Tuesday, March 16, 2010

158 days to Bar Mitzvah: in whose shoes?

There's a hidden challenge to spending your entire career as an underachiever. In addition to the sometimes overwhelming psychic load you carry around each day, you are also faced with much younger "peers." Your co-workers, unless they, too, have committed their lives to underachievement, are several years your junior. As you get older -- and fail to advance -- they get younger.

And what David Wooderson may love about those freshman girls -- that he gets older and they stay the same age -- doesn't apply to your co-workers when you hit middle age and they continue to be under 30.

It's not just that they're young; they're also at completely different places in their lives. They go out Monday; you go home and grapple with the stationary bike. They show up hungover. You went to bed after "Lost." On the rare occasions that you join them for a post-work happy hour, it's not enough for them to express surprise that you, at your advanced age involving wives and children (and Bar Mitzvahs), are trying to infiltrate their youthful circle; no, they're shocked because they've always assumed that you WERE NEVER YOUNG, don't know how it feels to embrace the freedom of youth and have followed along as some kind of anthropological, generational experiment. Or shown up for their amusement.

Eventually, you get old enough that it stops bothering you, but for about a decade, the need to remind them of the one crucial detail they've overlooked can be overwhelming: that you know exactly what it feels like to be them, but they have no idea what it feels like to be you.

So it is as the parent of a particularly transparent 12-year-old. Every day he wakes up convinced of the singularity of his life, his experiences and the way he translates input into action. Were I a less perceptive and more mature parent, this would be fine. He could blissfully carry his assumption through each day, going to bed as convinced as he was when he woke up.

But I'm not.

There are times -- to be specific, times that often occur between 7:40 and 7:55 a.m., Monday through Friday -- when his motivations are so crystal clear and his intentions so utterly frustrating and counterproductive, that I have to remind myself that blatantly belittling your own son is no way to start the work/school day.

So instead of pointing out to my Jawa that his exaggeratedly slow movements -- the laser-like focus it suddenly requires to tie his shoes, the sudden memory loss pertaining to the location of his toothbrush -- are quite obviously attempts to wrest control of the morning from me, the adult ("We'll get to school when I decide it's time to get to school, got it?"), I turn to time-honored exasperated parent methodology: I stand by the front door and yell, "Hurry up!"

See, because I know exactly what it feels like to be yelled at by a parent and how important it is to not only refuse to budge but to appear to be completely unconcerned, as if the yelling is not the result of anything I did, but instead has something to do with other, external forces far beyond my control.

Did I, at age twelve, only answer my yelling parent in distracted, barely above alpha wave tones? Sure, who didn't? Does the fact that I know that make it any less infuriating when the Jawa turns the tables on me? Of course not.

In fact, too much awareness, in this case, causes only guilt. Why can't I come up with anything better than to stand by the door and yell "Hurry up?" If I have this great understanding of the Jawa's motivations, why don't I display some empathy and not hassle him for doing something that is, according to Sandra Bullock and her library of parenting books, "completely normal?"

Because it's darn frustrating, that's why. I hate being late. I hate driving agressively and feeling like everyone else on the road is there for the express purpose of preventing us from getting to school on time. I hate standing there, powerless, as the Jawa -- and his carpool, who share his lack of concern about getting to school on time -- methodically, seemingly without a care in the world, determines whether or not we will arrive on time. After eight years at Brandeis Hillel Day School, and despite learning of a tribal propensity for something known as "Jewish Standard Time," I still hate being late.

Oh, and I'm not crazy about participating in generational power struggles before 8 a.m., either; especially during Daylight Savings Time.

Call it a blessing and a curse. Yes, I do know exactly how important it was to maintain an outwardly placid mien while absorbing a monsoon of parental bile. And I also remember how it suddenly became impossible to talk the moment we picked up my date to the ninth grade dance, Michelle Rach. That was one quiet car ride.

The big challenge, bigger than working with people several years your junior who dismiss you as old if you don't go out with them and question your commitment to the adult life they think you should be living by now if you do go out with them, is knowing when to lay down that particular trump card. You Jawa wants you to know that you understand his plight... except when he doesn't.


Butter Goats said...

"Mien". Good one. And if it weren't for the carpool, I'd let him be late to school and see what happens.

The Hammer said...

Hurumph. Tell Jawa to talk to his buddy, who has to awaken at 6, get out of bed by 6:30 and be out of the house by 7:15 to catch his 7:24 bus to school.