The Talk


"Well, mister, this is not how the summer is going to go. No sir, you're not going to lie around like this all morning. You're going to make plans, find some work, create a schedule for yourself, get up and get moving. You're 17 years old."

"That's right, mom, I'm 17, as in not even a high school graduate yet. I have my senior year still ahead of me. This is my last summer of any real freedom."

"What does that mean? You think I get a summer of freedom? You think your father had free summers when he was your age? No, he was earning money for college, working two jobs."

"And he became an insurance salesman, Mom. Not a big payoff for the effort."

"Oh, listen to you, mister fancy plans. What better life have you designed for yourself with your steady unemployment and lazy afternoons at Lake Calhoun?"

"I don't have a life planned, Mom. I just have one I'm living. I don't plan it. I don't know that it needs to be planned."

"Well, we'll see where that attitude gets you. My guess is not much further than the cash register of a fast-food restaurant. See how you like your summers then. See who's making fun of whose career at that point."

"Mom, lighten up. I'm in high school. There's plenty of time to worry about career and college. Quit piling this on me right now. I just had nine months of school, did you forget that? I made the B honor roll. I did my homework. I made it to class each day—seven hours, five days a week in that boring, stuffy building. I made it, like I did 10 years previously. Now I'd like to do nothing for a while. Maybe you'd be different. Maybe you'd jump right into a job, probably take piano lessons or tennis lessons. That's fine. I'm different. I want a long stretch of doing very little...and I think I've earned it."

"What do you think life is, son? You think it's like a movie, that you grab a soft, comfortable chair and watch it all happen? Life isn't a spectator sport, my dear. Credit goes to those who jump into the arena and make something of themselves and their world. Those bystanders, passively taking it all in, waste the gifts they've been given and offer the world nothing but idle commentary. Neither I nor your father raised you to be a bystander."

"What you raised me to do is think for myself, and that's what I'm doing. And I'm going to do a lot of thinking this summer, and yeah, a lot of it is going to be at the beach. But that's not going to make me a bystander. I'm going to be looking at the sky and the water and the girls, and I'm going to feel very much alive. That is the arena, Mother. It's called the world, and I'm in it. I'm in it with you and Dad and all your friends and all my friends. Who's to say what's supposed to happen during these years? Who gets to determine how they're all supposed to go and what a life well lived is supposed to look like?

"How did you get to be judge, anyway? You got out of college, got a job at a bank, got married, and had kids. Is that you in the arena, Mom? Are those of us on the sidelines supposed to be impressed with that? It's just a series of choices you made that may or may not be appealing to the next guy. What great accomplishment have you presented to this planet? How is my afternoon of swimming coming in second to your job at the bank?"

"It's because of my job at the bank that you get to go swimming, you little ingrate! The choices I made gave you this nice life you're living. And you insult me by treating my efforts in this cavalier manner. Go on, get out. Go swimming with your friends. Figure your life out on your own. And start thinking about how you're going to help your father and I pay for groceries and gas this fall. It's high time you start to pull your weight around here."

"Mom, you really ought to look at all of your anger. Is it really just coming from me having slept in today? You sure this isn't menopause talking here?"

"Get out, damn it! We're done here! And pick up those socks."