I sat in the car with my teenage son, lecturing him about his occasional penchant for living his life as though the world existed solely for his own enjoyment.
His furtive glances toward the cellphone in his hands as I spoke cast doubt, once again, on the idea that he could truly be listening. If I'd been able to take my eyes off the road long enough, I imagine I would have seen his rolling heavenward in exasperation. Here she goes again – same old lecture.
I sighed to myself as I drove on, thinking that it's easy, as parents, to get mired in our own self-doubt, to constantly question if we're going wrong somehow, if we are giving too much or giving too little.
Is the occasional selfish or foolish act just part of a normal teenage rebellion and natural grasp for individuality? Or is it showing us where we, as parents, have messed up?
Should we sit back and ignore it in the hope that they'll grow out of it, or should we keep talking at them, as I find myself doing more often than not, and hope that it will sink in someday?
Having given up the fight for the moment, I was quietly caught up in my own thoughts when my son snapped his cellphone shut and called out for me to stop the car.
There was a painted turtle crawling slowly down the sidewalk, and he wanted to see why it was there. I pulled into the parking lot and gave him my flip-flops (he had jumped in the car barefoot for the short ride we were taking).
He shuffled down the sidewalk and picked up the turtle, carefully inspecting it at all angles. He started back to the car with it, and I prepared myself for the speech I was sure I had to make: that we couldn't bring it home, that it was best left near wherever it had come from, etc.
But he got to the window and frowned as he said, "Mom, we have to help him. There's a hook in his mouth – someone must have just cut the line and let him go, but he might die if we leave it in there."
As someone with a soft spot for animals in distress, I automatically started to look around the car's interior for scissors or some other reasonable surgical instrument when I remembered where we were and pointed to the fish and bait store directly across the street.
My son, the boy – the young man – I'd been haranguing only moments before about self-centeredness and inconsiderate behavior, gave me a brief but triumphant smile and made his way clumsily across the street, heels hanging over the edge of my bejeweled black flip-flops and turtle kicking in his hands.
When he came out a few minutes later, he was with one of the employees, who cut the hook from the turtle's mouth without further injury, and to whom he relinquished the turtle when they finished.
Then he came back to the car, got in, and removed my shoes. "It's OK, Mom," he said. "We got the hook out, and the guy's going to put him back where he belongs. I think he'll be all right."
I smiled at him, and started to tell him what a good deed he'd done, and that I was glad to see him thinking outside himself.
But I suddenly realized that maybe he really didn't need me to tell him that, not anymore. He'd known the right thing to do all along.
"Yes," I said finally, as we drove the rest of the way home, "I'm sure he'll be just fine."