After two weeks in fractured mode, our family regrouped Sunday when we picked the Jawa up at Walton's Grizzly Lodge. For two weeks, he'd lived the 13-year-old's version of college, sleeping in a "dorm" (actually a cabin) with a bunch of kids he'd just met, responsible for his own upkeep and hygiene, his days rolling out before him with no input from either Sandra Bullock or I as to how to spend them.
It was like college, but it was also like a short stint in the military. They lived by strict time schedules. Every hour was accounted for. Weirdly, Walton's Grizzly Lodge exists in its own time zone. Upon arrival, everyone sets their watches ahead an hour. Whatever the real efficacy of such an act, it seems to me like an institutionalized version of letting the car clock run a few minutes fast so you can fool yourself into thinking you're late, and thus always be on time.
It's amazing how short a period of time it takes to snap back into "normalcy" after two weeks spent off-kilter. We had barely made it past Graeagle -- ten miles out and a town that, for the right father and child, could be a boundless source of conversation about the makeup and ultimate fate of turn-of-the-century mill towns as the U.S. gradually moved toward a service, rather than manufacturing, economy, coupled with the rise of environmentalism during the second half of the 20th century, before he started asking about his iPod and his Droid. A half-hour before Truckee, he announced, "I'm going to zone out for awhile," and disappeared under his headphones. From my perch in the driver's seat up front, I reasoned that camp was supposed to be a break from normal city life, not a complete lifestyle reconfiguration.
Our child did not grow six inches during the two weeks he was at camp. He didn't come back with a handlebar moustache or a prep-schooler's taste for filterless Lucky Strike cigarettes. All in all, he returned the same as he left, albeit dirtier and with several undetected but probable cavities, the price paid for intermittent toothbrushing while roughing it 40 miles north of Lake Tahoe.
Tomorrow, the Jawa will turn 13, the mini-event preceding the Big Event. This year, his birthday has been underplayed, giving him a year's worth of the experience anyone unfortunate enough to be born on December 24 must feel every single birthday of their life. It's too bad that 13 must be the birthday given the short shrift. It's a very important birthday, so much so that during their productive artistic careers Alex Chilton wrote a haunting ballad and Catherine Hardwicke made a terrifying (more so to parents of teenage daughters than sons) distopian movie, both entitled, simply, "Thirteen."
Tomorrow, the Jawa will open his own Facebook account. This we've anticipated for some time, since he's one of the few of his peers not to simply lie on their information page and open one before turning 13. His parents wouldn't let him, something I often cling to as evidence that indeed, I do have some control of my child and am not in fact afraid to set and abide be clear boundaries.
What I didn't know is that he's quietly been making a mental list of all the other things he will be able to do starting tomorrow. He will be able to get his own Pandora (online radio) account, he told me while on BART this morning. "You have to be 13 to get a Pandora account?" I asked.
He nodded. I pressed further: "How did you find that out?"
"I tried to open an account."
So thirteen has been looming as a big day, the moment he is handed the keys to so many of the doors forbidden to pre-teens. Suddenly, as Tom Petty might say, the future is wide open.
"How far is the Concord water park from BART?" he asked a few minutes later.
"No, it's a 28-minute walk." He had his head buried in his Droid. The machine was contradicting me, its unlimited data access working counter to my interests and needs.
"So now you're thinking you're going to go to the water park on your own?"
"With some friends. They say it's an easy bike ride from BART."
That's another thing. At some point over the past year, the Jawa learned how to ride a bike without our assistance. That's a good thing, but it still confuses me. How and when did he acquire this skill?
I have a long personal history of anti-bike sympathies, beginning the day I scraped my hand on the driver's side mirror of that big 1950s car Billy Comerford parked in front of their house and continuing right up to last Halloween, when I spent my walk home from work dodging costumed members of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, who'd decided their monthly anarchistic middle finger of an organized downtown ride would shake up the squares all the more if they appeared not only on bikes, but in costume on bikes. And yet during weaker moments I sometimes put my feelings on hold and imagine that it must have been a lot of fun to be one of the guys in my ninth grade class who used to ride their bikes down the river trail to Newport Beach during the summer of 1980. Why did I not join them? Because there was no room in that cool and hip pack of Schwinn Beach Cruisers for a guy on a lame Huffy 10-speed.
Were the Jawa to join his friends on a warm summer day for a bike ride up the Iron Horse Trail in Concord, wearing backpacks containing their towels and sunscreen, plus a few bucks for a hot dog you eat while walking around in your swim trunks, taking just enough time to slam down a few calories before getting in line for the next water slide, well, I could see the timeless sentiment in that. He shouldn't be forced to appropriate someone else's summer memories because his aren't colorful enough.
And now that I write it down, I feel about 100 years old for realizing that I'm old enough to remember when neighborhood teenagers' first cars were gigantic black Buicks built in 1953.
He's thinking about it, that's for sure. Twelve is one thing; thirteen is another. Especially when it's followed, less than three weeks later, by a special ceremony designed to draw a sharp line between "childhood" and "adulthood."
"You know what I don't have to do after I'm Bar Mitzvahed?" my still-twelve-year-old child just proudly announced.
"Give up the couch to Mommy. Once you're Bar Mitzvahed, you don't have to give up things anymore."
Should I tell him now, or should I let him find out for himself?