The best conversations with my son and daughter happened while we were working on projects. We made meatballs, assembled a barbecue, organized closets, hung pictures, copied songs on vinyl to iPods, and built bonfires. All the while we talked about everything from grades and feelings to plans and money. What ever was on their mind or heart. At the end of the task we’d go away understanding each other better. It’s a way we connect.
I was in the garage when Jake, my seventh grader, walked up from the school bus. “Hey, Jake, how’s it going?”
“Can I help you sort the paint cans, Dad?” He took off his backpack.
“Sure. Open each can. If you recognize the color from in the house, secure the lid. If not, we’ll throw it away.”
Jake started right in. “We don’t have any pink walls, do we?”
“Nope. That’s from your sister’s old princess room,” I said.
“Phew. This stinks!”
I peeked over to see a green color. “Wow. That’s from our first apartment. Toss it.” I paused. “How was your day, Jake?”
“Dad, I get to go on the field trip to the food pantry!”
“Nice! You went last year too, right?” He and I had already processed half of cans.
“Yeah. I liked washing the vegetables and organizing the canned food there. Hey, Dad, it’d be cool if you chaperoned.”
“I’d like that. Is this a class field trip?”
“It’s for Student Council. It’s weird, Dad. There are 70 kids in Student Council, but only 40 of us get to go,” Jake said.
“Really?” I directed Jake to his next step. “Stack those cans in the corner, please. I’ll get these ready for the hazardous waste pickup.”
Jake nodded. “It’s not fair, Dad. And, I feel bad for Ella and Sam. They didn’t get to go last year, and now they never will because they’re eighth graders. Dad, I’ll hold the container, while you load cans.”
I didn’t understand the details of this field trip. “Why don’t Ella and Sam get to go?”
“I don’t know. We earned the same amount from the fund raiser and helped at three Circle of Friends parties. I don’t get why everybody doesn’t get to go.”
“I’m curious about that, too,” I said. And I wondered more seriously now, why 30 kids would miss out. Yet, I wanted to hear my son’s point of view.
Jake explained, “Dad, Ms. Thayer said the list is final. Forty is the limit.”
“I’m sure Ms. Thayer has a good reason.” I was doing my best to support both Jake and Ms. Thayer. Yet, I didn’t understand the reasons.
“I don’t know why I was picked,” Jake said as we finished.
“I suspect because you’re thoughtful. Look how you stepped up to help me just now. I appreciate you.”
“Dad, do you think I should talk to Ms. Thayer? She wasn’t our sponsor last year. And, probably doesn’t know who went last year. Ella and Sam and the other eighth graders who were in Student Council both years should get a turn to go. Don’t you think?”
I looked over at Jake with pride. “Jake, that’s what’s cool about you. You think about how things are for everyone. Not just yourself.” He taped on the label. Together we carried the bulky container to the alley.
“Thanks, dad. Maybe I’ll talk to Ms. Thayer. You always say it never hurts to ask.”
“That’s true. Let me know what you decide to do. And how it turns out. I’ll support you no matter what.” I gave him a pat on the back as we walked together into the house.