Loco Parentis: Moving Day

A farewell to (loving) arms, and all that

Five days before he heads to Hamleyherst, we go shopping together for a few things he needs: a desk lamp, a non-porous wastebasket (so vomit won’t leak — his sister’s tip), a fan. We head to the shopping plaza, only to discover it’s been hit by a power outage: no lights, no scanners, no cash registers. It’s like a Mad Max movie as we stroll the aisles of Bed Bath & Beyond, occasionally passing a sales clerk armed with a flashlight. Everybody is joined together in that easygoing vibe that takes hold when a situation is beyond one’s control but utterly undangerous. Jake and I laugh and joke; for once, we’re on the same page.

I wonder why there haven’t been more such moments for him and me. There were when he was little. But the older he got, the more we clashed. I found fault with him so often: his shoes in the middle of the living room, dirty dishes piled up on his desk, the classes he could have aced but instead settled for a C in. It is so, so tedious to continually combat the inertia of a teenager, to impart a sense of urgency: This matters now — this college application, this SAT test, this chemistry course you don’t give a damn about. Kids, of course, live in the moment. They don’t know any other way.

But I think, in retrospect, that the whole time I was nagging him, I was wishing I could be him, could somehow shrug off the burden of believing that adherence to rules and deadlines is the only way to prosper in the world. It takes such awesome will to stake out your right — your demand — not to be bound by the rules, to insist on it the way Jake has. Why do I only see this now, instead of, say, four years ago?

This is the child I quit work to stay home with, the one whose every waking moment I shared until he started first grade. Any intimacy we have now is fleeting, accidental — a YouTube link he sends me or I send him; something we hear on the radio or read in the newspaper that strikes our shockingly similar senses of the absurd. The connection is still there, but buried beneath so much anger and resentment, on both our parts, that it’s easier just to sit at our respective computers, he communing with Austin, I communing with you. All the wonderful new means of connection we have don’t make it any easier to talk to my son.