For 15 minutes every weekday I walk my third grader to school and there are times when I forget it’s a privilege. Like those mornings when he’s being especially chatty and he’ll turn to me and say “Are you even listening to me?” when he realizes I’m not, and I’ll apologize and say my mind was wandering.
Sometimes if both our minds are wandering we’ll walk the whole way in silence. On these mornings I don’t think either of us feels we’re squandering our time together. Despite being a talker, my son has come to appreciate that quiet should be relished from time to time.
More often, the morning walks are a hybrid of quiet and chat and my being parental, which usually means my nagging him about getting his dirty clothes off the floor, taking better aim in the bathroom, listening to me and his mom the first time and so on, until I’m the one who’s asking, “Are you even listening to me?”
It’s that rare weekday morning where being a dad feels, you know, good. But this week it kind of happened by accident.
And that brings me to the list.
Shortly after leaving for school, my son remarked that a YouTube celebrity my daughter follows on Twitter knows her because he once responded to one of her Tweets, and I said well, he doesn’t really know her and they don’t know each other. She’s just one of his fans, I said, they’re not friends.
We debated this. I conceded that if someone acknowledges you on Twitter, that could be the beginning of a friendship, though most times it isn’t, that social media generally yields a lot of acquaintances, but not many friends. And while I liked most of the people I know from social media and, for that matter, through other circles, I told him that in “real life” there were maybe five people total that I knew I could depend on, no matter what.
I was about to list those people for him – he’s met them all, and he could probably guess who they were. But instead I turned to him and said “I know you’re only in third grade, but who are the five people you really consider friends, who you would always go to for help?”
As soon as I said it, I wondered if it was too heavy a question for him. After all, at eight years old did he even recognize what qualities made a friend dependable, so dependable that when you ask that friend to help you move, he not only agrees but actually shows up on moving day? And at his tender age, did my son already have that kind of dependable friend who tells him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear?
Given his silence I began to assume that I had overreached with the question. Until I realized he was counting in his head.
“Do you have people like that?” I asked.
He answered by starting to say some of the names out loud.
“So these are the friends you would call if you needed help?” I asked, making sure he understood what I was asking.
“Yes,” he said, “these are the people I can count on.”
I knew some of the friends he was naming, but not all. He considered one name, rejected it, then reconsidered it. He mulled over a few more possibilities, then went back to counting in his head.
“Do you have your five yet?” I asked after a while.
“I’m up to six,” he said.
That’s great I said, adding, just as much for myself to hear, that no matter what age you are it’s always good to know who those five or six people are.