Indoorsy.

It’s the first day of camp around these parts and there is zero nostalgia on my part. In fact, there is a little bit of mild trauma response when I scroll past Facebook photos of kids in wooden cabins or getting on the camp bus. I have to believe that these kids are happy; I mean, they look happy. There must be kids who enjoy gathering together on damp, dewy railroad ties set in a haphazard semi-circle and raising the flag and singing the camp song before setting out on what feels like 65 hours of forced kickball on a blazing, shadeless field. Kids like this, right? Some of them?

camp

Far right, red swimsuit. 1984. If that’s not a face that says, “thanks, but no,” I’m not sure what is.

There are kids who enjoy mandatory morning swim lessons when the temperature hasn’t even kicked up past 70 yet and then changing out of wet swimsuits, locker-room style in a dusty, mosquito-ridden cabin. And there are kids who like peeling a wet ice pack off a flattened pbj at a picnic table while their still-damp feet dangle into piles of pine needles riddled with ants. Right?

If you know me at all, it will not surprise you to find out that camp is not my bag. It will not surprise you to find out that I regularly intentionally “missed” the camp bus and hoped that my mother would just let me stay home instead of throwing me in the car and chasing down the bus to meet it a few stops ahead. It will not surprise you to find out that I stubbornly flat-out refused to swim in the lake, get into a canoe, or pee in a hole in the ground. And even when we switched to a less “rustic” camp with a much better arts and crafts shack, I was not a fan.

camp2

Striped shirt, middle. Please don’t let the smile fool you.

It may surprise you, however, to find out that long after I was sprung from camp prison, long after I was an adult with free will, long after I swore that I’d never set foot in another camp, I chose to work at one. And not just one camp. Two. And not just one summer, but two summers. (And I might have chosen to do it longer if I wasn’t basically fired because, oh, hey, I suck at camp — remember?)

It’s possible that The Who would love camp. I say it’s possible because he has never actually gone to a “real” one — not like the ones I went to. He has gone to and continues to go to things called camp, but let’s be honest: playing basketball inside an air conditioned gym at the local high school and eating delivery pizza for lunch is not exactly camp. He will go to various iterations of this same type of camp during the rest of the weeks of the summer, but at no point will he attend a place that encourages making God’s Eyes or gimp keychains on a splintery picnic bench.

I just don’t think I could subject him to that.

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Nine.

I hesitate to call it a “crisis” because a crisis sounds dramatic. It’s more of a period of ennui. Or…maybe like an anxiety miniseries.  But it’s not a crisis. A crisis is emergent. A crisis is all-hands-on-deck.

I am turning 44 on Sunday. I have good feelings about 44. “Forty-four is gonna be good!” I said, just a few weeks ago. “Forty-four is Obama. It’s two of my favorite number. Added together, it makes my other favorite number. Four plus four. 44. It’s gonna be a good one.”

I had no trouble with 40. I do remember 34 feeling old (not 35, oddly) but I still rolled through it gracefully. I do not hate birthdays. In fact, I freaking love birthdays. My birthday is my favorite holiday. And, actually, I am looking forward to it this year, too. But it’s also different. Tonight, I described it as if something is closing. Like, in a sci-fi movie where some ominous countdown is happening and a huge steel door to the portal to safety is slowly but relentlessly closing. The hero desperately tries to slip through — to get under it just in the nick of time — but it almost seems like he’s moving in slow motion. Like it’s happening right in front of him and he can see it happening and then it has happened and he has missed it. Cut to the door, closed. Cut to his face, realizing it.

—–

I have lots of sporadic memories from my early childhood. I remember my 3-year-old birthday party and the last day of first grade. I remember watching the hot air balloons all go up at once on the field behind my school in 1981. But I really came online when I was nine. The ratio of things I forget to things I remember drastically changed at nine. I got my ears pierced on my ninth birthday. My good friend Melissa, who had moved away, came back for my sleepover party when I turned nine. I was nine at my brother’s bar mitzvah. When I was nine, we went to California and drove up the coast. I got a Michael Jackson velcro wallet when I was nine. I learned how to ride a bike. Nine was a beginning of something. I remember nine.

The Who is nine. He is now making the real and lasting memories that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. He’ll remember bits and pieces from before this, but the things he will recall with specificity and clarity are the things that are happening now. The shape and structure of his childhood is crystalizing. It’s changing from a sort of amorphous glob of days and minutes into something that is hard, shiny, opaque, holdable. Nine. The door to the portal is closing.

—–

The letters of my book are almost all written. I’m not saying my story’s over — this metaphor isn’t that grim. But the words that have been knocking around for all the years of my adulthood — the possible plotlines, the characters, the foreshadowing and bookending — that’s all on the page now. My life is how it will be for the rest of it. I have my wife and my kid and my house and my job. That’s the story I’ve been brainstorming and drafting all this time and now it’s published. And just as The Who’s cartilaginous youth calcifies into something lasting, so too has the rest of my adulthood.

