Saturday, February 25, 2012

Send Lifelines Not Zingers

It's late February and my kitchen is humming with teenagers because it's cold and their basketball hands are now frosty and their hunger pangs are sharp. That long farmhouse table is messy with soda and snacks and laughter on a day blasted by this unexpected Arctic air. I notice how the sinking sun shines through winter windows highlighting their young rosy cheeked faces. It makes me smile and I'm up to my elbows in hot sink water filled with JOY dish suds and pans that dinner was started on. The girls are casually tucking hair behind ears, sipping soda and smiling and blinking long lashes and the boys are unashamed to grab handfuls of chips and guzzle soda, laughing hard and banging hands down to make a point.

Daughter wanders in, and she is half interested in food and half amused by this boisterous crowd. It's true. That laughter is rivoting. Several conversations are going on and they're all smiles and laughs and she is right on the edge creeping in slowly to join with all that happiness. Then son suddenly loses patience that younger sister maybe is in this sacred teenage moment along with them. And he hurls a zinging comment toward her. It has something to do with her going away, something to do with leaving them alone, something to do with him feeling selfish for this moment alone. Her face registers it instantly and there is no reply, but she twists a tendril of golden brown hair around a finger, furrowing her brow. And the teenagers continue laughing about the something else they were speaking of seconds before she wandered in.

I look up from that sink of JOY dish bubbles and my hands are dripping soapy JOY water as I reach for a kitchen towel & remind son that in our house we build up. It's quiet for only a second as pairs of eyes meet mine. I haven't said it in anger, just in casual-reminding-mother-tone nonchalantly as I wipe my hands dry. I explain for fuller effect since they've given me the stage, handed it over to me with their expectant, curious faces.

In school there is so much tearing down, I say, and here at home, we are about building each other back up. There is a second perhaps, of wonder. Like what I have said out loud is something new to chew on. Like the idea that home is for building back up bubbles neatly on the tongue like the first sip of soda.

I'm looking into those eyes and I'm hoping that every one of their homes is about building back up. And then like floodgates opening, the conversations steer directly toward that iceberg. The little tip of icy mountain looms large above the line of cold sea from a distance right here, right now in February in my Southern kitchen. Yes, they all know kids, parents, friends, classmates who toss a pointed zinging dart of a comment and end it with, "I was just kidding... Can't you take a joke?" There are stories and names shared, moments of humiliation and surprise and sorrow and anger.

I tell them my word for it is zinging or throwing zingers. Zingers are not lifelines, they are not life preservers. Their intention is to yank you down. Pull you under into that shocking cold you didn't expect. Yes, that tip of iceberg is part of the giant mountain beneath it. It seems small till it's shared. And then everyone has an iceberg moment to share, even daughter, and they're on common ground now.

I am hopeful that these teenagers who wondered at me minutes before might just take it home, and might not just file it under Forgotten Information. I want them to remember to send out lifelines and life preservers not zingers.

Home is a safe place, but I'm hopeful for raising kids who know that lifelines and life preservers aren't just for use at home. And that homes shouldn't be the only places where we remember to build up, instead of tear down. Little sister is allowed to stay and laugh and listen and I'm reaching my hands back into that soapy JOY water to finish those dishes.