Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"That's not tellable, mother."

     She kept the news until after dinner. An admirable restraint; I would have blabbed it immediately. But I am a blabber in a family that can maintain their silences.
     I was sipping my tea and polishing off a piece of plum banana bread Tuesday night. The older boy was digging into some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. The younger had absented himself to the television.
     "So I went to walk the dog with Mrs. M...." my wife began, mentioning the name of the mother of one of the friends of our high school senior. "We talked about homecoming." 
     He continued eating. I sorted through my dusty high school memories. Homecoming? When is homecoming? In the spring? Is it spring now? No, it's September. The leaves are just beginning to change.
     "A group is going out for homecoming...." 
     Still nothing from him. Me, slow on the uptake, thought she was inquiring whether he might want to think about going to homecoming too, perhaps even latching onto his friend's group. He should be a good sport and go with them. I was about to jump in and say something encouraging: "Life is to be lived, son." Or words to that effect. 
      "...and that group is coming here, apparently, at some point afterward, for a bonfire," she said. I had a flash: unfair! Why would his friends come here for a bonfire if he weren't part of the group? That's mean! And then, as she continued, it dawned on me. Ohhh. He did know. The group already included him. And his friend's mother obviously knew. And my wife learned earlier in the day, by accident. And now I was finding out, because I happened to be in the room. 
     "I'd like to be informed of these things," she said. "I'll set out dessert." 
     "Dessert won't be necessary," he informed her, with asperity. "We're going out to eat."
     "Maybe s'mores...." 
     That gave him pause.
     "S'mores..." he allowed.  "S'mores might be nice." 
     "And something about a football game...."  she continued, pointing out that his friend is obviously comfortable telling his mom much more than our son seems able to tell us.
     A brief silence. I sipped my tea. These conversations go on around me as if I'm not there, and by the time I think of something to add, they're usually over. While I was mulling, the stone spoke. 
     "That's not tellable, mother," he snapped. "Some vague plans in the far future."
      Those were his exact words, verbatim. 
     "It's Sunday," she said. "Or a week from Sunday." 
     I want to tuck his phrase away, in an electronic bottle, for future reference. Twenty years from now, after my wife and I spend an awkward 10 minutes in front of the giant WallSkype, trying to pry a bit of information out of him about when he might take a break from the Shanghai Co-Prosperity International Improvement Zone and visit his old parents in the Illinois Agricultural Province ("I'd speculate on an estimated visit window, mother, but we have an accelerated production schedule for expanding the plasma field. You know that....") The wall will go dark, for a moment, then revert to some generic natural scene—wind blowing through fields of wheat. An elderly couple sitting on a worn, lumpy sofa gazing at a glowing wall.  
    "That's not tellable, mother," I'll mutter, still staring straight ahead, emitting a kind of wheezing half chuckle. "Some vague plans in the far future," my wife will add, shaking her head, smiling slightly. 
     Until then, I'm glad my wife had the conversation with Mrs. M. Otherwise, he might have just disappeared for a few hours a week from Sunday, and we'd have learned of the plans when I looked through the kitchen window and saw flames in the back yard.

Photo above: White wall, Middlebury College campus, Middlebury, Vermont. August, 2013


  1. Hysterical! Been there, done that. Great writing, Neil.

  2. Teens have no sense of time. I don't really understand how you can have no problem grasping multivariable calculus yet be unable to figure out that if you go to a 7 p m movie if you sit downtown eat at 6:30.

  3. Kids these days. And in the foreseeable future.

  4. May he someday have the son he deserves:-)

  5. @Susan -- Now, now, I wouldn't wish that on anybody...I'm not complaining, I'm just reporting....

  6. Oh I'm sure it's just a " Don't count your chickens before they hatch thing." Plans change, maybe he was just waiting for them to solidify before sharing the news. It's like jello, no one wants to eat it before its ready.Besides there was no way you going to say no anyway.


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