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The Kids Are All Right

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She stopped in her tracks as I jogged by, as if she’d suddenly laid eyes on some sort of specter. The gray, balding, paunchy figure she watched in wonder seemed to fill her with astonishment.

“He looks like a grandpa,” she seemed to be thinking. “But no grandpa I know runs. Mine sits on a recliner and gives me a soft place to nap atop his belly.”

As it turns out, she was on a trek away from her own grandpa. The more he called her, the more she distanced herself from him—until she came upon the huffing and puffing of another aging warden who just might actually possess the skill to catch her. She looked at me, back at her grandpa, and then at me again. With a quick twirl, she turned her back on both of us and ran behind a holly bush, where she was content to wait out the siege.

Most of the single-digit generation in my neighborhood are more outgoing. “Hey, look. It’s him!” a 6-something once said to his pal. “Let’s go walk with him!”

“Walk? You call this walking? This is running, son,” I explained to him and his friend as they skipped alongside for a half-block or so, before deciding to return to something more strenuous and active, like rolling a ball back and forth to each other.

Occasionally, I get to observe something that stops me in my tracks—like the time I observed a teen walking home from the school bus stop. Without being told to, he actually stopped and rolled the trash container from the curb and back to the garage.

It was as if I’d seen a unicorn or a satyr. No one called out to him from the house. He wasn’t fulfilling some obligation as a result of a recent grounding or a parental effort “to knock some sense of personal responsibility into that boy of mine.” He simply grabbed the container and walked it back to the house, as if he himself were the parent, performing one of those gazillion chores of family life that grown people take for granted and teens consider an affront to their dignity and cone of privacy.

As I passed him, I wondered what went on in that house of his. Was it all in black and white, with the mom in a coiffed hairdo, cocktail dress and heels, making dinner as my teen hero entered with a: “Hi, mom! I’m home!”

I was moved to airy thoughts of mankind’s future. The simple gesture of teenage volunteerism in the face of family chores was of a bygone era. But could it be on the rebound?

Farther down the street, a young mother was reaching for her family’s trash container, with two little ones in tow. They fought among themselves for the privilege of helping their mother roll the container back up the driveway. “Stay the course,” I said to her under my breath. “There is hope again for our youth and our futures!”

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 that the fight for independence, along with the willingness to cheerfully accept the responsibilities of life, remain alive and well. Perhaps we did OK with our kids after all.

Reid Champagne considers the phrase, “You’re not a kid anymore,” to be among life’s most cherished underhanded compliments.

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