I wonder about all the things my ten-year-old knows that I don’t.
First of all there’s all the data he reaps from the internet.
“Look, mom,” he says and types, “do a barrel roll” into the search box of the Chrome browser. The entire page rotates. I didn’t know you could do that! Did you? And have you ever done a search for “askew” on Google? Try it some time. It’s very cool. Max also explains to me how to do binary code. He tells me to watch videos theorizing how you can work out the size of the universe, using pi. These are the things he shares with me.
I wonder what he does NOT share with me.
“So give me the dirt,” I say to Max and his friend, Jacob. “Who likes who in your class?” The two are quiet. “Do you even know??”
“Yes, we know,” says Jacob. “But we promised not to tell anybody.”
“Tell me. I’m a grown-up. I don’t count.”
They’ll give me student reviews of each teacher, but they won’t share the juicy who-likes-who list. Curses.
Max’s dad asked me, “Ever notice how he disappears for hours into the bathroom with his iPad? What is he DOING in there?” I figure he’s watching his endless chain of Numberphile and V-Sauce videos. “I think he’s looking at porn,” said my ex. I doubt it, but I’ve never been a man or boy before, so what do I know. I tried accessing Max’s iPad the other day to see if I could look at his browser history. Except his passcode is not what he said it was.
And then there are the things grown ups don’t talk about to kids.
Violence, drugs, sex. In fifth grade, Max and his classmates were studying the Constitution, including the first amendment. The teacher made up a worksheet of discussion topics and then went absent the next day. One question was, “Should pornographic material be allowed on the internet?”
“What does ‘pornographic’ mean?” asked a student.
“It’s something bad,” answered the substitute, which only piqued the girl’s interest, and after school she promptly went home to google, “pornographic.” (Yes, the parents made a complaint.)
And that’s just general knowledge. What about family skeletons, like Aunty Francine’s shopping addiction which put her family $20,000 in debt? “What are you talking about?” says Max. “Nothing,” I say. “Aunty needs to pay some bills.”
And what about ridiculousness in your kid’s school community. I told a girlfriend about another parent hitting on me. “He asked me if I’d like to help him edit the yearbook over a bottle of wine. And then he says to forget the yearbook, how about we just do the wine.” Of course my boy, who cannot hear me when I tell him to make his bed, chimes, “What?”
“Nothing,” I say. “George’s dad needs help editing the yearbook.”
There are so many things I don’t tell my kid. I don’t tell him he can’t carry a melody when he sings. Or that he hurts my feelings every time he says he’d rather stay at his dad’s Saturday night. I don’t tell him about my dating life, or that I date at all. I was a bit unnerved the other day when I walked out of the bathroom to find him perched on my desk chair, before my open laptop, reading a piece I was writing for Financial Samurai, a personal finance blog. The topic of my post was whether or not men should pick up the tab on a heterosexual date, and I was using personal experiences to make my points.
“I’m reading your essay!” he says brightly. “I like your writing. It has a nice rhythm.” I was so flattered, I said the heck with it and let him finish reading the whole article. He continued, “You have an error in your grammar here. It says, ‘a sugar daddies.’ Is it singular or plural?” I let him take out the “a,” and then he asks, “What’s a sugar daddy?”
Sometimes he tells his dad things and asks his dad not to share them with me. He asks his father not to tell me that the reason why his knee was mangled was he was running up the down escalator. He’s confessed privately to his dad about taking two fifty dollar bills from the kitchen counter. I’m a little sad that he doesn’t feel safe enough to tell me, but I’m glad he can speak to his papa. I wonder about all his secrets that his dad has NOT shared with me.
How do you differentiate between privacy and secrecy?
If I was a child therapist, I wonder when I would keep my patient’s information private and when I would divulge it to his parents. Adults speak to therapists because they trust that their issues will not be shared with others. Shouldn’t little people be entitled to some privacy, too? Secrets that seem petty to adults may seem impossibly big and embarrassing to a child, or perhaps he is afraid of hurting his parents with his opinions. Sometimes Max gets swallowed up in sadness, and he can’t tell me why. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” he says. He’s confused by the enormity of his emotions, and I can believe he really does not know the source. Depression runs in the family. Or maybe he knows, but he is protecting me, afraid he will hurt my feelings. Maybe he is afraid of getting in trouble. I want to know because I want to know how to make his sadness go away.
We know each other quite well, mother and son, but I know him less and less as he branches out into the world on his own. He spends so much time away from me, at school, at his dad’s. Max and I were crossing the street one day. I reminded him to check if cars are coming, but apparently I was blocking his view. He huffed, “I’m trying, but I can’t see through you!” And I thought, Max, I see you, but I can’t see through you either.