Friday, August 6, 2010

15 days to Bar Mitzvah: to slumber, as a teen

Lets just circle August 6 on the Calendar and call it "the day the Jawa truly became a teenager." We can record every official milestone all we want; it's not until a child masters the art of sloth that he can truly call himself a member of the youth culture. And my child, who just for the second consecutive day refused a cash money offer in return for vacuuming the house, is now a member of the youth culture.

Since he was a toddler I've worried that he didn't get enough sleep. Never one to accept a toddler-like bedtime, he's battled going to sleep forever. You hear about kids who pass out on the couch or on the floor at 7:30, exhausted after a day of crawling, chewing on things and throwing up on themselves? Not my child. From the day we caught him impaled on the side bars of his crib, trying to escape what was once a haven but now seemed, to his 18-month-old eyes, a prison, he's accepted bedtime begrudgingly.

Which would be fine, except for the utter lack of privacy it affords, if he also slept past the first rooster's crow in the a.m. Four years old and the kid's sleeping an average of eight hours a night.

For years I wondered what the aggregate negative impact would be. Would he be four inches shorter than he was meant to be? Does a lack of sleep during the formative years mean a lack of cranial development? All of that Baby Mozart; was it wasted, overwhelmed by a post-toddler's interest in David Letterman?

Add to the late bedtimes the child's propensity for bolting upright immediately upon any sleep disrutption. Four, five times a night, I'm lying in bed reading and I hear something, some movement coming from the room located about four feet from mine. (This is a particular joy of living in San Francisco, by the way, where the tidy sum you set aside for home ownership buys not a spacious, three-bedroom stucco home built in 2004 but instead a mere 1,079 square feet of falling-down bungalow of indeterminate origin.)

After that first rustle, it's only a matter of seconds before the next sound: tiny footsteps -- of remarkable density; it sounds like a baby rhino is charging through my house -- leading from the room next door to mine.

Sometimes, he was still asleep. You could just take him by the shoulders and guide him back to his room. Other times, he was wide awake and, his mind functioning at an age-appropriate level, would demand that one of us, either Sandra Bullock of I, find a way for him to fall back asleep. And you're not allowed to look your child in the eye, spread your arms wide and plaintively say, "I don't know how to help you," until he's at least 11.

So it went, with a few variations, until he returned from Walton's Grizzly Lodge two weeks ago. Then, suddenly and without warning, his 7 a.m. wakeup call became 8 a.m., then nine. Today, he stumbled out of his room, hair askew and wearing no shirt but already dialing up something on his iPod, as I was leaving the house for a 10 o'clock meeting. "Hey," he mumbled, shuffling off to the kitchen for his everyday and unwavering breakfast of frozen pancakes and really expensive maple syrup whose intimidating purchase price should in now was dissuade someone from completely drowning his frozen pancakes, which makes sense since, like the garden burgers I've learned to love when they're accomopanied by cheese, lettuce, a tomato slice and a number of different sauces, frozen pancakes have no flavor themselves.

Several hours later, I returned home to help the Jawa with a rewrite of his Bar Mitzvah speech. "I wonder if he did that load of laundry I left on the kitchen table with specific instructions attached?" I thought, quickly filing that idea in the dustbin when I entered the house to find the following tableau: my 13-year-old, pre-Bar Mitzvah Jawa stretched out on the living room floor, still wearing his pajamas, his headphones hanging half off his head. Next to him was an iPod, several pieces of paper and his netbook computer. Some online show he'd been watching was still blaring away.

It took me a few seconds to convince myself that he wasn't dead. Only after I watched him and saw the he was breathing did I relax.

No, he wasn't dead; he was deep into the kind of daytime sleep only teens can manage. After 13 years of alertness to the point of annoyance, my child had become an adolescent.

"How long were you asleep?" I asked after finally rousing him.

"I don't know. Last thing I remember, it was around 11:30." I did the numbers. Even with last night's patience-testing hour of calling out to me from his bedroom (at 1,079 square feet, your living room is only about 25 feet from your bedrooms) he'd logged an impressive 11 hours of sleep. Right now it's about four. I'm looking across at him and, I swear, he's completely zoned out. Not nodding off, but in a password-protected netherworld occupied by denizens not old enough to vote.

And Sandra Bullock is vacuuming. I'm sitting her typing, which means that, with the Jawa settling into his teen identity, we're all doing what's expected of us.

It's Friday, August 6. Two weeks from right now we'll be speeding back downtown to the Hyatt Regency in time to turn right around and return to Temple Emanu-El for Friday night services. After that, we'll load up 25 family members in a bus and cruise down to Fisherman's Wharf, much maligned by locals except me, who goes there occasionally just to be reminded of how some people save up all year to go to San Francisco for two foggy weeks in August, and have dinner at Tarantino's. Then I'll drop a pocket full of quarters on an F MUNI trolley to take us all back to the hotel.

The next morning we'll wake up and this slumbering child I just spent two hours badgering to stop playing with the camera and pay attention while we rewrite your speech will speak Hebrew to 187 people (plus an estimated 75 Emanu-El congregants, including the mysterious Lady With the Box, who show up every Saturday, regardless of who's being Bar or Bat Mitzvahed, so they can rifle through the free lunch afterwards) and, under Jewish law, become a man.

That's two weeks away. Today, he is a teenager.

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