call this walking? This is running, son, not walking,” I explained as they skipped alongside for a half block before returning to something more strenuous, like rolling a ball back and forth to each other.
Occasionally, though, I see something that stops me in my tracks, like the time I observed a teen walking home from the school bus stop and, without prompting, rolled the empty trash container from the curb to the garage. It was as if I had seen a unicorn or a satyr. No one called to him from the house. He did not perform the chore as part of a punishment or a parent’s effort “to knock some sense of personal responsibility into that boy of mine.” The lad acted as though he were the parent, performing one of those gazillion chores of family life that adults take for granted, but teens consider an affront to their dignity, an invasion of their cone of privacy.
I wondered what went on in that house of his? Was it all in black-and-white, with a perfectly coiffed mom in a cocktail dress and heels making dinner as the teen hero entered with a warm, “Hi, Mom, I’m home” and tousle his kid sister’s hair as she smiled with sibling solicitude?
I was moved to airy thoughts of mankind’s future. The simple gesture of teenage volunteerism in the discharge of family chores was of a bygone era, but could it be on the rebound, like swing music?
Farther down the street a young mother, her two little ones in tow, was reaching for her family’s trash container. The kids fought for the privilege of helping her roll it back up the driveway. Stay the course, I said to her under my breath. There is hope again for our future!
We read a lot about what’s wrong with today’s youth. Sometimes we have to read between the lines, or maybe between the driveways and the holly bushes. There we may find a striving for independence, but with a willingness to accept responsibility cheerfully. Perhaps we did OK with our kids after all.
His wife’s phrase, “You’re not a kid anymore, you know,” is among Reid Champagne’s most cherished of her left-handed compliments.