Where are you going? 'Out.' What are you going to do? 'Nothing.'
"It's called egocentrism, Mom," my daughter informs me."That's when a young child thinks that the world revolves around him. Sometimes he will even tell a story and leave parts of it out because he assumes that you know what he is talking about."
Tracy is 21 and in college working toward her teaching degree. She returns from class excited by her newfound knowledge, and eager to teach me what she has learned.
I have heard about egocentrism, too, but I pay attention to her anyway. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
"Hmmm," I say, pausing for effect. "Would that be like when you were 16 and you didn't call to tell me where you were after school let out? You figured that somehow I knew that you were safe."
Tracy's eyes widen ever so slightly, and then she laughs. "I guess you're right," she admits.
It's hard for me to believe that it was only six years ago that this responsible young woman was so egocentric. And rebellious, too.
It was a constant battle to help her to understand the concept of accountability. When she got her driver's license at 16, there were too many times that she "forgot to call."
So I tried to appeal to her sense of logic. "How would you feel if it was 9 p.m. and I hadn't returned from work and you didn't know where I was?" I asked.
Although she admitted that she would be worried if this happened, she still didn't understand why I should worry about her. After all, she knew she was fine.
After trying everything I could think of, I finally hit on the perfect solution by accident. One day while shopping I came upon a magnetic wipe-off board to hang on the refrigerator.
I had been the parent of teens long enough to know that I needed to introduce this new idea slowly and play down my eagerness for it to work. So over dinner that night, I casually showed the children my new purchase.
I explained that my own schedule had been so hectic lately, that it was hard for me to call home and let them know where I was. Now I would write my daily plans on the board and telephone home only if they changed.
Tracy's brother met the idea with 13-year-old feigned interest. But Tracy saw right through me. "That is the stupidest idea you've ever had," she declared. "You can write on that thing all you want, but if you think I'm going to, you're wrong."
I didn't argue with her, but the next day, I carefully wrote my after-work plans on the board: "Going shopping. Be home by 6 p.m."
By the end of the week, my messages were the only ones on the board, but Tracy had become more reliable about calling me with her plans.
On Day 7 there was a message. Every other letter was in a different color and the words were all capitalized. It read: "I, your daughter Tracy, on this 12th day of October, am going hiking at the beach with my friend Heather. This should take approximately two hours. Then we will get subs at the sub shop. I will be home at 8 p.m. Your loving daughter, Tracy."
Her words were dripping with teenage sarcasm, but I was elated. It was a start. When she arrived home that evening, I casually thanked her for letting me know where she was. She rolled her eyes, but from that day on, she used the board to inform me of her whereabouts - most of the time, anyway.
Six years later, our refrigerator board is still in use. It serves as a shopping list, a phone-message board, and a who's-where center.
Today I look at the board and see "need olives, stain remover, mustard" in my own writing and these words in bright orange: "Yo, Mom. I'm spending the night at Jessica's. Be home tomorrow by noon, let's make nachos for dinner. Your loving daughter, Tracy."