Breakable

I wasn’t aware of this until recently, but my children treat me like I’m old and frail – like my bones are made of glass and my internals pop like a soap bubble. I don’t remember doing this with my father, but then this may say more about me than my son. My dad always seemed fairly rugged. Mind you – and I think he’d admit this himself – he’s not what you’d call a physical specimen. Folks don’t walk down the street, look at my dad, and say: “that dude’s more likely to break me than get broken.” But if we were out playing catch and he fell, I wouldn’t rush to his side asking (worriedly), “are you ok?”

Two weeks ago I got out my old Aerobie. I dove for an errant throw, rolled through a fall, and slowly got up. Adam did the worried-rush over I described above. Incensed, I turned to him and said, “Adam, I’m not that fragile.”

Of course, much of this week my back and neck have been killing me, but surely that’s just coincidence.

Thinking thoughts while tired

Where do I begin?

Life is a kick in the ass. Sometimes it’s a kick you need or in hindsight, maybe even wanted. Other times it’s just a fucking kick.

Above all, life is exactly what your parents tell you it is: not fair. Some of us are kicked down, hard and often. Some of us get the kick we need, over and over, and never get the message. Some are fortunate not to need a kick of any kind. Others… well, it’s all we can do not to give them a kick ourselves.

You might want to give me one now, to see if it would shake some sense out of me or into this little post.

There are moments in life I desperately wish I could describe, something I think is a product of all that kicking – or being kicked. The best my feeble mind can come up with is emotional overload, though that’s not quite it either. It makes it sound bad, yet in many ways it’s the opposite. There’s the moment when you’ve spent 36 hours in the hospital with a loved one, watching them suffer, knowing there’s nothing you can really do – then your child is born. Once in a great while, there’s a moment towards the end of a special story when an author brings you to this place through the experience of his or her characters.

At these times I’m moved to tears which flow freely. For a brief moment I think I may understand the range and complexity of human emotion, in ways I thought I had before, but really only scratched the surface.

It passes but it leaves something behind. I feel raw but richer.

Adam saw me this evening after such a moment and I wasn’t sure what to say. I tried to reassure him nothing was wrong. I tried to explain some of what I’m telling you now. Two things occurred to me. One, that I’m not doing a very good job of describing anything; and two, that he may not be ready. He may not be ready for many years.

He needs to be kicked around more… live more life, wander the experience of others, and exercise those emotional muscles, hopefully building a strong sense of empathy.

Then, some years down the road, maybe I’ll be able to look back and know I have done my job as a parent right.

Maybe I’ll have another one of those tearful moments for myself.

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Shared experience

As we were leaving the stadium last night, bouncing along with the jubilant chants of: It’s GREAT to BE a Florida GATOR, I bent over and said into Adam’s ear, “you could go to a hundred more games and not see another one like this one.”

He didn’t hear me. I couldn’t hear myself.

“WHAT?”

“I SAID,” now yelling into his ear, “YOU COULD GO TO A HUNDRED MORE GAMES AND NOT SEE ONE LIKE THIS.”

His big smile told me what I’ve known a time or two myself. So what? This is awesome right now! This almost eleven year old boy pumped his fist in the air, chanting along with the crowd in the tunnel leading out of the stadium.

It’s GREAT to BE a Florida GATOR!

I’m hours removed but the electricity of that moment still gives me chills. If the past is a guide, it will for a long time.

There are moments in life that seem hard-wired into your brain. Life’s current passes through and the moment is reborn – the sights, sounds, smells, feelings… even the monumental headache you had – it all comes rushing back. Yesterday evening might have been pretty normal for you, but I was having one of those rewiring moments.

Cheryl and I took Adam to see the Gators play Tennessee yesterday evening. For those of you who may not already know, it was a college football game.

Yes, I know. It seems a bit shallow to attribute so much meaning to a violent game. I generally accept that it is just a game, except when it’s not. When you’re there, you’re a small part of ninety thousand loosely connected souls, pooling their collective hope, fear, elation, and despair. My sense of connection to a place of unique significance in my life tangled among these shared emotions. Before the game we walked around campus, soaking in the game day atmosphere and memories. We walked down paths last walked when Cheryl and I were two kids newly in love, living on our own for the first time in our lives.

We watched the band warming up in groups by Turlington Hall and around the music building. We weaved around the tailgaters who had taken over campus. We did it as adults, all the more special because we were making new memories with our son.

