Out There: A mind reader

Is it legitimate to get mad at someone for what you know they are thinking, even though they don’t act on their thoughts, or even share them?

Route 1 cars/transport 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Route 1 cars/transport 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
“Don’t get mad,” my youngest son snapped from the back seat of the car as his brother Skippy – sporting a brand new driver’s license – skirted too close to vehicles parked on the side of the road. “Don’t yell,” he piled on.
“Quiet, son,” I admonished. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Just don’t get mad,” he repeated, knowingly.
And then I got mad; then I yelled. Not at Skippy – doing his very best to navigate the narrow, busy roads as his nervous, jittery father breathed down his neck – but at the youngest, for reading my mind.
Junior was right: I was mad, and I wanted to holler – but I didn’t. I girded myself and kept everything in. And believe me, that was no easy task.
Of all the parental obligations – the feeding, the nurturing, the educating, the financial support – teaching your kids to drive is among the most unnerving.
The term “teaching” here is a misnomer anyway, because we don’t actually teach our kids to drive. Sure, there is the random lap around the school parking lot, that concludes with a stab at parallel parking between a rock and a garbage dumpster. But we don’t teach them. For that we pay NIS 3,000 to some chain smoker (can you blame him?) named Shuki.
No, what we do is drive with them after they have already “learned” – a big enough challenge as it is.
While I fully realize the importance of driving with the kids when they first get their license so they can rack up much needed hours on the road, my first impulse is to surrender those honors to The Wife.
Or, barring that, just drive myself when going anywhere with the new driver, sparing myself a surefire nerve-wracking experience.
“Maybe I’ll drive today, because it’s noon and the sun is too bright,” I tried once. “Maybe I’ll drive today because it rained this week, and there’s probably some grease on the road,” I said another time.
But my inner parent – and The Wife – demand that I let Skippy drive, that I give him the experience.
So he drives, and I get edgy.
It’s a tightrope, really. On the one hand, you want your child to feel confident and self-assured behind the wheel, and you definitely don’t want to startle him by shouting “move the hell over!” into his little ear, as he careens perilously close to the side of the road. On the other hand, you don’t want him to careen perilously close to the side of the road.
So one time, in the midst of this delicate balancing act, I simply suggested to Skippy that perhaps he might want to drive a little closer toward the center of the street. I said it as nicely, as unthreateningly, as I could.
But as gentle as I was, as soft was my tone, it didn’t matter. I could have sounded like a midnight disc jockey on FM radio; it wouldn’t have made a difference. My youngest son picked up my vibes from the back seat, and called me out.
What was interesting – er, maddening – was that he didn’t confront me for something I did, or any impulse I acted upon, or even over any angry words spoken. Rather, he called me out on something I merely thought.
Now one could think that this mind reading is a good thing – a sign of warm intimacy, harmonized feelings, a father and son in sync, a very close and healthy relationship.
Indeed, it brought to mind warm and fuzzy memories of my own relationship with my father. I know the man so well, am so attuned to his facial expressions, gestures and intonations, that I can anticipate exactly what he will say before he says it.
Most often this is harmless, like when I know something will trigger a joke I have heard a dozen times before. Other times it is a bit more tricky, more complicated, such as when I know exactly what he is thinking. Occasionally his thoughts leave me annoyed and insulted, and I get defensive as a result.
“Son, you should cut some of your flowers,” he said to me on a recent visit, after taking a look at my beloved porch garden. “Too many flowers. It’s too much.” “Thanks for the tip, dad,” I said, more than a tad annoyed. “But I like ‘em.”
And there you had a simple father-son exchange.
A week later, as he got out of the car in another part of town, I saw him glance upward for a split second at an apartment balcony.
“Dad, don’t,” I implored. “Don’t say it.” “But I didn’t say anything,” he replied.
“You didn’t have to,” I countered, accurately gauging what he was thinking. “I like my flowers.”
All this raises an intriguing relationship-related question: Is it legitimate to get mad at someone for what you know they are thinking, even though they don’t act on their thoughts, or even share them? The Wife and I deal with this quite a bit, since we’ve been together for good amount of time.
A stranger can walk into a room, say a few words, and I’ll know The Wife’s exact initial appraisal. Or after a disagreement with one of the kids, I can read through her silence and get angry for what she didn’t say. In fact, we can have a whole conversation – even a whole disagreement – without exchanging a word. That’s what comes from a quarter-century of marriage.
But my youngest, heck, he’s only been attentive for a few years, and can already read my mind through the back of my neck. And if he can do that at 15, how many arguments over unarticulated thoughts will we have by the time he reaches 30? But who am I to complain. If I can get irritated by my dad’s unstated thoughts, well, my son should be allowed to do the same with mine.