there comes that time in every parent’s life when you realize the light switch of awareness and maturity has been switched on in your child. you hope it is the result of years of firm and steady guidance and the unwavering wisdom you have imparted on your progeny. most likely though, it is because a surge of hormones has short-circuited the acetyl cholinesterase pathway and all the cerebral synapses are misfiring.
i think i had that moment this morning. the golden child is almost 16 and while he is subjected to a “mom in maine and dad in minnesota” frequent flier lifestyle, both his mother and father recognize that parental “spoilage” has left him in a very much altricial state. think: velcro shoe wraps because the lace-tying lessons didn’t take very well.
as his father, i am eager to watch the self-dependence and confidence of maturity override the rest of the chemical and emotional detours being flung his way. for the most part though, i have been sorely disappointed. i mean, i distinctly remember when i was his age being completely together; volunteering at soup kitchens, rubbing my parents’ feet when they returned from the coal mine, and generally, knowing what i wanted to do in life because 16 was when that “event” was supposed to happen.
okay…i’m still waiting.
truth be told, i am a highly immature adult male and accordingly, have set the bar very low for my son. i’m pretty sure he can hop over it without even bending his knees.
still, transposing my life onto his has been frustrating. i long to see glimmers of recognition; of self-motivation on those days i go to work and purposely don’t leave a “task list” with the hope he’ll just “figure it out.”
initiative. élan. zeal. ambition. wherewithal. mojo. inspiration. resolve.
i have intended to teach my boy how to cook all summer, but his curiosity is not tweaked unless it is by a frozen tombstone pizza wrapper, or a “20 pack” of frozen taquitos. last sunday, i asked him to watch me make an omelet, with the expressed intent of him making one for his mother, once he returns to his north yarmouth gulag.
“i know how to cook”.
“how do you crack an egg?”
dad smugly thinks to himself “game. set. match.”
there is no hope. not a glimmer of gloaming light.
but then this morning, it wasn’t the imploring father trying to teach culinary 101, it was the son recognizing how, in the challenges of life he will surely face, he was not yet capable of getting off the shore bus.
“dad, will you teach me how to make toast?”
now as an aside, i am currently reading “the iowa baseball confedracy” the story by w.p. kinsella which served as a crime scene sketch for the kevin costner movie “field of dreams.” of course, i am “reading book” but “thinking movie” the whole time and that one scene where, in the middle of the manicured field, kevin costner asks his paternal apparition “hey dad, wanna have a catch?” still makes me cry and i am a goddamn hunky, burly kind of man.
so okay, back to breakfast…i pull apart a whole grain english muffin and stick both halves into their respective toaster slots. nikky is paying close attention.
“then, you push down this lever until it stays down…feel the heat?” i ask as i wave my palm over the toaster.
“the toaster is on.”
we wait. i get the butter and jam, then pop the lever. the muffins are golden brown.
“make sure you don’t stick a fork or anything in here because you’ll get a shock. instead, just pry up the lever, grab a muffin, apply butter and jam, and you have a breakfast.”
okay, a shitty, hurry-up breakfast but when your sole purpose in life is to feed the hollow abyss that is your son’s stomach, it’s a start.
i called his mother and told him about our latest family “event” and she laughed because it is so laughable…but also so innocent and sweet and encouraging and it makes you want to watch the disney channel with a mug of hot chocolate while wearing pajamas with feet.
and that made me think that when nikolai has his “build it and they will come” moment. i will appear out of the head-high field of corn (feeder lot corn, not sweet corn) and run up towards an energy-efficient kitchen. at first he won’t recognize me because since i died, i’ve been working out really hard and lost a lot of weight because the saunas where i ended up are fucking awesome.
but when he recognizes me, all his past will come roiling towards his present and he will recognize the lessons taught and those he avoided and that most of all: all those times when he should have listened and learned.
he’ll wipe a tear from his eye and ask, “hey dad, wanna have a toast?”
it’ll be the best toast ever.