The game was a classic. Down by what seemed like too many points at the end of three quarters, we thought about leaving. It had been a hot afternoon, thunderstorms looked to be heading our way, and I had that headache. But we stayed. We saw the Gators win by one as the clock expired. Hope grew from a string of unlikely plays and some good fortune. As low as the crowd was with about seven minutes left, it was electric the rest of the way. We flipped between hope, elation, disappointment, and back again (in those seven minutes) more times than I might in several months. I forgot about my headache for a little while.

When another desperation play on fourth and long turned into the go ahead score with a minute left, the crowd lost its mind like few times I can remember. Strangers yelled, high-fived technically high-tens (with two hands), and hugged. Jumping and screaming ourselves horse, Adam I and I turned to high-ten. We exchanged some skin on our palms several times until I remembered I’m twice as tall as Adam, and he might not appreciate the pile driving I was giving him sometime later. We hugged and jumped with the crowd, using free hands to keep slapping strangers around us in the mindless celebration. When UT missed the second of two long field goal tries by inches (the second only possible because UF called time out right before the first – much to the crowd’s dread), we did it all again.

It’s just a game, except when it’s not.

We were all still awake late last night. Adam and I made crowd noises at each other, stopped, and just grinned. Yep, the chills were still there. They may be for a long time. Doing it with my kid, treating him to the same (shared) experience made it a hundred times better.

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Waiting in the car line

I’ve been picking Adam up after school for the last six weeks, give or take a few days. Before that, Beth was picking him up when he got out. They both go to private schools, but Beth was only doing half days. Her school didn’t offer all of the classes she wanted/needed, so she got out early to take her remaining courses online. She had a car and her online courses were pretty flexible, so she could save us money by picking up Adam when he got out of school a little later. She was more than willing to make this sacrifice if there was a little something in it for her – like a car. (Yes, aftercare is that expensive.)

Beth started riding the train to school (which opened after we moved here) after the accident, so it meant Adam had to go to aftercare until I got off work.

If none of this sounds particularly interesting, that’s because it isn’t, but here’s where it gets fun.

I was picking up Adam the other day, and although he was standing right in front of me, they couldn’t find him. They weren’t physically looking for him, they were trying to find him in the books so I could sign him out.

“Why don’t I have Adam on my list?” One woman asked.

“Well, he came over from the car line and…” I stopped listening.

Me: “Adam, I’ve been picking you up for weeks now. You knew no one was coming right after school, so why would you wait in the car line?”

I was sure I was going to hear about someone picking on him in aftercare. I could feel it coming. I was ready to go through all of the emotions. I might have even turned towards the woman looking through her books, assuming they were giving her some cover for what she knew was coming too.

Adam (in a hushed tone): “Can I tell you in the car?”

Something was up. I knew it. I shrugged my shoulders, signed him out, and we left.

Me: “Okay, let me have it.”

Adam: “Well, I knew they were charging by the hour and I figured if I waited in the car line for thirty minutes every day it would save you and mom some money.”

You’ve been waiting in the car line every day?

“Yes.”

No is making you, are they?

“No, why would they?”

No one is picking on you in aftercare?

“No.”

You’re just waiting in line. Every day. Even though you know you don’t have to, because you chose to… to save money?

“Yes, why? Is that bad?”

No, I don’t think so. It’s just… unexpected.

So Adam is working the angles of fourth grade, to save a few bucks.

The stone! Give me the stone!

The set-up:
My boy Adam and I were driving home after a haircut this weekend. We were listening to the radio but only one of us was paying close attention.

The conversation:
“I wish I had my notepad.”

Why do you say that Adam?

“Because I want to write something down.”

That’s my boy!

“What?”

Nothing. What do you want to write down?

“That commercial that was just on…”

Commercial?

“Yeah. Something Stone.. learning languages?”

Rosetta Stone?

“That’s it. Rosetta Stone.”

Why do you want Rosetta Stone?

As my mind turns:
He’s been taking Spanish in school, so I was impressed he was interested enough to learn it on his own time. **I think it’s great he wants to learn other languages, and I’d like to encourage him somehow. However, we’re not in a position to trade a few months of the family’s room and board for The Rosetta Stone Experience.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:
“I’ve been having trouble learning French.”

A popular caffeinated beverage burns through my sinuses…
French?

“Yeah, why?”

I don’t know… how long have you been learning French?

