So, He Went on a Walkabout
My son has officially become an adolescent.
How do I know? What’s the difference?
1. He thinks he knows more than me.
2. Sometimes, he does.
If that’s not enough, 3. He cares more about friends than he does about parents or school. And the latest and greatest: 4. He demonstrates the decision-making skill of a pea-brained neophyte.
Here’s an example. After school, Duncan usually goes to Homework Club, which is supervised, quiet time in the library where he can get his work done. But one day after school last week, Homework Club was cancelled. Duncan didn’t have his cell phone with him to let his dad or I know. So what did he do?
He walked three and a half miles to my house, so he could call his dad and tell him to pick him up there.
It was 29 degrees out. A good half-mile of his jaunt involved a busy highway without sidewalks. He had a forty-pound backpack on. And keep in mind we had no idea that he was doing this.
I was mortified. “You could have been hit by a car! If you were, no one would have known who you were! And your dad and I had no idea what you were doing! And it was freezing out!”
“I had my new hat on,” he told me. “If I didn’t have my new hat, I wouldn’t have done it.”
I asked him why he didn’t borrow someone else’s cell phone. When the bell rings, you can see 700 junior high students pouring out of the school’s front doors every day, phones in hand, fingers flying as they begin texting, “OMG, glad we r out” or, “r u coming over?”
“I didn’t see anyone who had a phone,” he told me.
A likely story.
“What about the school office? They have phones in there!” I said.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I didn’t think of that.”
The walk home took him about an hour and a half. His father, who picked him up afterwards, thought the whole thing was amusing. I think he was actually proud of him.
“He’s a twelve-year-old boy,” he said. “They just do that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, well, not twelve-year-old boys who want to live!” I said.
Last year, this same kid, at eleven, would not have considered ever doing this kind of thing. One of my friends, who has a twelve -year-old girl, said to me, “Wow, Maggie would never do that!”
I replied, “Well, Duncan would never do that either … so watch out. That was the freaky part!”
I sensed it must have been some kind of rite of passage for him. A few days later, he was going away to a teen camp for the weekend—which would be the first time he’d be without any family around for a few nights. Maybe he felt he needed to be prepared. Independent. Stupid?
Okay, maybe just spontaneous. If not a rite of passage for him, it certainly was one for me. I eventually calmed down.
A few days later, Duncan asked me, “Do you know how far I walked?”
“No,” I said, gritting my teeth a bit. “How far was it?”
“Three and a half miles,” he said.
“Mmmmm, that’s far,” I said. It had taken him an hour and forty minutes.
“Yup,” he said. “I’m a man now.” And he laughed.
“You’re a man now?” I asked.
I’m thinking, “You’re twelve, buddy! You have a ways to go!”
“Well,” he said, “I’m a man now because men sometimes do stupid things and don’t think.”
I laughed. “What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a stereotype, and I just felt like saying it.”
When I told my friend Erica this story, she said, “Now how is it that they get from that to being able to take care of themselves at eighteen in college?”
“I know, I know,” I said. “That’s exactly what I am worried about.”
Until now, Duncan would have been too afraid to do anything like that. He’s clearly starting to walk some boundary lines, even along a busy highway.
Erica’s son, who is a junior in high school now, went to the mall one day shortly after he got his driver’s license. When he got back, she asked who he had taken with him. He told her the name of a few friends.
“Stop right there,” she said, “Aren’t you only allowed with your license to drive one person under the age of twenty-one in your car on your own?”
He looked back at her, puzzled.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I forgot!”
Yeah, forgot that law, Mom. Sounds like my kid. I can hear him now—“Mommy, can I borrow the Volvo?”
And I can already feel my breath catch in my throat.