These days, I've noticed that Superdad and I are fond of finishing any and all conversations centered around our teenage sons with the succinct, reassuring affirmation:
He's a good kid.
We say this in part because we certainly do believe that both of our sons are "good kids", but I suspect there is more lying underneath those simple words. It is a statement of both past behavior and hope for future behavior. It conveys a faith in their growing character even as we know their inner life is mostly hidden to us. It is sometimes more an expression of relief of all that they have not done than an expression of pride over things they have done. It's a reminder to ourselves to be calm in the face of immature choices and actions that are otherwise harmless in the grand scheme of things.
It is hope.
It is faith.
It is a prayer.
Because the reality is that for every parent of a teenage "good kid" there is an ever-present awareness of how tenuous it all is. That in the hands, heads and hearts of these impulsive, impressionable, headstrong individuals standing in that shaky ground between childhood and adulthood...mistakes can and will be made.
Good kids will make bad choices.
Lest anyone should have the impression that I am crossing a line and betraying more about my own two sons than I should- this post has not been prompted by any action taken by my boys. I would never share anything about them without their permission and certainly nothing that would ever cause them any shame.
No, these thoughts are coming out of hearing about two other boys we know. Boys we consider "good kids". Boys we have known for years. Boys who have made a bad choice.
And I am left shaking my head tonight, feeling sad for them and for their parents and hoping that somehow this will be a turning point for them that yields growth in the right direction and not the beginning of a downward spiral. Wondering how you respond when your "good kid" has made that leap outside of the very wide parameters of normal-dumb-teenage-stuff into the arena of oh-dear-God-you-are-in-real-trouble.
And I realize that a big part of what we are feeling when we look at one another and say hopefully...
He's a good kid
...is simply that we are grateful. Grateful that in spite of all of the ways our boys have made us gnash our teeth, wring our hands in worry and bellow in frustration (only Superdad bellows...I'm a model of patience and propriety) they have never given us any real trouble.
(Please excuse me while I pause to knock on wood, spit over my shoulder, avoid stepping on cracks and say ten Hail Mary's)
We are grateful but not naive. Because the truth is that on any given day, in the wrong place or at the wrong time- any "good kid" can be lead astray.
Which, I suppose, is why we pray.
Because most of the time, it's just about all you can do.