I think this is what I’ve been swimming through for the past few months: this awareness that the portal’s about to close on the last of my opportunities to right the wrongs of his youth and of my own. On my final chances to have a hand in who and what he and I both become, independent of one another.

—–

The other day, I was listening to an Adele song in my earbuds and when the chorus played, I felt this drowning sorrow wash over me: Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time / That we might be exactly like we were / Before we realized.

This is what has been whispering to me in the quiet moments of these last few months. This. The portal. The desperation of being too late. Maybe it is a little bit of a crisis after all.

 

Tiniest Violin.

This weekend was the opposite of relaxing. I slept waaaay in on Saturday, which I appreciated the opportunity to do, but it ended up leaving me in one of those groggy-all-day places that I hate so much.

Wait. Let me back up. Because I really feel like it started on Wednesday, when The Who’s school was cancelled for snow. We were all home together all day (though I worked at the dining room table for most of it) and it felt like a Sunday. He was home again on Thursday for parent-teacher conferences and although I wasn’t home with him, I was aware of his being home and anxious about the amount of hours I knew he was spending playing video games. Thursday night, I picked him up on my way home from work and spent hours trying out office chairs at Staples and mattresses at the store next door. By the time we negotiated a price and delivery time for the mattress and I got him home and to bed, it was nearly 9pm (for a boy who is headed upstairs most nights by 7:45.)Friday, off again for parent-teacher conferences, I took him to work with me. Friday night we went to Shabbat services, grabbing his best friend along for the ride. Another night home past 9. Saturday, the day I slept in too long and was in a stupor all day, ended with yet another synagogue event with the bestie. And yet another night home past 9. This morning started with a hangry boy who turned what I thought was an innocuous comment about helpfulness into a shitstorm of negative self-talk, and then a rushed clean-out and stripping of the bed to ready my room for my new mattress delivery. When we finally recovered from the emotional distress, we were late to Hebrew school teaching, where my co-teacher was out and the oldest of our teen helpers was also out. At some point during this day, I had to teach an origami class to twenty noisy, impatient children and –fully owning the blame here — I tried to teach them to fold something I had never even folded myself. After the week I had, after the morning I had, and before the afternoon I was about to have, which was, actually, largely pleasant, but still fraught with logistics, responsibility, and more social interaction that this mostly-extrovert could even handle. And then — in the middle of watching The Diary of Anne Frank on stage with my 9-year-old (who was entirely riveted, by the way), I received news via text that the box spring of the mattress we had spent hours choosing and then battled through prepping for this morning wouldn’t fit up the stairs and not only would I come home to no new mattress, but that I’d also need to reassemble my room and remake my bed at 7pm when I got home (which, excuse me, how is it 7pm already? Oh, fuck you very much daylight savings time.)And now it’s midnight, but it feels like 11 except my normal 6am wake up will feel like 5 and it’s back to the grind again after zero rest for the weary. Also, I accidentally let my medication lapse for five days. Think it’s at all related? Yeah, neither did it. 😳

One.

The thing about parenting an Only is that when it gets challenging — and it inevitably does — it’s hard to find someone to complain to who won’t dismiss you. One kid, compared to four or three or even two, is cake. One load of laundry. One mouth to feed. One parent-teacher conference to schedule. One annual physical. One summer camp tuition.

I have had dreams where I found out I was pregnant and the most pervasive memory upon awakening was the feeling of the legitimacy I had earned by having more than just one kid.

Over the past three weeks, while my wife has been recovering from two major surgeries in a row, I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. And I am having a hard time allowing myself to feel that way — going to bed guilty every night that I am not able to handle it all with more grace. I’m behind on the laundry, I can barely wait to get The Who into bed every night just to give my brain a break, and I’m on the verge of tears at least once a day. Imagine, I keep telling myself, if you had more than one kid. What you’re doing, I keep telling myself, is no different than what millions of parents do every day. Single parents, parents of more than one, lots and lots and lots of other parents. This shouldn’t be that hard. And yet it is. The logistics alone — I can’t stop thinking and planning and worrying.

If I had multiple kids, would I be able to juggle it without going out of my mind? Probably. But maybe not. Maybe every day would be like this —  wake up, do, think, do, think, do, think, go to bed. The only difference would be that I’d be the beneficiary of empathy instead of a vast sea of patronizing smirks.*


*Ok, I get that this is wholly in my imagination. My friends and family — including my wife — have been massively understanding, helpful, empathetic, and kind. Mostly, it’s just me. Maybe I should just stop smirking at myself.

Bullets.

