Wednesday, July 14, 2010

37 days to Bar Mitzvah: whence, manhood?

According to Jewish tradition, your Bar or Bat Mitzvah is supposed to function as your official arrival at adulthood. Like many other religions, we have a formal ceremony to mark the end of childhood, although in my case, I suppose, the July 29, 1978 Bar Mitzvah was merely confirmation of a childhood that ended somewhere in the air between Scranton, Pennsylvania and Anaheim, California on March 21, 1976.

If I knew the actual theological thinking behind it, I could tell you all of the things Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are supposed to take on as evidence of their leap to the world of adults. It involves all sorts of things that are now unthinkable, because they were written down during biblical times, when people lived to be 40 and had their own flocks and harems by 16. I cannot imagine the Jawa tending to his own flock right now, unless that flock was comprised entirely by robots he'd programmed, or perhaps scaled-down Japanese monsters like Mecha Godzilla and Mothra.

And if I wanted to be honest, I'd have to admit that while my childhood ended on March 21, 1976, my adulthood really didn't start until I met Sandra Bullock, 14 years later. In-between there was this period of gray area, where the only way I knew to be an adult was to imitate my dad (which explains why my first teenage concert was Simon & Garfunkel) or pretend to be involved in very serious, adult-style romantic relationships. Everything else, all that boring stuff like assuming responsibility and being accountable for your actions I buried under an attractive pile of adult-like tics and poses.

In the end, what I had thought was acting like an adult was actually acting like that guy you date for two months until summer ends and you have to go back to school. I was in a constant loop, playing out the opening scenes of "Grease," kissing Sandy goodbye on the beach and wondering why, the next time I saw her, she was with some guy in a polo shirt while I sulked in the corner in my cool biker jacket.

Sandra Bullock must have decided that there was an adult at the end of that long, dark tunnel, which is pretty funny, since the first time she drove me home from the bar, one snowy late December 1990 night, I tried to impress her by showing her my motorcycle. Having just schooled me on the ins and outs of a 401(k) from the driver's seat of her new Toyota Corolla, her response was to smile politely and wait a few months before telling me how much motorcycles don't impress her.

So now we expect the Jawa to become an adult the minute he slings the tallit over his shoulders and wraps up the last lines of his haftorah? Not likely. If anything, he's lagging a bit behind his peers, maturity-wise, though to be fair, he's also lagging somewhere between six months and a year behind them, age-wise.

As of now, a little more than a month before his official adulthood date, the Jawa is at his best around little kids, making him an adult's dream (provided you're not his father and would rather not watch "Total Drama Island" at 9:00 on a Tuesday), a little kid's idol and slightly apart from the kids he really wants to hang around with -- his peers.

We never saw it coming. Or maybe Sandra Bullock did, but I didn't. Maybe it's an only child thing, though I've always been told that the Curse of the Only Child would have the exact opposite effect -- that the child in question wouldn't want to waste his time with a bunch of people aiming to invade his space, play with his stuff and leave him a mess to clean up.

Not our Jawa. All week I've been dropping him each morning at Tech Know How camp, a week-long day camp designed around Lego's NXT series, which use computer programming to make Legos function as robots.

As a side note, the camp is held at Brandeis Hillel Day School, in the old fifth grade classroom. It is terribly overshadowed by the other camp hq'ed at BHDS, Camp Galileo. Camp Galileo, as far as I can tell, targets little kids -- probably fourth or fifth grade at the oldest -- by enticing them with as over-the-top a display of counselor enthusiasm it can manage. How disturbing is it to roll up to Brandeis Hillel Day School, expecting to be greeted by Felicks and Anatoly, the omnipresent Russian security guards rumored to be registered with the Politburo as deadly weapons, and Robert, the long-suffering, sardonic school facilities guy, only to find in their place a lineup of college-age boys and girls, all wearing funny hats and dancing in place? To call it inappropriate is too kind.

And then to roll past them, privately miffed that they would feel it necessary to point you in the right direction because you come here 180-plus days a year already, only to find poor Felicks, clad in casualwear instead of his usual sportcoat and slacks, and Robert, trying in vain to restore order to Parking Lot Amateur Hour, while some 25-year-old kid stands in the middle of main lot, idly circling his arms around between dance steps? To enter Camp Galileo, you walk through what, during the school year, is a sober gray steel gate. This week, it is decorated with streamers and a sign reading, "Camp Galileo Amusement Park!"

The sidewalk chalk arrows pointing you in the right direction are probably necessary, as it is difficult to hear anything over the high-decibel dance music further desecrating the school.

It's awful. The Jawa, for his part, refuses to walk through the "Camp Galileo Amusement Park" gate. Instead, we ring the buzzer and walk through the school lobby, soaking up a few seconds of sanity before re-entering the chaos on the other side. The Tech Know How counselors, by way of great contrast, are neither singing nor dancing nor wearing funny hats. A few are wearing funny glasses, but I don't think they're funny on purpose.

Today, the Jawa said, the counselors told him he should come back next year as a Counselor-in-Training. "There's not much we can teach him," they told me when I arrived today for pickup. "He's pretty much on his own." The next oldest kid in the class in 11.

By the time I got there, he was sitting at a computer, surrounded by little kids -- in his preferred element, dishing out advice, being the expert. Not yet an actual "man," but "The Man," at least in Tech Know How camp.

As we navigate this difficult and eye-opening summer, that's going to have to be good enough. I don't expect him to suddenly stop leaving all his clothes all over the floor, inside-out, or to wake up tomorrow and realize that Disneyworld vacations cost more money than most people allot for yearly discretionary income. No, I expect him to continue digging his heels in whenever the opportunity to demonstrate newfound independence presents itself, and I expect him to continue to think roller coasters are an excellent conversation topic.

That's not going to change on August 21. Okay, maybe a little. Your Bar Mitzvah's a pretty big event. Even a stubborn Jawa would have trouble going through it completely unchanged.

1 comment:

Butter Goats said...

The Girl Child is volunteering at the daycare/camp she is now too old to attend. Apparently she is a big help! Who knew!