One of the most interesting aspects of parenting, I've found, is that often the tables are turned, and the lesson we're trying to teach our children becomes a lesson we learn instead.
Take the time I learned about hospitality. I grew up in a home where it was stressed that the host or hostess goes out of his or her way to make a guest feel welcome. And it's a lesson I've tried to teach my children, particularly my son, whose friends spend a good deal of time at our house. Because they visit frequently, one would assume I have been a success at this particular lesson.
Wrong. Dead wrong. My son Rob's ideas of hospitality are not even vaguely related to mine. Nor am I sure they even fit under the heading "hospitality."
Take one evening last winter, for example. We were to host his ice hockey teammates for the dinner the night before a
practice. I gave much thought to this event and tried on several occasions to involve Rob in the planning. Our conversations went like this: "Rob," I said, "the hockey team is coming to dinner, and we want to make sure they feel welcomed."
"Why?" he responded. "They don't care. All they want is to eat dinner, and then go to practice."
"Of course they care," I insisted. "Everyone wants to feel welcome and loved."
"Mom," he said, rolling his eyes upward, "they really don't care. Just feed them, and let it go at that."
I waited awhile and tried again: "Rob, I think it would be a good idea to have everyone together in one room, rather than scattered around the house. That way, conversation will be easier."
"Mom, these are hockey players. They're not going to make conversation."
"Rob, everyone makes conversation at a nice dinner," I said.
"This is not a 'nice dinner.' It's food before practice, that's all."
I decided that involving Rob in the physical aspect of the event might be a better tack to take. Several days later, I asked him to take down the Christmas-goose windsock outside the front door and put up the hockey player windsock.
"Why?" he asked.
"It will make the team feel welcome when they arrive at our house," I responded.
"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard," he said. "Do you really think they will care - or even notice - that the windsock is out there, let alone that it's a hockey player?"
I was convinced by the tone of his voice that he really believed that this time I had gone off the deep end. But at least this worked in my favor. The windsock was changed.
As he headed out the door after handing me the Christmas windsock, I asked if he would do a small errand for me: "Please stop at the grocery store and buy me some of those nice-smelling wipes."
I gulped and nonchalantly replied, "For the boys to wipe their hands and face with after the chicken and ribs. It will leave them fresh and clean for practice."
"Mom, hockey players smell; fresh and clean are not in their vocabulary, and they don't wipe their faces and hands with 'nice-smelling wipes.' No wipes!" He went out the door shaking his head.
The big night finally arrived. The players appeared, filled their plates, grabbed cans of soda, and all gravitated to the room with PlayStation 2 set up on the big TV. Their shouts and laughter filled the house. They ate heartily, coming back for seconds, and even seemed reluctant to leave when it was time to go to practice.
A dinner party as I know dinner parties, it wasn't, but there's no question that the event was a big success.
I find myself humbled by the lessons my teen has taught me: that feeling warm and welcomed and loved comes in many different packages, expressed in many different ways.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.