Saturday, June 09, 2007

Maple Syrup and Blueberry Shampoo

My Compaq Presario 1100 is dead. I thought I could outsmart Kevin and his Geek Squad friends by just plugging the thing in and pretending that everything was okay. I was wrong. Now I must depend on limited accesss to Sandra Bullock's spanking new Genentech HP laptop, or risk the wrath of the Jawa when I tell him that I will be moving his 7 year-old Dell desktop downstairs to the "office" (actually a corner of what used to be an illegal studio apartment and now functions as a low-ceilinged, unheated family room.)

Yesterday was Friday. For the first time in several months, the Jawa finished his breakfast then charged into the bedroom, where I was lying in bed, trying in vain to introduce myself to the day. "Stay here, Dad," he commanded. Then he ran into his room and returned with a hard-covered book about Bionicles. He jumped back into bed and slammed himself against me.

This is something we used to do every morning, until I realized that not only did it make waking up more difficult for me but also led to yelling at him when he refused to get out of bed at 7:20. Since it is a rare occurance in these pre-adolescent days, I let him stay.

He smelled like maple syrup and blueberry shampoo, and I'm sure it would embarass him to find out that I noticed that. He would have preferred to smell like motor oil and the remnants of a gigantic belch. He is almost 10 years old, and caught firmly in the hidden space between childhood and adolescence, constantly tilting the scales between equal parts little boy and teenager.

Not on Friday morning, however. It would be gross, I thought, to share a bed with a teenage boy, but it is still precious to share one with a 9-year-old. I lay there and watched him as he read. In profile, his cheeks still have the rounded edges of a toddler, though they have hollowed out plenty since his chipmunk-like infancy. His arms, I noticed, have little black hairs on them, miniature versions of the ones that cover my own arms, and noticable dark hairs lie above his upper lip, waiting to be shaved off on his bar mitzvah day. I hope they can last that long. There's nothing worse than an adolescent boy who waits too long to begin shaving. Me, I made it past my bar mitzvah, but just barely.

Today we snuck out at noon to buy birthday presents for Sandra Bullock, who was getting her hair cut. We combined as an efficient shopping force, unable to think creatively but good at marching down her birthday list and fulfilling her wishes. "We're going to go in, get our work done, and get out," I told him as I parked the car at the mall.

"No browsing," he said.

Then, to cement our relationship, I cued him with some lyrics from a Cut Chemist song we'd been listening to: "The robots are coming. When?" I said.

"When I get my big break," he answered, solemnly.

Ten minutes later, gift and cards in hand, we settled down in the food court for some Panda Express. He sat across from me in his stylized Godzilla t-shirt. dwarfed by the teenagers roaming all around him but now at least a peripheral part of their world.

Yesterday, I sat at a Starbucks with a few moms from school. After we established that we are all firmly in support of the Jewish state in Israel, we began talking about the challenges of our children as they enter pre-adolescence. "My daughter," said one mom, whose dutiful religious observance is contrasted by her colorfully profane vocabulary, "now walks to shul alone. It's two blocks."

"Wow," I said. "I'm way too paranoid for that."

"And I think soon we will take her and some friends to the mall, then tell them to meet us back here in a hour."

Flash forward to the food court, me watching my growing Jawa plow through some fried rice and pot stickers. "So, Jawa, do you think you'd be able to hang out here with some friends, and we'd be here too, only in another part of the mall?"

He thought about it, his already oversized eyes widening. "Really?" he said. Then, a few seconds later, "When I'm eleven. You can't do that until you're eleven."

I'm pretty sure that, when that time comes, I will be wearing a disguise and shadowing his every move, except for the 45 minutes when he and his friends disappear into EB Games.

It's a shame that we don't feel comfortable letting him roam the we we did as children. When I was 10, though, I lived in a town of 1200 people. We left home in the morning and returned when my mom rang the cowbell to tell us it was time for dinner. Different times. I hear they lived that way here as well. Not now.

Now I get scolded for letting our Jawa take Shack for a one-block solo stroll through the alleyway that runs behind our house. "You don't know who's hanging out back there," an alarmed S. Bullock reminded me. "Homeless guys, gang guys, who knows?"

She's right. The five minutes he was back there were very long. I leaned against a lamppost on the corner of our street, waiting, watching my neighbor prepare her 5 and 3 year olds for a (chaperoned) walk. As I stood there, outward calm hiding inner turmoil, I watched her sit her young son on her lap and put his shoes on. I'd completely forgotten about that, the little Jawa in my lap years ago, me trying to tie his little tiny Adidas as his legs flopped around.

It was right as I panicked and started sprinting up Diamond Street that the Jawa and Shack appeared around the corner. "Shack is a bad dog," said the Jawa, unperturbed. "He heard a dog bark and started running the other way. I had to put him back on the leash."

He's lucky to have that option. I'm finding that my leash on him is becoming more and more obsolete with each passing day. As we discussed at Starbucks, once you get past the "child as fashion accessory" stage, parenting involves letting go of that leash a little bit more each day.

On the plus side, this means that eventually someone else will have to listen to endlessly detailed explanations of ideas for the greatest roller coaster ever.

And now I must close, quickly, because that very same Jawa is making faces at me and demanding that I get off the computer by 4:30, because I've been on it for an hour and fifteen minutes.


Anonymous Noodles' Mom said...

I'm so glad you're back. We've all missed you. This past weekend, while attending a friends retirement weekend party, another family and ours spent the day at Seaworld. All our children are the same ages and get along. Lucky for us. At the Shamu show, the kids wanted to sit in the "splash zone", unlike the adults who had no desire to get soaked. My children hit a milestone in their overprotected lives when we let all the kids sit in the "splash zone" themselves. Pretty scary stuff, but unfortunately necessary in the process of becoming an adult.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous the hammer said...

So true. We're all gauging the limits of freedom, weighed with responsibiity. So different from our childhoods. Something to be said for learning how to navigate the streets. I'm guessing that it's even harder with an only child.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Yiddishe Kup said...

Believe me, I know all about the leash. Times are different, and all that. But someone recently told me that child abduction and whatever other ugliness we understandably worry about with our children is statistically no different from when we were kids. I don't personally have the stats to back it up. But if it's true, what does that say about our society today? Just wondering.

2:46 PM  
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