[Over]-parenting Karl

by Rod Smith

A little space goes a long way...

A little space goes a long way...

Over-protection had so overwhelmed Karl (15) that he had perfected the ability to escape from behind his own eyes. His vacant stare allowed him to see and note nothing most of the time. His head did turn slightly and very slowly in the general direction of his parents when they talked, but nothing about his demeanor allowed even a hint of interest. This did not inhibit the determined twosome in their attempts to correct this disconnection. Their every approach to Karl included rapid movements as they tried to prance into his line of vision, which was as difficult to discern, as it was to enter. His only response, which his parents found most encouraging, was a mild trace of disgust that appeared in the very minimal and effortless contortion of his lower lip. The boy had perfected the art of unspoken disdain that served only to have his animated parents increase their efforts to engage him even further. Disdain was something they found unthinkable, and it was quickly, positively, reinterpreted as they reassured each other of the widespread inability of teenagers to be demonstrative with love. They’d made a pact that they’d never believe anything negative from their son and encouraged each other with humor saying, “The Teen Monster abducted Karl.”

“Karl,” said his dad leaning elbows on his knees, “Look at me! Look at your mother. Look at anything.”

“Honey,” his mother said mirroring her husband’s pose, “you know we love you.”

The onslaught of words and emotion struck Karl’s shield, ricocheted off the ceiling and caused a shift in Karl’s posture. This encouraged his parents and they moved nearer to their son. Now his dad’s elbows were on Karl’s knees and his face was but inches from Karl’s nose. His mother had left her chair and hung earnestly over Karl’s shoulder while he pushed himself further into the furniture.

“Look at this Karl,” said father noticing their closeness, “what more could you want?”

“You have caring parents,” she said.

“You are such a popular boy,” he affirmed.

“You are so good looking,” she chimed.

“You have such a nice voice,” said one of them.

They shot their practiced affirmations at him because it was their nature to do so and because they well knew that teens are said to want acceptance and encouragement. Karl’s lower lip registered discomfort. Brief intense shudders raced the length of his face as if he was in shock treatment. He pulled his legs up onto the chair and placed his head between his knees which they saw as a covert invitation to move closer. Dad eased his own legs under the chair in the space Karl’s legs had vacated. Mother reached across the boy so that her arms were enfolding him as she placed her ear onto the exposed crown of his head.

“Karl we are not like other parents,” his dad said.

“We are here for you, Honey,” she interjected.

“You are everything to us!” they blurted.

Karl had an entirely new sensation. Somehow he was able to see into his own eyes which turned into a far-off clear inviting ocean. His meek movements toward the ocean became a strong walk which broke into a steady and powerful run. By the time he’d reached the rolling surf, he’d shed his clothes and plunged into the breaking surf. He tore through the waves as they beat upon his torso throwing him briefly into a panic until he surfaced finally in the calm of the open sea. In some dark corner of another world and over some musty chair, his parents were locked, speechless and uncomfortable in a rigid embrace, darting tentative stares into each others eyes looking for boy named Karl.

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