It is going on a full 24 hours that the Jawa and I have been alone. Last night, at 7:30, Sandra Bullock boarded a plane for Zurich, Switzerland. It is a business trip, the latest in a not-unimpressive line of trips that have taken her to France, Denmark and Finland in the past and probably several times to Switzerland in the future. She will be gone until Saturday.
The Jawa and I have never really discussed our strategy for seeing a vital member of our small nuclear family off on a week-long business trip. Still, I was surprised to find, upon getting home from work, that he'd chosen to make her departure easier by reminding her how miserable life can be around here when he doesn't get his way. It was an interesting approach and very unprecedented. Usually, he's all clingy when she goes somewhere. Not this time.
In play was $10, the amount he was supposed to save from his first day of Theme Park Camp. Yes, you read that right. There is Theme Park Camp. Yesterday, Monday, they went to Great America. He left the house with $40 and was instructed to spend no more than $30, which still sounds like a sack full o' dough until you consider how much food costs at theme parks. And he only spent $20 on food, leaving me to wonder what, exactly he ate, since that'll buy you a pretzel and a Coke, maybe, at Great America.
With the other $20 he bought some swim trunks for a fellow Theme Park camper who'd forgotten to bring some. This way, the guy could join everyone else at Great America's waterpark. 24 hours later, I still can't decide if that was an admirably selfless act or a symptom of entitlement on his part. Sandra Bullock, while not sharing with me her opinion of the act itself, took a firm stand: the $10 will come out of tomorrow's per diem.
This went down minutes before I came home with visions of a heartfelt airport scene, followed by dinner somewhere in South San Francisco in my head, only to see them evaporate before I'd even made it the 12 feet that separate our front door and kitchen.
"What's going on?" I asked with the innocence of babes.
"DON'T GET INVOLVED, DAD!"
But of course I did get involved, because despite my great efforts at keeping cool in the face of adolescent irrationality, I'd mistakenly left the "on" switch for rage exposed, within easy reach of an eye-rolling, rudely-interrupting, angrily smug Jawa. Within ten minutes it was me standing over the Jawa, lecturing, trying not to explode, while Sandra Bullock, oh-so-helpfully, told me to "walk away."
The airport scene was not heartfelt. It consisted of me quietly fuming while my wife went over her last-minute preparations. The Jawa was not invited to accompany us. He was banished to his room, as, you know, punishment. Unfortunately, this particular "punishment" is indistinguishable from his "leisure time," as it involves him sitting on an office chair, staring hypnotized into a computer screen for hours on end.
We reached the airport. I double-parked and didn't get out of the car. I was too mad. The goodbyes were terse.
Forget Mothers Against Drunk Driving; tearing up the 101 on the way home I was the poster child for Mothers Against Fathers Feeling Several Conflicting Emotions At Once (MAFFSCEAO). Ever been blisteringly mad, worried and anxious while simultaneously trying to figure out a way to cool your child's rage, teach him the error of his ways and create a plan to avoid these kinds of run-ins in the future because the last few have left you clutching your chest, wondering if this was the big one and you'd be joining Elizabeth soon, while also planning a day-by-day schedule to get through the week in a manner that will not cause Sandra Bullock to come home and think, "These guys are hopeless without me?"
All of this in the 15 minutes it takes to get from SFO to our front door. I needed more time. No way was I focused enough yet to make this into a positive.
Entering the house, I adopted a laconic, distant mien. The Jawa, taking my lead, followed suit. For the next three hours, we spoke to each other in stilted, weirdly polite tones. "I'll make dinner," the Jawa announced, a few minutes after my return.
"Oh, no, that's fine. I can make dinner." Me.
"No, no, it's no problem. I'll make Annie's (San Francisco for 'macaroni and cheese')."
"That's great. Can you make the orange kind?"
"Well, I had hoped to make the white kind, but I can make the orange kind, since I know you like it."
"Are you sure? If you'd prefer the white kind, I'd be okay with it."
"Oh, no. No problem. I'll make the orange kind."
We went on this way until about nine, when we both decided to thaw it out a little. My idea to write down everything he "needed" to do before bedtime (practice his Torah portion, feed the dog, take a shower), lest he receive no per diem tomorrow, seemed to work well, too. Is this a bribe? Is it adherence to the most tired and amoral of parenting techniques, the "reward/punishment paradigm?" Yes, and yes. I have long since given up my dream to be the Davey Concepcion of parenting. I'll have to settle for being the Ed Brinkman. Look it up.
You know, sometimes it's a drag being the volatile, slightly unstable parent of a pre-teen. Of course he rolls his eyes. He's 12. Don't think I'm not fully aware of that. And yet each time I think, "This is going to be the time he says, 'You're right. I'm acting like a real punk. I'm going to apologize and stop now. Thanks.'"
I think our frosty three hours did the trick, at least for now. Today has been incident-free, even though he didn't want to walk the dog when he got home. It was laid out there on his list. He couldn't argue with it, so after a very short protest and the brief adoption of kindergarten teacher tones by me, he took the dog for a walk. I saw him cross out "walk the dog" with relish after completing the task.
Last night, after the thaw, I was standing in our bedroom, looking at all of these pictures we have on these shelves. Lately, whenever I have a run-in with the Jawa, I go in there and look at them. They're various shots of Sandra Bullock, the Jawa and I, taken over a period of years.
A while ago, I was looking at them and noticed that in every single one, I'm touching the Jawa. I'm either holding him, or he's climbing all over me. In one, I have one finger touching the side of his coat.
I took him in there last night to look at them, but I don't think he got it because I'm not sure what it was I wanted him to "get." I just wanted the both of us to go in there and look at them for awhile.