Running with half a dozen buddies in the early morning on New Year's Day, I asked a friend what she and her teen-aged children had done the night before. "Just stayed home and played Parcheesi," Danielle said. "Then the kids and I started to watch a movie, but I fell asleep on the couch in the living room."
"My kids and I stayed home too," I replied. "We played Dominoes and then they baked something that was almost edible. But I'm leaving out the word 'just.' I'm happy to hang out with my wife and children. The kids will be grown and gone soon enough."
As we trotted over tree roots on our way down toward Matheson Hammock, another running buddy joined the conversation: "You supercilious prig," Lynn began. "Not only are you living in a cave, you are harming your kids by not letting them go out from the damp, dark confines in the side of a cliff."
Danielle and I exchanged a glance. It was hard to tell if Lynn was kidding or just exaggerating to make his point. Danielle said, "I didn't force them to stay home or refuse to allow them access to their phones; it's just a tradition. We always hang out as a family on December 31."
Lynn's response was emphatic. "The world isn't happening in your moldy home. Your kids didn't want to be home with you! You have to let your kids out into the broader culture. By denying your children exposure to parties, technology, and every good social advance, you are ensuring that they will be behind the curve socially at college in a few years. Do you think computers are going away? Do you think there are any opportunities for kids who know how to play dominoes rather than how to use electronics? And what's this about not allowing your kids go to parties at the home of friends on New Year's Eve? Are you kidding? The world is happening. Kids have to know how to drink responsibly."
Danielle and I listened thoughtfully as Lynn went on. "Hello, it's 1954 and it wants New Year's Eve back." Danielle and I smiled as we all kept running. "Of course, I smoke pot with my kids," Lynn continued. "How are they going to learn the effect of marijuana if I'm not there to teach them? Wake up and smell the cannabis, you two."
I thought about interrupting and mentioning unequivocal studies concluding that marijuana today is unquestionably addictive and damaging to developing brains, but Lynn kept talking. "News flash. Kids smoke pot. The only question is whether my children are going to smoke pot under my supervision or whether they're going to go out and smoke pot in dangerous circumstances."
Danielle started to say something, but Lynn kept on. "It's not like I let them smoke and drive. After dinner last night, we got a cab and went out to South Beach. It is such a great scene: clubs, music, fashion. So much happening, so much to see. So many great people. We saw one of the Miami Heat players and my son almost got an autograph."
Lynn went on to berate us about how pot is now legal in many states with more coming on board, but I had stopped listening and I think Danielle had too. "Your kids don't even know what they're missing out on," Lynn finished. "Have fun living with the Luddites."
Lynn dropped back to chat with some other runners in our group and Danielle and I plodded along in thoughtful silence. Neither the herons in the bay nor the sun coming up over the horizon seemed overly concerned with the one-sided conversation.
"I wonder why it is so important for Lynn to feel that he's right about smoking pot with his kids," I began. When Danielle didn't answer, I asked her what she was thinking about.
"Oh, nothing really," she said. "Just that when I fell asleep on the couch during the movie, my daughter got a blanket and tucked me in. I'm not sure, but I think she might have given me a kiss on my forehead before she went to bed."
We all want what's best for our kids. We all want to give them the gifts we have. I can't help but wonder which investments will pay the broader dividend down the road. Maybe the child who spent an impaired New Year's Eve on South Beach chasing celebrity autographs will feel connected to and responsible for his aging parents a generation hence.
But my money is on the kid who played board games with his family and gave his mom a kiss on the forehead after tucking her in with a blanket.