I PICKED HIM UP after karate. We have “one-boy nights,” but they got disrupted this month, and I’ve seen my children for about an hour over the last nine days. I don’t usually miss them when they’re not here; I’m just sad to see them go and happy to see them come back. (“Yeah! Me too!” he exclaimed on the drive home.) But this time I’ve missed them since they went to Mom’s.
His brother has started puberty. He turned his back and walked away from me three times after karate class, while I thought we were still engaged. He came back and gave me a hug when I called him, because he’s still a sweet boy, too, but it’s started.
But the other one…not yet.
“What should we do tonight?” we asked each other on the way home. “Do you have work?” he asked. “I hope you’re done with everything and you don’t have to work.”
“I’m not done with everything,” I said, “but I don’t have to work.” But then we couldn’t think of what to do. Sometimes we like fixing things together, but there’s not really anything to fix. Plus I’m very tired. It’s been an emotionally rough week, and today was jammed from 7am, when my alarm went off and I drove to their mom’s town to see them off at their first day of middle school, until I drove there again to pick him up after karate. I’m a month overdue for a haircut, and people who are supposed to be paying me aren’t paying me.
(They’ll pay me. They’re just not doing it when they’re supposed to.)
It’s the kind of tired where you look in the mirror and see what the karate teachers saw: You missed patches of whiskers when you shaved.
“I kind of feel like…” he said. “I dunno…just hanging out and watching a movie.”
“You know, me too. What movie.”
“I don’t know.”
We thought hard. The car was filled with the sound of our silent brains.
“I know!” he said twenty minutes later. “I want to watch Yojimbo.”
“But we just watched that recently.”
“Yeah. Didn’t we?”
“Well, a while ago… But we watched Throne of Blood. That was July 4.”
“July 4 was Throne of Blood?”
“Oh,” I said. It was? “But we’ve seen Yojimbo twice now, right?”
“Yeah…I don’t want to see it again yet. How about Sanjuro? The sequel. It’s the same character without a name.”
So he looked doubtful and then approving, and then we rejected one dinner idea after another, and neither of us wanted to cook. We ended up getting cold roast beef and warm mashed potatoes at the grocery store, and some Ramune and mochi because they accessorized the movie.
I have done so many things wrong, as a parent, and I don’t even know what they are yet. His brother’s got a foot cocked out the door of adolescence. I’m juggling bills and learning a kind of hustle at 49 that I never got together in my 30s. Autumn’s coming. But for probably the final summer, my boy still wants to watch Sanjuro with me.
HE LEFT HIS stuffed sheep at Mom’s.
“You said that was OK and you were going to use a pillow.”
He can’t really sleep without the sheep.
“I know,” he said. He was on his mattress, which I haul down the stairs to my room every time he’s here without his brother. “But…”
“Do you have any stuffed animals here at all?”
“Well you need something. What are we going to–oh, I know,” I said.
I still have my stuffed animals from when I was little.
“SCOOT,” I ORDERED, and lay on my back next to him. “This would be a lot better if there were stars up there, and we were lying in a meadow or something.”
We both looked at the dark ceiling.
“There’s something I want from you,” I said.
“I know you guys are brothers, and that means you bug each other. He’s gonna do that hiss thing, and you’re gonna give him the squinty-eye face, and that’s just how it is. But I want something from you. If you see people joining up and going against him, you go join together with him. I know we all pick on each other sometimes, but if someone picks on one of us, we pull together.”
“And if you forget and you don’t join together with him, then when you remember, just go do it.”
“We stick together.”
We looked at the ceiling. That had all seemed a little macho and a bit earnest.
“And then when they’re gone, we can pick on each other again,” I said.
THE WE-STICK-TOGETHER conversation went into some stuff about his brother’s new behavior, and I said something about the need to self-define and detach that comes with adolescence, and how it takes a while to get used to those feelings and handle them well.
“You’ll see when it gets here for you.”
“How do we know it’s not already here for me?”
I didn’t talk for a bit. “That’s an excellent question.” (I know very well it’s not here for him yet.) “You’re certainly more mature…”
“But I’m a goofball!”
“I’m a goofball too, but I’m quite mature. And I’m forty-nine.”
Some humor has to be decided in a sliver of a second. “Shut up!” I said.
He grinned and chuckled.
Not hurt by the shut up. Just pleased to be a trusted peer.
It’s been a rough week, and I know I’m already emotional.
But oh, my boys. My little boys. They’re almost gone.
Come back and let me do it right.