This weekend we went camping. It was NOT my best laid plan. In fact, it was one of my worst. The campground was 3.5 hours away, much further than I realized, and although the location on top of a bluff overlooking the Pacific was beautiful, it was absolutely freezing and windy. T. has never been outside of Los Angeles, and he's never been camping. But it turned out okay anyway.
In the big picture sense, I learned this weekend that bonding (at least in the kind of oddball alternative family universe that we are starting to inhabit via this adoption) happens as much through mild adversity as anything else. Packing the camping gear, trudging up a mountain in the middle of nowhere, pitching the tent in the howling wind, and struggling to keep the camping stove lit long enough to cook a meal while T. hopped around with my pajamas wrapped around his neck for warmth got us feeling all family-ee.
We played cards for hours in the tent and saw a side of T. that is probably familiar to his friends, but not the adults in his life - a happy, fast-talking, unguarded teenager, taking great delight in winning (and losing) nickels from us as we just sat around wasting time. Then we all had to pack it in side-by-side like sardines in the tent for a night of sleep amid the howling wind and roar of the ocean.
This morning he wanted to ride horses, but we couldn't make it happen, so we practiced driving (we helped him get his permit recently and we're teaching him to drive) instead. At least equally as thrilling, especially since he did his first highway driving today.
By the time we got back this evening, he was back in teen world, text messaging on anything he could get his hands on - my phone, Tim's phone, the office computer. He was ever so slightly surly at dinner. We actually rejoice when he's a little surly in that age-appropriate 15 year-old way. When we met him, he was so still and polite and quiet, I just felt like the lid was going to blow. He would barely eat and never asked for anything.
Now when he won't look up from his text messages and he shovels food into his mouth and makes sarcastic jokes, we feel like we've made just a wee bit of progress. Of course, he also gives us ample opportunity to parent the younger version of himself that will probably be with him for a long time to come. But we love these periods of normal teen behavior too, because we feel like we've been able to offer him a sliver of stability that allows him to resolve some earlier uncertainties so he can get back to the business of teenage development.
And this weekend, I was reminded that we never know when and in what way we're likely to reach him. At one point this weekend, we went down to the beach for a look at some tidepools, and he showed little interest, so I let him stay in the car listening to the radio. When we returned, I brought him a rock I picked up on the beach. I handed it to him and said, "I brought you a present. It's your lucky rock." I was half-thinking when I said it. Later that night, he brought the rock out of his pocket while we were playing cards, and rubbed his cards with it "for luck". I was so surprised - I thought he'd have forgotten it by then. Then tonight, I let him drive the last mile home. As he hopped in the driver's seat, he rubbed the pocket of his jacket where he had tucked the rock away, for luck before he took the wheel. The significance he ascribed to that rock made me think we should probably be careful, even (especially) when he is being surly and coarse, never to assume he isn't listening.