It must be wonderful knowing that your teenage son or daughter is mature enough to hold an actual conversation with your adult friends.
When young people talk to old people, BADLY
Seeing them chat away freely when introduced; radiating confidence galore when asked if they are enjoying their new high school, all the time maintaining solid eye and without a dot of embarrassment or discomfort.
All while you stand alongside, glowing with pride and marvelling at what clearly must be some pretty bloody fabulous parenting skills.
Today, I discovered that my 13-year-old son... did not possess such ability.
Not even close, in fact.
As a mum who thought she'd had it all covered - good manners, gracious conduct, appropriate behaviour and the biggie, respect for others - it came as a rude slap in the chops as I watched Junior's social skills crumble and turn totally to mush.
It's common knowledge in aged-care circles that a doctor's waiting room is 'top of the pops', an ideal location to meet and engage in friendly banter with seniors that will test even the most experienced of gas bags! Our visit this morning, thanks to my son's recent sporting injury (long story, don't ask), was for follow-up X-rays and to be given the all clear to have the annoying brace on his arm removed.
It was as we sat bored waiting to be called, when an older, smartly dressed gent with a walking stick and twinkly eyes, leaned over to my son and asked in a fairly loud tone (hearing issues, obviously), what he'd “done to himself”.
I continued reading my mag, confident that Chatterbox Charlie (as he is known at home and at school), would be equally as open and friendly. The two of them would yak away in 'blokey' fashion and by the time we left they'd be the bestest of buddies, with hugs goodbye and promises to meet for tea and biscuits one day soon.
But, what was this? Instead no, Junior was beside himself! Turning sharply to look at me, his face strained in terror ... he was actually pleading me with his eyes, as if to say: “Oh god, please Mum, SAVE ME!”
Mortified with the realisation that my own dear son was indeed a complete social weenie after all, I attempted to verbally prompt him so he could tell the nice inquiring man how he had sprained his arm in a game of football.
“But you're s'posed to use your leg to kick the footy – not your arm!”, the old guy joked, encouraging my son to join in.
As Junior turned bright red and awkwardly squeaked out some sort of inaudible response (all the time staring down at the floor wishing the tiles would open up and pull him down into the deep, dark depths of the earth where no scary old dudes could ever find him) ... it dawned on me that some people might actually find conversation with an elderly person intimidating.
And I get that.
Growing up as a shy young teen, I remember myself the feeling of horror when an adult would talk to me – especially one I didn't know well. The worry of not knowing what to say, or sounding silly if I did say something, or being judged and thought an idiot. It was cause for some real anxiety!
In lieu of that thought, I decided my son needed a lesson in the art of conversation, STAT! Time for me to earn that Mother of the Year title and get him properly prepped and trained up on some good old-fashioned Communication Skills 101.
Yes, I would be doing this for me (and my shattered pride), but more significantly, I was doing it for my sad, socially inept son. It was imperative that in today's frantic and fiercely competitive world, that he be an efficient communicator; to gain the advantage over his peers by being able to competently talk and earn respect from older adults.
To impress the pants off his teachers, his footy coach or even his own grandparents by engaging them in some light, but thoughtful bit of chit-chat!
And at the same time, emphasise to my son that it didn't matter what age a person was. That all it took was a little friendliness and a smidge of empathy to show kindness towards another human being and to make them feel good. That some elderly people spend days, sometimes weeks, sitting alone in their homes, desperate for company and to feel part of the community.
Could he imagine what that must be like?
So while the old chap and I laughed and discussed the weather, his dreadful arthritis and the price of petrol, I felt Junior watching on, taking it all in. I wasn't completely daft; I knew in reality my son's interest would be only fleeting and that soon enough he'd tune out, switch on his iPod and go back to picking at the tag on his arm brace.
But before you could ask 'Is there a doctor in the house?' my amazing little man surprised us all as he turned to an older white-haired lady sitting next to him.
Without missing a beat and looking her straight in the eye, in a big clear voice said, “Hello, are you having a nice day today?”
My faith restored, I nearly fell out of my chair with the awesomeness of the moment!
Oh, but I'm pretty sure Junior will never, ever go anywhere in public with his slightly fanatical mother again... the cheering out loud and then 'high five-ing' the receptionist may have just about sent him over the edge.