Q: What is the hardest substance on Earth?

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Excerpts from actual conversations with a teenager:

Teen: Hey mom….I want to show you something.

Me: Does it involve fire, explosives or any other kind of chemical reaction? Or knives, swords or other sharp objects?

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Teen: (Climbing out of the back of the van, carrying a bunch of stuff for a sleepover at a friend’s house) Bye, Mom!

Me: (Turning to look out window to wave good bye) Whoa, whoa, WHOA! HEY! Hold up! WHY are you carrying a chain saw?

Teen: Oh, it’s broken. We’re just going to fix it tonight.

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Me: Oh hey….you’re home early.

Teen: Yeah, my friend’s mom sent me home.

Me: What? Why?

Teen: Well, we were lighting some matches, and then spraying WD-40 on them. It was so awesome, because they made these HUGE flames. It was sooooooo cool. But his mom got mad, and told me I had to go home.

Me: <deepbreath> and <rubstemples>

In the early, exhausting, I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing days of parenting an infant, I remember feeling a certain sense of accomplishment at being able to keep this tiny, vulnerable, completely dependent being alive. The worry from SIDS, RSV, or choking on some unknown object that might be picked up from who-knows-where, and a whole host of other dangers seemed endless. Then toddlerhood arrived and proved to be no less worrisome. Physical ability combined with fearlessness combined with a brain that did not yet have the wherewithal to stop him from walking right off a cliff made for some very exhausting days. There was no rest for the weary at this age, and no letting down your guard, ever.

More than a decade beyond infancy and toddlerhood, and that feeling of accomplishment at just keeping him alive – not to mention, in possession of all limbs, digits, eyes, etc. —  has not exactly dissipated. With high school and driving and ever-increasing independence looming large on the horizon, I suspect it will continue to remain for quite a while. If time and experience have taught me anything, it’s very likely that our conversations will continue to surprise me.

If you haven’t already figured out the answer to the question in the title of this post…..

A: I tell you, there are days when I think scientists would be hard pressed to find a substance stronger than a mother’s nerves.

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