Jawas Caught in the Seam
I am now the parent of a ten-year-old boy, with plenty of time to reflect on that as the Jawa and I lounge about in the rubble of his birthday weekend.
Ten -- at least as defined by pop culture mores of 2007 -- is a strange age. I was reminded of this last week, when I ran out to do some supplemental birthday shopping. Gone, thankfully, are the $75 lumps of plastic that littered his bedroom from ages 2-8. But what takes their place?
The Jawa has been saving his virtual allowance (it exists as a column of numerals on a spreadsheet, available for withdrawal on demand) for months. At first, he was saving for his own movie camera. Then he moved on to an iPod. Now, with the birthday finally here, he's changed to a Nintendo Wii. What he needed from us, then, wasn't more Legos; he needed cash. Which, naturally and exhaustively, is something available in very short supply around here.
Even though he would be receiving a big fat check in his birthday card, I felt badly that the Jawa would have nothing to open on the actual day of his birthday, so I ran out to Borders and grabbed him a requested CD (Green Day) and a Yu-Gi-Oh book, then sidled over to the greeting card area.
The Green Day CD has Tipper Gore PMRC sticker on it, warning us of objectionable language and/or subject matter contained within. It's been several years since I heard the first of the Jawa's friends blow out some objectionable language while hanging from a rope at Rachel's gymnastics birthday party (and I'll never tell who it was). When I was in fourth grade, Chris Graham cranked out swear words with the best of them, and in fact, Barry Colmery and I were considered freaks because we refused to join in.
So frankly, I don't really care what comes flying out of their mouths, as long as the adults don't have to hear it. Controversial, yes, but that's my stand.
But what kind of card do you buy a 10-year-old, to accompany his Green Day CD and Yu-Gi-Oh graphic novel?
Seems like the "You're 10!" card with the picture of the little kid in a baseball uniform would be a relic of a simpler age. Likewise, however, the campy 1950s photo of a woman happily presenting a martini to her man strikes me as somewhat mature for a 10-year-old Jawa.
I settled on a card with a color photo of a goofy-looking dog. The dog was wearing a grille -- one of his teeth had a diamond embedded in it. Inside, the card said, "DOES THIS MAKE ME LOOK PHAT?" Hopefully, I struck the right balance of little boy and pre-teen.
Ten has become in-between, neither here (childhood) nor there (adolescence). I'm too old to remember if it was always like that.
I drew the short straw and got the car full of boys for the drive to Waterworld in Concord. Four of 'em -- The Shaman, the Jawa, Tony Hawk and cousin Count Burpalot --insisted that we listen to the new Green Day CD at maximum volume (adolescence), but self-censored the swearing when singing along to the songs (childhood). Much of their humor centered around the innate hilariousness that comes from having a penis (adolescence ... er, adulthood), and yet they all fell into a chastened silence when I told them that they MUST RESPECT people who are different from them, like, say gay people, who may not want "gay" to stand in as an adjective also meaning "stupid," "ridiculous," or "embarassing."
And Tony Hawk's dad won't let him bleach his hair white.
They are good jawas, caught in the seam that follows Tonka trucks and precedes "Dad, can I borrow the car?" We spent 6 hours at Waterworld, where only the Jawa was brave enough to go on the halfpipe ride and only Tony Hawk was brave enough to chat up the legions of 10-year-old girls also at the park. (Note to the Man About Town: your son is straight. And unlike the Shaman, who prefers to furtively check out the already-developed teenage babes as they stream by, Hawk lives in a world of reality; forget untouchable older women, man, there's a boatload of pre-adolescent babes out there, just waiting for you to glance over from your two-man raft and say, "And how are YOU doing?")
There were stretches where Sandra Bullock, Noodles' Mom and I would sit on our towels, aged, insignificant and ineligible, watching as the jawas wrestled with each other in the wave pool.
Four years ago, I realized with bittersweet clarity that I was no longer required to play a central role in playdates. Overnight, I'd gone from fun provider to caterer. Four years later, even that role is diminished. Now they just want money, so they can go buy their food themselves.
Fortunately, Holden Caulfield was right: there is no better job than to be the Catcher in the Rye. You stand on the perimeter of the action, making sure that no kid goes over the edge. They get to have their fun, take their chances, succeed or fail, knowing that if they get too close, we'll be there to scoop them up. I have no idea how long it will be before they take that responsibility from us, so I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts. Too bad it doesn't pay.