“Quiz me on the positions again,” I say to my fifteen-year-old son as I place my phone face down on the corner of the table.
He is running errands with me, something he does as infrequently as he hangs up bath towels or turns off lights. There is no school today, and I bribed my growing boy with lunch at a favorite burger joint. He is content to browse the electronics and music sections in Target while I shop, particularly when french fries await him.
Always the planner, I had thought about our lunch date ahead of time, and was determined to engage in meaningful conversations with my teenager. Since his older sister left for college, he and I have spent quite a bit of one on one time together, but often that time is filled with things we have to do. This lunch is an opportunity to simply sit and talk, and I don’t want to screw it up. I choose the one subject that I know he loves, and that he can talk about endlessly.
I had absolutely no interest in football as a girl or a young adult, even when I married a dedicated fan. When my son began to develop a rabid interest as a boy of five or six, however, I started paying attention. To my surprise, I enjoyed watching the Ravens every Sunday. It was a way for the four of us to bond, and my interest gave my son the chance to show off his extensive knowledge. He may not remember to turn his socks right side out before he throws them in the hamper, but he does remember an impressive number of football statistics.
No matter how often I watch, I simply cannot wrap my head around all of the positions. I wonder if there is a critical age for learning football like there is for learning a new language; perhaps one must be under the age of ten in order to fully grasp the game. I am a late learner, but I have an excellent teacher.
“Okay,” he begins confidently, outlining an imaginary football field on the table with his index finger. “Here is the quarterback,” pointing to an invisible Joe Flacco. That position I know. “Who are the guys in front of him?”
I consider my answer, and he gives me a lopsided smirk, sure I’ll get it wrong. I do, but he is a patient instructor, and we go through each position and the Ravens player who fills it. I score about 70%, so we go through the lineup again, munching on our burgers and fries in between questions.
When my daughter left for college, I fretted about how quiet our home would be without my talkative child filling the silence. What would I chat about with my son of few words? I prepared a mental list of topics we could discuss, determined to foster meaningful conversation between mother and son. He doesn’t often talk about his friends, and he is not particularly interested in pop culture. When he has something to say, he says it, but he does not talk just to hear himself speak.
It turns out that my son isn’t quiet. While he isn’t chatty, he is quite capable of carrying on conversations and sharing tidbits about himself and his life. I knew this, of course, but I had not seen his verbal prowess in action while his more vocal sister was home. He seemed content to let her take center stage, or perhaps he simply felt that it wasn’t worth the effort to jockey for attention.
Now the attention is all his, but my direct questioning approach is too in-his-face. He prefers to initiate the conversation on his own terms, and in his own time. I’ve learned to be comfortable with the silence, and reign in my probes and inquiries.
Football questions are always welcome, however, and we go through the line up once again as we finish our lunch. I score a little better this time, but I know that I’ll forget the answers before Sunday’s game. While I grumble about my failure to get a perfect score, this is one lesson I’m in no hurry to master.
This piece originally appeared on JMore Living.