Monday, March 8, 2010

166 days to Bar Mitzvah: five-minute warning

Sometimes, you have days like this, where an incident lasting a total of five minutes completely changes the complexion of your day, changing it from "passable" to "horrendous." Sometimes, the five-minute incident occurs at the hands of your Jawa. Often it happens on days where said Jawa had no school and therefore woke up at 7:30 a.m., parked himself in front of his computer and stayed there until you returned home from work at 5:30.

To be fair, you get me at 5:30 on a Monday, you're not getting me at my best. Eight-plus hours of being reminded what screwing around in your twenties can lead to, career-wise, doesn't put you in the best frame of mind. Over the weekend, perhaps you forgot the realities of your professional situation, so added to the chronic low-level ache of underacheivement is the element of surprise, believe it or not.

Add to this the usual battle to get home, dodging hipsters dragging their bicycles onto BART despite the many posted signs telling them not to, using skills that would be quite at home in the paint on an NBA court as you box out all the people attempting to cut in line, inhabiting as little space as possible once on the train, so as to minimize the number of elbows, messenger bags and purses that will poke you every time the train moves, completely disrupting whatever crossword puzzle or solitaire game you are working on.

And then exit BART and walk uphill three blocks to get home. Not so uphill as to make the heart pump wildly and thus qualify as exercise; just enough, though, to guarantee that you will spend your first five minutes at home wiping buckets of sweat from your balding dome.

It is this tableau that I carry with me each day when I return home. Today, I wanted to get inside, offload my bag, my enormous coat, my hat and quickly change into workout clothes. Downstairs, the new stationary bike awaited.

So call me nitpicky (or more accurately, call me the second coming of Gerald L. Rosen, whose unpredictable, cluttered house-fueled eruptions remain the holy benchmark of effectiveness and unexpected humor to which I aspire) when I react to entering a home pockmarked by randomly-placed items -- a glass on the coffee table, some kind of wrapper on the kitchen counter, an empty macaroni and cheese box on the island -- and immediately plunge into a bad mood.

The poor Jawa. Completely oblivious to his sins (and that's part of the problem), he cheerily called out to me upon hearing the front door open and close. Alas, his mood would soon darken. Caught off-guard for the zillionth time by my insistance that he clean up after himself, he sifted through the rubble of his bedroom and sprinted out to the living room, where he quickly picked up the glass, the wrapper and the macaroni and cheese box, raising his degree of difficulty by simultaneously carrying on a non-stop commentary about how he DID put away various other items, including the plate he used to eat his macaroni and cheese.

You've got to be kidding me, right?

Unfortunately, Sandra Bullock was about ten minutes out, so I had to go it alone, without the help of the parenting book she's been reading, and quoting to me every night as we lie in bed. With no parenting book advice to lean on, I had only my wits at my disposal. Once again, they proved inadequate.

The whole thing lasted five minutes. By the time S. Bullock arrived home, I was already downstairs on the stationary bike, pedaling away my frustrations, listening with something approaching amusement as the Jawa stomped around upstairs, forced against his will to clean his room.

A few minutes in, I began to hear high-pitched outbursts coming from upstairs. This could only mean one thing: Sandra Bullock had picked up right where I'd left off. The one-two combination had worn the Jawa's defenses completely away, so now he was yelling incoherently at his mother, who responded by taking Shack for a walk. I heard the front door close, and then, silence.

In the middle of it, I heard someone slam the basement door. It locks from the outside, and I figured the odds were even that the Jawa had locked me in. Given all that he had endured after what had probably been a nice, hassle-free day, I thought I'd give him that. He could lock me in. If it made him feel like he had a little bit of power in this struggle, then the minute or so I would have to stand there in the dark, knocking on the door until someone opened it, would be worth it.

As it turned out, he had not locked it. The mere act of slamming the door had met whatever need he had. By the time I came upstairs, 45 minutes later, all was serene and agreeable in my house. Until dinner, when we reminded the Jawa that he needed to complete his Bar Mitzvah study requirements for the day before returning to the movie he'd been watching.

That earned us a re-run of the scene from an hour before.

Right now, it is almost nine o'clock. Two-thirds of my family is watching "Lord of the Rings," Bar Mitzvah requirements long since met, minus any drama. Unsurprisingly, the Jawa is enthralled by "Lord of the Rings," which I chalk up to the devious influence of his mother, as enthusiastic a follower of fantasy and science fiction as I am of drab realism.

I can't help but feel that we are simply in-between Jawa blow-ups, as it appears the teenage years include a marked tendancy to fight passionately for one's rights, even when logic and reason would suggest a different path.

It was only five minutes out of my day; ten, if you count the sarcastic dinnertime battle, but I'm not as good as sloughing off these battles as the rest of my family. I required a couple of hours alone in order to reset.

Twenty years ago, when I was a single guy out in the world, I dated a few girls who had the ability to ruin my day like noone every before or since. One of the earliest "go" signs I got from Sandra Bullock came when I realized that she couldn't -- or wouldn't -- do that. So then you have a Jawa who brings back the possibility of having five minutes ruin your whole day, but you grin and bear it because it's not like with those girls where it was battling egos looking to get ahead and you didn't sign up for it so when the going gets tough, you bail.

When it's your Jawa, it's EXACTLY what you signed up for, so there's not much you can do, other than file it away, try to learn from it and hope the next time you'll do better. Because that's your job, and if it costs you a few bad days here and there, well, that's just too bad.

Besides, it takes so little for a Jawa to turn your day into a good day, often even less than five minutes, that in the end you come out way ahead.

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