He pauses for about fifteen seconds – ’twas very dramatic…
“I guess since Kindergarten.”

He hasn’t really, but he has been exposed to it by his grandparents.

Later that same day I got a call from my sister (who had been looking at lists and was out Christmas shopping), asking if Beth still wanted to learn Italian.

Italian? I’ll say this: whatever Rosetta Stone is spending on marketing , I’ll bet it’s worth it.

**Please note: I’m not really complaining. To borrow some humor from a GEICO commercial… my kids’ interest in learning and languages in particular makes me happier than a slinky on an escalator. The mock outrage here is simply an attempt at humor when I’m feeling humorless. I’m trying to kickstart a good mood.

Adam’s got wheels

Adam has two speeds: sprinting as if for his life and “this is as good a place as any to lie down and die.”

I asked him yesterday on our evening skate: “Why do you have to go so fast Adam? You’re not afraid of me are you?” He didn’t answer. He didn’t have enough air in his lungs for speech.

I think it’s his way of competing and I hate to admit – winning. Is this what I get for not letting him win? I’ve always tried to be a good sport. Do I deserve this very public, very physical humiliation?

Picture me: six-one, a hair on the wrong side of 200#, sweating like an ice cold bottle of water on a hot summer afternoon (that’s sprung a leak). I’ve barely got the O2 reserves myself for language, Adam’s half a block ahead of me, and a neighbor is standing in his driveway taking in the scene.

The neighbor chuckles as I pass with a mocking grin. “He’s a quick little guy, isn’t he?”

I briefly consider a comment about his fitness level but restraint wins out. I’m having too much fun.

Instead I make my strides longer… wider… my center lower. Weight lingers a little longer on each leg, giving my push-off skate a little more bite.

Game on little guy!

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No complaints

Woo hoo! That’s a good one! Just because I’m not going to use this post to whine doesn’t mean I’ve got no complaints.

I promise you though – I won’t go there today. Today I want to cheer myself up as much as anything.

I do this with full knowledge of the consequences: this will be a boring post. Ask the news director at your local television station. Misery, desperation and destruction sells! You show me a local news program that leads with a story about a local kid’s puppy finding his way home to Kansas, after being dog-napped in Kalamazoo, and I’ll show you a local news director who doesn’t care about being employed.

I won’t be discussing puppies or their heroism, but I will be discussing kids – mine in fact. Both seem to be blossoming this year in school, and not just academically.

Beth took a test last spring to determine which materials the school would order for her this year. She’s in ninth grade, for those of you keeping score. It’s traditionally known as the first year of high school ’round these parts. It’s the freshman year, or the year of feeling REALLY young. You may recall she attends a small private school due the social problems she had in public school, attributed to high functioning Autism (or Aspergers). The classes are small, have mixed grades, and are self paced – thus the need for personalized materials. We learned how she did on the test in August.

Beth essentially tested out of high school before she started. As a result (in part), she got involved in some extra curricular activities to keep school interesting this year. She decided she’d like to work on the yearbook. The teacher who oversees the group said she’d be assigned tasks according to her strengths. If you know Beth you know she wasn’t satisfied with such an open ended statement. So she pressed. “Oh, we’ll probably have you doing a bit of everything.” She was recently asked to attend a sports event to take photographs. She thought it was the coolest thing since the penguin experience at Sea World.

She’s been volunteering at the YMCA one day a week and attending drama club another. (Like we need more drama in our lives.) This spring she’ll be taking the entrance exams necessary to take dual enrollment courses at a local college starting next year.

Discussions at home have been filled with university degree programs and the prerequisites she’ll start taking next year. It seems like just last year she was in middle school and now we’re talking about her starting college.

They grow up fast!

Meanwhile Adam’s been coming home with tests for me to sign, and I can’t recall the last one I saw with a wrong answer. He’s been an information sponge that never seems to fully saturate.

He joined Cub Scouts this year – something I’m not completely happy about. He desperately wanted to join and I wasn’t sure how to explain discrimination based on sexual preference to my precious, sweet little boy. I know it can’t last forever, but the loss of childhood innocence is a door you can’t close – and I don’t want to open it yet – not if I can help it. He’s smart enough to know not everyone is perfect, and the world as a whole is similarly flawed. But living out in it gives us a deeper knowledge I can’t bring myself to share. However, the emphasis on community service complements his kind soul, and he’s having a great time.

