Usually, all my wife and I ever get out of our 16-year-old son are short, unintelligible grunts in response to questions about his day. He also grunts complaints that we don’t keep enough snacks around the house and when we require him to be seen in public with us.
Which was why I was surprised this past Memorial Day when he emerged from his basement lair and said in a clear voice, “I really should have gone with you guys.”
My wife and I had just returned from what we had billed as a holiday hike. We had planned to use Memorial Day to stretch our legs, discover more about our region’s Civil War history and, in the process, embarrass our kids by making them come along.
A few nights before the holiday, I announced our intention to scale, as a family, the Maryland Heights Trail, high above Harpers Ferry.
The news was met by our son’s customary grunt.
For those unfamiliar with the language of a teenage boy, it’s hard to tell one grunt from another. But that one was easy. I interpreted it as an expression of displeasure.
At least he didn’t actively try to avoid the hike. He left that to his way more talkative 12-year-old sister, whose desire never to be seen with her parents rivals his in its intensity. The only difference is that while he grunts his objections, she starts talking faster.
“But dad,” she complained like a locomotive belching steam and picking up speed. She went on to quickly explain that she had planned to spend Memorial Day at a friend’s house. They were working on a school project together and it was due later that week.
She kept talking until I acquiesced.
When Memorial Day dawned, it occurred to me that since our daughter wasn’t going, it might be nice to hike Maryland Heights with just my wife for company. With my schedule, we rarely have the opportunity to be by ourselves. I work nights and weekends, the kids are around most of the time, and our needy dog Rodney demands attention at every turn. So when I woke up our son, it was to tell him that we were leaving and would be gone most of the day.
He roused himself just long enough to offer a grunt in reply. I took it to mean he was relieved.
After dropping our daughter off at her friend’s house, my wife and I made our way to the trailhead, across the river from Harpers Ferry. That’s when we discovered that hiking a popular trail on a holiday was not such a good idea.
The small parking area along the narrow road hard at the base of the mountain was frustratingly full. So frustrating that after making several passes in hopes that someone would leave, I simply gave up and suggested we go over to Shepherdstown in search of parking and a far less strenuous stroll along the C&O towpath. But no one wanted to give up their parking space there, either.
All told, we spent about three hours failing to find a place to get out of the car to take a long walk. In that time, I could have commuted to my job in Washington, D.C. and returned home.
To make matters worse, I told my son the truth after he expressed remorse for not going. In hindsight, I should have let him feel guilty.
Because now, I’ve only hardened his conviction about how lame his parents really are.