Monday, March 22, 2010

152 days to Bar Mitzvah: deja vu

One final note on the yarmulkes: 120 -- a heap -- arrived here last week. Not included among them was the Godzilla yarmulke. It arrived today, sent in an unassuming little cardboard box via regular mail. Somehow, it managed to cross the country (because where do kippot come from if not Brooklyn, New York?) without destroying any buildings, breathing fire out of its mouth or emerging from the ocean, waving its arms and roaring.

Lets get something straight: I understand why the Jawa's room is a mess, why his homework always ends up crumpled into a ball at the bottom of his backpack. I get why he finishes his test before everyone else and then doesn't use the time he has leftover to check his work.

If I were a self-made man, a savant whose obvious problems getting through every day were overshadowed by his genius, a savvy achiever whose gifts were a license to print money, I could yell at the child without restraint or guilt. Or perhaps I would let it all slide. I might be one of those guys who smiles ruefully, shakes his head, slyly winks and says, "Boys will be boys."

I spent most of last weekend angry at an email I got from work Friday night. In it, a very young sales coordinator assigned me a big piece of work whose atrocious timing was exceeded only by its ability to deliver a solar plexus punch reminding me that poor decisions and a lack of direction lead directly to bad Friday night emails from young sales coordinators.

I blasted off a couple of emails in response, but by now the work powers-that-be know to ignore my emails. "He'll complain, but he'll do it," they reason. "He has to. What's he going to do? Say 'no'?"

Friday night, while Sandra Bullock attended a jewelry party, I did crossword puzzle after crossword puzzle. Nothing worked. I was up until three. Saturday, I went to a black tie party sans black tie. Walking downtown with a few college friends, we passed a group of young, drunk idiots who decided to heckle us because we were dressed up. I decided that, on the eve of my 45th birthday, the right thing to do would be to get in their faces and ineffectually impersonate someone really intimidating.

Unsurprisingly, it didn't work. Eventually, they left anyway. "I hate guys like that," I growled. "Oh, they were just goofing around," said my friend Cameron, a social worker and foster parent.

By this morning, I was already shaking before I got to work. Which was pointless, because I knew that once I got there, I'd be doing whatever they wanted me to do anyway. A long list of reasons why a member of the editorial staff shouldn't have to write 1,000 words about a Ford dealer would have demonstrated nothing other than my ability to outline an argument.

So instead, I had to bomb through my regular stuff -- the articles I write every week for the Sunday real estate section -- while leaving enough time to write 1,000 words about Serramonte Ford. By the time I left work, I'd been writing for eight hours straight. Actually, it was seven-and-a-half. I could have started on the thing they assigned me later in the day, but I just didn't have it in me to add 500 words about an optometrist on top of all the other stuff.

This isn't a pity party for me. I'm over that. It's more about frustration -- and trying to undo all the things I did to get to this point in the first place while I still have time.

So if I could tell my Jawa in a way that would get him to listen, I'd tell him that the worst thing procrastinating, idling, doing things halfway and skating through life can get you is 40 hours every week of sales coordinators who have more control over your life than you do. I'm guessing, though, that the sooner he can eradicate all of my habits, the better chance he has of having some control of his Monday-through-Friday life down the line. Or at least getting his marching orders from people who are not young enough to be his child.

But it doesn't look like now the time for such lectures. Either that, or I am not yet skilled enough a motivator. I mean, you don't want to walk up to your kid and say, "Look, you watch yourself or you'll end up like me." I'm not a criminal. I've done no jail time. It's not like we're talking epic tragedy here.

Now is the time to let the rope unravel, I think, while hanging onto your end with all your might. To bite your lip and not say, "How on earth did a deck of playing cards end up splayed out all over your floor?" every time you walk past your child's room. Even though the urge to do so is great.

Tonight, as we were leaving our parent-teacher conference with the unflappable Christina Pak, she said to us, "You're good parents." We thanked her and went outside to our Jawa, who was sitting on a flight of stairs, huddled against the cool night air in his new plaid shorts and a t-shirt. Whenever we have parent-teacher conferences, my first action afterwards is to put my arm around the Jawa and hold his neck with my hand like my dad used to do with me. Whether I'm feeling proud, angry, worried or a combination of all three (as is usually the case), I do that.

Two hours later, I'm avoiding going near his room because he just asked me to help him clean it up and I know there's no way I can do that without turning into "nothing is good enough for me" dad.

Once when the Jawa was a toddler and I was enjoying one of my infrequent tastes of career direction, I went to a company picnic alone and watched a co-worker's young kid wobble around on a concrete sidewalk. "Man, if I was you right now," I told my co-worker, "I'd be standing about three inches behind him."

"Nah," the guy said back to me. "If he falls, it's okay. He'll get back up."

Is that what we're supposed to do now? Let missing homework and disastrous bedrooms take their own course? Like I said, it'd be easier to do if I didn't already know how that particular story turns out.

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