Wednesday, June 30, 2010

52 days to Bar Mitzvah: perchance to dream

At the risk of sounding like the kind of prehistoric father almost universally shunned in San Francisco, I had a moment today while at 24 Hour Fitness, sitting in the steam room while the Jawa -- without any prodding from me -- swam laps in the nearby lap pool.

As predicted, by the time we woke up this morning, my almost 13-year-old son had lost what hittle enthusiasm he'd had yesterday for our trip to 24 Hour Fitness. "What? We have to go now?" he thundered when I appeared before him clad in my workout gear.

"Half-hour," I said.

"Give me an hour."

"Fine." Personally, I like to get the workout done first thing. That way, you're set for the rest of the day. Even if you have a huge lunch, waddle home and collapse on your bed, you can still say, "At least I went to the gym this morning." Life being divided into "Days I Went to the Gym" and "Days I Sat Around and Did Nothing," that was a good day. Calories were burned.

Today, due to an ambivalent Jawa, we got to the Ocean Avenue 24 Hour Fitness at 11, way too close to lunchtime, when the gym population swells to double the size it had been an hour earlier. Still, I was feeling very father-son as we trudged into the gym wearing our backpacks, paid our guest fee and walked through the gym to the locker room.

In fact, the whole thing was very father-son. While Ocean Avenue is not my 24 Hour Fitness of choice, it was very apparent that I was welcoming him into a world that had until now been mine alone. It's not a particularly grown-up world, or a World of Men. It's not a barbershop, or the Van Westerhout Cittidini Molesi Social Club, but it's someplace I went that neither he nor his mother had ever been.

I tried to imagine how he was seeing things, perhaps giving him credit for being interested in something other than his iPod and this month's Lego magazine. If today turns out to be the only time he joins me at the gym, it will be sad for many reasons, but none stands out as much as the fact that if we never again log 25 minutes of cardio on neighboring ellipticals, it'll mean today was the only day I ever saw someone reading a Lego magazine while doing cardio.

What did he think of the locker room, one of my least favorite places on earth? It was hard to tell, because he'd adopted the teenage "it's no big deal and I'm totally taking it in stride" self-protection attitude that would be annoying if it weren't so obvious the minute we'd walked in. Instead of staring around the locker room, wide-eyed, he took on an overtly casual air, tensing up only when it became obvious that I was going to have to help him with his combination lock. He'd been turning it to the left instead of to the right.

Recovery was quick. He sauntered out of the lockerrom and into the gym. After a few tense minutes, we found two open ellipticals next to each other. Cardio wasn't his thing. He seemed to be trying to determine how slowly one can move without having the machine go to "pause" setting. If not for a "Family Guy" episode on his iPod (and the Lego magazine), he wouldn't have made it five minutes.

I've never seen anyone move that slowly on a piece of cardio equipment, but then, I've never worked out at the gym at Sun City West, either. From what I hear, there's some glacial movement going on there, too.

I should have figured; a teenage boy. Would he be interested in going nowhere on an elliptical machine? Or would he want to see how much weight he could lift? I scold myself for cluelessness. We moved over to the weight machines. "Lets try this one," I said, pointing to a Nautilus machine. I did my sets and placed my 90-pound son on the seat. "Keep your back straight," I advised.

He's a teenage boy. Somewhere in the middle of his second set, he decided lifting weights was cool. After banging out ten reps, he jumped up and said, "I'm going to try 30 (pounds) next time."

I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel a little bit good to have my son, who is seldom impressed by my fatherly feats, marvel at the amount of weight I could lift. I'd be someone other than me, though, if I wasn't thinking at the same time about how little time I have left to be stronger than him. We've both known for years that the tragedy of our relationship is that as he gets bigger I'm only going to get older, but it was pretty stark looking down at this thin, pre-adolescent boy who would soon be able to kick my butt. "Five years," I said, waiting for some guy to get off the dip machine.

"Five years for what?" asked the Jawa.

"Five years and you'll be stronger than me. Crazy."

He thought about it for a second, then smiled. He liked that.

It was in the pool area that I again demonstrated my vanished aptitude for being a San Francisco parent. By now the Jawa had thrown all of his chips in for the workout life. "Can we do this every Wednesday?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, knowing full well that we can't because 24 Hour Fitness only allows one guest pass per customer. The goal of the guest pass is to get information so they can badger the guest until he or she agrees to become a 24 Hour Fitness member. Good luck to them the first time they call up the Jawa and realize they've contacted a 12-year-old.

Our only option is the Family Membership. Sandra Bullock was all over that when she got home and heard how the Jawa had enjoyed his first gym experience. Because that's how it goes around here. The Jawa shows any interest in anything and we go gung-ho. It's because of this that you will find so many odd, unused, mostly forgotten things in our house: a new-looking basketball, a student-sized guitar (with case), a skateboard covered in stickers. Mark today, June 30, as the day I predicted they will soon be joined by a surfboard and a wetsuit.

It's not that we're a pair of obnoxious stage parents. We don't want him to be a superstar, but I'm also not saying we'd hate it if we had the chance to root our child on from the stands.

Which is what I was thinking as I sat in the steam room, sweating profusely while the Jawa swam laps in the pool. "He really wanted to swim laps," I thought. "I didn't even have to nag him."

"Maybe he likes swimming, and he's not just saying he does to make us happy."

Not out of the question. He played basketball two years longer than he wanted to just because he didn't want to disappoint us; which made us wonder when the awards committee from the Parent of the Year group was going to come knock on our door with our plaques already.

"Wouldn't it be great," I thought, "if he was on the swim team in high school?"

We'd drive him to school at six in the morning, because that's when swimmers practice. The swimmers would hang together, because nobody else understands how hard their workouts are, how quickly football team members would fold after an hour in the pool. At lunch, they'd all eat together at a picnic table in the quad, because swimmers had been eating at that same table since 1975.

Sometimes, at school assemblies, the whole team would pull some kind of prank, running amok in their Speedos, throwing water on people. Something like that.

And we'd go to his meets and sit way up in the stands, a little out of sorts because we know very little about swimming. Watching him in the starting blocks, shaking his arms, getting loose, maybe with his iPod still on, we'd get nervous -- more nervous than staring down a number three hitter with the sacks loaded and the score tied.

We'd watch him in wonder as he knifed through the water. This is something we already do, as he is the only member of the family able to swim the butterfly, the most beautiful and powerful-looking of all swim strokes. After the race, win or lose, he'd be there in the water, looking up at the clock, knocking water out of his ears, either happy with the results or mad at himself for not staying straight in his lane, screwing up a kick turn, having something just off about his stroke. Then he'd pull himself up out of the pool, grab a towel and go off to talk to his coach and his teammates.

The night before every meet we'd find him in the bathroom, shaving his chest, his arms and his legs, good-naturedly cursing me for my swarthy genes. Our son, the swimmer.

After a minute, I caught myself. Another ridiculous, non-productive and potentially harmful flight of fancy. If my child grows up to be one of those guys at the Lego show, well, then I'm going to buy myself a Lego t-shirt and volunteer to take tickets at the front gate. Legos are, after all, one of the few things in our house that never fall out of favor.

A guy can dream, can't he? I know, I know. Of course not.

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