Maybe the best thing is they both still want to spend time with their dad. Adam still pines for “a catch,” the American ritual of father and son throwing a baseball across the back yard. When I think about it (and sometimes I think about things far too much), I’m awestruck that such a simple thing as a baseball passed back and forth can seem so important. It’s almost as if it’s a bonding ritual written into our DNA, designed to be hard wired into the areas of the brain where love, nurturing, and long term memories reside.

I remember dismissing such things as a parent in waiting.

Were we all such fools when we were young?

Beth still seeks my opinion on a wide range of issues and accomplishments. Apparently she still thinks I know things. Were we all such fools when we were young ;-) She is a teenager, isn’t she? Doesn’t she know parents stop knowing things when their kids reach thirteen?

If Cheryl didn’t intervene with trivial matters like, “Beth, you need to get some sleep tonight,” or “Beth, the house is on fire, you really should get out,” we’d talk for hours. The only thing larger than my self-doubt is her curiosity and confidence in my words. Recently she wanted to know if she should be afraid about overpopulation and diminishing world resources. That was an especially long conversation, meandering between light topics like the environment, climate change, and population dynamics across the social-economic spectrum.

Long story short: I’m happy to report the kids are more than fine. They’re pretty great.

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This one’s gonna be trouble

I know. It’s hard to believe for some of you, but Adam does get into trouble. This evening I had to take Adam’s TV privileges away. That’s what we parents like to say. I had to take the little devil’s TV. He had it coming and I had to deliver. Parents are like the post office that way. Neither tears nor sympathy nor full throttle tantrum shall keep us from our appointed role.

Saying I “had to do it,” is anesthesia for the conscience.

I take that back. Saying is not believing. You have to believe it. Your sanity depends on it.

Anyhoo, I took his TV away.

Adam apparently is an attorney in waiting. He’s following the letter of my ruling – if not the spirit.

He’s watching Netflix on his iPod.

Firsts

Today is the first day of school. Adam and Beth got out the uniforms this morning for the first time in almost three months, and started a new chapter in their lives.

For Adam, it’s first grade. These days the jump from kindergarten to first grade isn’t much different from first to second. The era of standardized testing and school “accountability” has leached most of the fun from learning, as schools standardize curriculums, and reduce every moment between bells to drill English and math into childrens’ heads with the subtlety of a jack-hammer.

It’s why Adam is in private school, although his school isn’t immune to the pressure to kickstart the academics early. Private schools aren’t “accountable” the way public schools are. Florida’s ultra-conservative state government says it’s because private schools are held to an even higher standard: “the free market.” Oh the irony! Private schools lack the woeful standards of “accountability” of public schools, allowing them to devote more time to a rounded education. They can dabble in frivolous things like music, art, and the study of foreign languages and cultures – all the things I got from my public education in Florida before the “accountability movement” started.

Heaven fucking forbid.

Beth starts high school today, though she too will remain at the same, private school she attended last year. As you may recall, our hand was forced when it became clear “accountability” didn’t apply to kids with Aspergers.

I didn’t mean to begin this post with a rant about the school system. It just kind of happened. I guess I still have unresolved issues.

What I really wanted to say is I’m really proud of my kids.

Beth has her first interview today. She’s starting ninth grade, so we were a little leery of her working in her spare time. However, it’s not about money. Beth wants to volunteer at the YMCA, watching the little kids after school and working the front desk.

How could I say no to that? I’m a little worried. Social skills are not her strong point, but if this works out it could be a great experience for her.

Here’s what warmed my heart: she came up with this on her own. While we were there working out one day, she sought out the director, spoke to him, and came home with an application – without any prompting from us. Hell, we didn’t even know she could volunteer at her age.

Lots of kids have good hearts and take initiative to do good things. What surprises me is I’ve brought up one of those kids.

No, she isn’t working to solve the problem of world hunger, but she is willingly giving her time to do something she enjoys – helping other people.

Proud doesn’t begin to explain how I feel. Pretty damn lucky comes close.

That girl

I was working out at the Y this evening and Adam was spending the time in the play room.

It’s a really big room. I thought you should know that, I don’t know why.

I went to pick him up afterwards and he came storming out breathless, exclaiming “Man! There was this girl in there who was a beast and she was chasing me like I was her favorite food!”

I laughed. He didn’t seem injured in any way, either mentally or physically, so I think it was defensible.

Adam didn’t didn’t share my view on the subject.