Recently, a friend shared her frustration over the fact that when she picked up her son from middle school and tried to talk to him about his day, he would shut down. She sincerely wanted to know what he was experiencing and feeling, but there seemed to be a wall between them. Frustrated parents often complain that as their kids reach adolescence, the communication stops. "When they were little, they used to want to tell me everything, but now- especially since hitting puberty, they don't seem to want to talk at all."
For a long time, that was my friend's mindset, but as weeks passed and the silent rides home became almost unbearable, she began rethinking things. She remembered when her son was first learning to walk and talk and how she relived the joy of her own childhood as she watched the process. When he took his first steps, she happily encouraged him, rejoiced in his efforts, giggled with him when he tumbled, and applauded his accomplishments. When she taught him the names of animals and colors, she remembered how her voice was filled with wonder, excitement, and joy- and how her toddler son had mirrored those emotions back to her.
As her son learned to walk (and go where he wanted without permission) and to talk (and say "No"), her communication with him changed. Excitement often gave way to weariness; a sense of the mundane replaced the wonder and the joy. Through a slow and incremental process, she had stopped expressing joy daily. She decided it was time for a change. Instead of asking her son about his day, she would tell him what she had enjoyed about hers.
She was a dental assistant, so when she picked up her son that afternoon, she began excitedly talking about how much fun she had had that morning putting veneers on a patient's teeth and how beautiful his smile looked as a result. Her son was non-responsive, but she stuck to her plan. Each day, she chatted happily about the things she had enjoyed at work. A week later, when she picked him up, the boy was all smiles as he got in the car. Without her having to ask, he began telling her about something funny that had happened during his lunch break. From then on, their afternoon rides were filled with conversation.
In sharing the high points of her days, my friend had signaled her son that it was alright to express joy. How often do we tap down positive feelings to focus seriously on daily routines and tasks? How often do we want to express happiness but decide the time isn't right after taking the room's emotional temperature?
During the coming Holiday Season, we will likely hear the classic carol, "Joy to the World." But joy is all around us every day of our lives if we'll open our eyes to it. Let's not be afraid, hesitant, or shy to talk about it when we see it.
Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouthâ€™s official channel) since 2011.