Jawas, Report Cards, Jenny from the Block, Sportswriters
And then how about you have a day that begins with your Jawa forgetting several important school-related items and ends with you standing outside a bar, telling a guy you barely know about the first time you realized you'd step in front of a bullet for that very same Jawa?
And then all the stuff in-between.
I swear to you, my Jawa -- much like myself -- would forget his head if it were not attached to his body. As much as I nag him every morning, I have to believe that without my input he would arrive at school each Monday thru Friday shoeless, minus his lunch and backpack, and then blaming me for their absence. This morning, despite a series of subtle and not-so-subtle reminders from Sandra Bullock, we managed to get to school without his book report "creative project." Worse yet, we would not have come within several hundred miles of remembering that had he not also forgotten his lunch.
The lunch worked my last nerve, because I'd set it on the counter at 7:15, only to have him realize, with much drama and finger-pointing, at 8:11, that he'd forgotten to attach it to his backpack via the very convenient little hook thing. The lunch stayed home, and I got blamed. "I hope you're happy that I'll be going hungry ... DAD," he said. I was not buying it. "Well," I said, "I'll do my best to get it here by lunch," pause, wait, wait, then lay the hammer down: "BUT I HAVE A VERY BUSY DAY TODAY."
Pulling away with much sadistic satisfaction, until I hear a distant DAD! DAD!
We forgot the freaking creative project. There goes my workout. I get back to school, drop the thing off to much oohing and aahing among the 4th grade regulars, including, I noticed, some sincere interest from the Jawa's arch-enemy. Good to see that. Nice that the Jawa gets a little pub for his creative project, though I have to wonder if he, like former Oakland Raider Randy Moss, really deserves it.
From there I go on to complete my day, which really was more busy than normal, and cross your fingers that all the copying I did at Kinko's eventually pays off in the form of some nice, lucrative assignments from the editor of "San Francisco" magazine.
And then the report card came.
I don't want to appear a 1980s yuppie parent, hyper-focused on my child's grades. This is San Francisco, of course, and such concerns are considered not only hopelessly bourgeouis (sp?), but also somehow barberic. And yet. The child, like his father years before, receives a report card best summed up as "fine." Are we raising a "fine" child? Is the child capable of more than "fine?"
Less charitably, are we paying $19,000 we cannot afford for "fine?" And what about that 3 (kind of like a C, only in non-judgemental 21st-century San Francisco private school-speak) in handwriting? Are the much-loved (by child and father; I love the hour to do my crossword puzzles while he is in class) Occupational Therapy (OT) classes not paying off?
Once again, I am faced with a parental puzzle I am not able to solve. Nine years in and I still have no idea how to motivate my obviously gifted (to me, at least, plus the teacher from the Nueva School who gave him the IQ test) Jawa. I try to harangue him, only to find that the first pause in my monologue draws from him not guilt, not contrition, but instead a very complex observation about Yu-Gi-Oh, which is not what I'd hoped to get in return. Obviously, the harangue is bouncing off his tough outer shell, then ricocheting back at me. It is having no effect.
I try threats. At one point, after getting no response, I look back at him (we are driving to OT as this happens). His eyes are closed. He is asleep.
But I can tell that, on some level, he is engaged. He's not happy to be on the receiving end of all this, but he is at least present. When he is awake, at least.
Several hours later I recited my ritual parental code, as I see it: "If you care at all about parenting," I told my rapt audience of one, outside the bar, "you constantly feel like you are failing."
And so it was that I pulled into a parking spot outside the coffee place we go each Tuesday. The Jawa and I ease into OT with an hour of chess. He eats a cookie. Usually. Today, I ate the cookie, because he didn't like it and I can't stick to a diet and thus will weigh at least 200 lbs. from this point forward.
I'll readily admit that I was at a loss at how to let my Jawa know that a "fine" report card was not really "fine", and I apologize to everyone who took the time to write books insisting that what I said next was wrong, but you can't fault my honesty.
"Every dad wants his son to be better than he was," I said to my Jawa. "You'd have to have a huge ego to not want that." He agreed. "And the thing is, I'm worried that you'll end up like me -- a smart guy who's pretty disgusted with the way he let things turn out."
I know. I'm supposed to be a good example, not a cautionary tale. But I was at wit's end, and frankly, I'm a pretty darn good cautionary tale. So I let fly. Whether or not this had or will have any kind of positive impact I do not know. I do know, however, that once I told him this any kind of anger I had at him evaporated, immediately replaced with an overwhelming urge to hold him in my arms and protect him from whatever ill will -- be it classroom bullies, errant gangster bullets, evil, manipulative women and every unreasonably demanding boss his future might hold -- might come his way. Instead, we played chess.
I beat him, as usual. I can't let him win, because I want it to mean something every time he beats me.
Flash forward several hours, because I'm boring myself by recounting every spare minute of my day. My Jawa, who has returned to driving me crazy, insists that it would most definitely be MY FAULT if Shack destroys his Star Wars miniatures set up on the living room floor, and then states that there is NO WAY he will EVER use the Ivory soap I've bought by mistake. He will simply be dirty, he says. I tell him, accurately, that he is being unreasonable, which has about as much impact as if I had spit directly into gale force winds.
Now we switch the setting to the local bar. Jenny from the Block and I have chosen this venue for our meeting with a successful local lawyer, the man we hope will take over our roles as Chairs for the Bookfair. Eventually, I run into this guy I sort of know. He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, covering high school sports. Since my meeting with Jenny from the Block and the successful local lawyer has ended, I hang out with the sportswriter. He has a 14 month-old son.
At 11:30, our evening ends. We stand outside the bar, as sometimes happens, especially, it seems, when you've had a surprisingly good time hanging out with someone you hardly know. There is so much to talk about. And he's a young guy, and I've been feeling lately like a tired old parent, so he asks questions and I answer. I share with him the travails of later-childhood parenting. "Your kid stops being an accessory," I say. "And you can't be cool. You just try to keep up."
You could say that my child has put me through the wringer today, or you could say that it is just another day of being some kid's parent, and that I got off pretty easily because Sandra Bullock did the dishes and let me watch a basketball game, then dealt with the sometimes nightmare of convincing our Jawa to go to be at 8:30 while I sat in a bar and had a good time. You could say that the non-quantitative benefits of being the Jawa's dad were obvious as we walked up 6th Avenue, when I put my hand around his neck, like my dad used to do to me. "That's kind of weird," said the Jawa, so I took my hand from around his neck and put it between his shoulders. He's a skinny kid, so he has a clearly defined ridge between his shoulders.
"I like that better," he said, leaning into me. "That's our way."
Here's what I told that sportswriter, after I asked him if he could remember the exact moment he realized he'd take a bullet for his Jawa: when my Jawa was about a year old, we went to watch Sandra Bullock play in a soccer game. The game (unsurprisngly) wasn't holding my interest, so I tossed the infant Jawa into his stroller and went for a walk.
The neighborhood wasn't the best. We turned a corner to find a drunk guy lurching up the sidewalk toward us. This guy seemed harmless, but what if he wasn't? What would I do? I wasn't sure, but I knew this much: whatever that guy did, I'd spend my last breath making sure he couldn't get to my Jawa, because what's the point of being taking a last breath if you can't use it to protect your Jawa?