  • Even in the middle of winter, my favorite beverages are icy. I like partially frozen soda and partially frozen Vitamin Water best.
  • Maybe more people do actually have it this week than have had it all season…or maybe it’s a Facebook algorithm that keeps making it pop up in my feed, but the abundance of flu-related posts made me drop everything, grab The Who, and go get us flu shots. (Yes, I should have already done it. It was a wholly unpleasant experience for both of us, which is why it wasn’t done in the first place.)
  • I’ve never felt so conflicted about football in my life. First of all, I have felt guilty all season because of, well, basically, how terrible the NFL is in general. Secondly, the f’ing Patriots keep being assholes. They’re super white, super Republican, super sneaky, and basically shitty. But, I have an abundance of hometown pride and sports is one way to show it. Rooting for the Pats feels like home and loyalty and familiarity and I love it. And, finally, it has never been harder to be a Pats fan in Philly than it is right now. (And it has been pretty hard in the past.)
  • I can do lots of things, but not everything. Today, it felt like I had to do all the things. And there’s still an entire list of things I didn’t even do, but should have done.
  • Our DNA results are in and I totally want to look, but since we all spit in a tube together, I feel like we should all receive our results together, so I’m waiting. I don’t expect any surprises in my mix; the Russian Jews were a pretty insular bunch back in the shtetl. But The Who could have some interesting tidbits. What we know about him is only what his donor reported and even then, who knows.
  • Talking about DNA with The Who brought up the discussion of the Donor Sibling Registry, which I had never told him about before. It’s something I know lots of parents have participated in and something I am definitely tempted to look at, but I am pretty solid in my opinion that it should be his choice when he’s ready, if he ever is. He seemed intrigued at the idea of having half-sibs floating around out there, so I presume he will ask about it at some point, but he hasn’t yet. I wonder if getting the results will remind him.
  • Our household has 5 original knees and one brand new bionic one. Soon, we will have four original knees and two bionics. I’m eager to see how our lives will shift and change when that roadblock has been removed. Of course now, in the thick of it, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

God.

In the story we were reading, the main character was grappling a little with what God meant to him. I stopped at the end of the paragraph and laid the open book on my lap.

“What do you think about God?” I asked him, admittedly a heavy question for a few minutes before bedtime.

“Like, do I believe in God?”

“Yeah. Or, what do you think God is?” I have heard him talk about God before, referring to God in prayer or in song. It’s not unusual, given that he is being raised Jewish in a congregation with many Jewish friends.

“I guess he’s like…wait. Is this conversation going to count against my reading time?”

“No,” I laughed. You’ll still get your full ten minutes.”

“Ok. Good. So I guess he’s like…a person kind of. Like, a person’s features, but not an actual human person.”

“Is he a ‘he’?”

“Yeah. I think so. But not like a boy or a man. But he’s definitely a ‘he.'”

Where is God, do you think?”

“Up there, I guess,” he said, sort of shrugging and looking toward the ceiling. “Or, everywhere, like the song.” (He was referring to a song we had both learned when he was in preschool: “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. Up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around, that’s where he can be found.”) “Why?” he asked. “Where do you think he is?”

“I think God is everywhere, too. I believe in God as not a person or a he or a she, but as a force. Like something around me, something bigger than me, but not a person.” I paused. “Do you think God made the world?”

He had to really think about this one. He’s a smart kid. I mean, like scary smart sometimes. He can make logical deductions and do complicated math that makes my head spin. But he also takes a lot at face value. He questions everything, but also nothing at the same time. He is a rule follower. He stretches rules (does he ever!) but never breaks them. And if someone (or something) told him that God made the world, especially if it was something that he has been taught to love and honor (the Torah, for example), chances are that he would believe it. Simply and with blind faith.

“Well,” he said finally. “I mean, it’s been scientifically proven that the world wasn’t made by God, but…” he trailed off, and I sensed some conflict in his tired eyes.

“It’s ok, you know, to be a Jew and not believe all the things the Torah says.”

“It is?”

“Sure. I don’t believe that God created the world. And I don’t believe that God created people.”

“People came from Saudi Arabia,” he said, certainly. I made a mental note to follow up on that one later.

“Well, I think that people evolved from animals. I don’t know about the Saudi Arabia thing. But that’s just it. You can believe whatever you want and I can believe whatever I want and we can both still be Jews. People have been grappling with the Torah for thousands of years. I think that questioning it and interpreting it and trying to understand it is actually the coolest thing about it.” He took a minute and let that sink in.

We went back and forth a little bit then about theism and atheism and agnosticism and I shared my theory about why the stories in the Torah were written and why they sustain, even after science explained away most of them. We went back to our book then and after a few chapters, I put a bookmark in and tucked him in. I leaned down to give him a goodnight kiss and told him I loved him, just as I do every night.

“I love you, too, Mama,” he said, rolling over and snuggling in. “And Mama?” he said, yawning.

“Yeah, babe?”

“People really did come from Saudi Arabia.”

 

 

 

HumpDay. 

  • The Who popped out with a random and detailed memory from Pre-K. Not one I had ever heard, so not one that was recorded or repeated. Just a true, honest memory. This, just hours after having absolutely zero recollection of a movie he watched eight zillion times during the same period. Memories are weird. 
  • God, I have so much more to talk about and each thing could have its own bulleted post. Politics. Social media. Technology. Working parenthood. Ten years of marriage. Expectations and follow-through and complacency and the new Wawa gas station in my neighborhood. 
  • I wonder if the local public radio station made its 6pm goal and whether the Astros have it in them to beat the goddamn Yankees. 
  • These are my big questions.