My son loves to drape his arm casually over my shoulder and loom there. Usually with a slight smile on his face. Demonstrating yet again that he is, in fact, taller than me. I might still have ten pounds on him, but I have to rely on subterfuge when it comes down to it. When I pat his cheek, I feel a scruff. Patches of rough stubble.
In a matter of weeks he’ll officially be a high school kid.
I know high school kids pretty well. I’ve taught them, lived among them my whole adult life. Which hasn’t necessarily made me a big fan, especially swaggering jock-y boys. Nor has it made me feel prepared to raise one of my own. But a year into it, I have to say that being the dad of a teen is pretty great.
On Saturday he would have preferred to go with his buddies see the local pro soccer team play, but he indulged me. I wanted to see The Avengers, and having a 13 year old son is about the only cover available to middle aged guys. After a Fandango Fail and a brisk cross-town commute, we settled in — 3D glasses in place, kegs of soda, Jacuzzi sized popcorn, a pallet of Goobers (the Snack Nazi passed on the trip).
The Avengers, well, you’ve heard by now. It’s fun. We laughed hard. We didn’t learn much. It was long and loud and just right for a couple guys like us.
It wasn’t quite time to turn in when we returned home, and we were hoping to catch an episode of Top Gear before bed. Kim was camped out in the front room, so we headed back to the bedroom. I got comfy. My big, hairy-legged son loped in and flopped on the bed. Then he curled up and put his head on my chest. Like he did when he was five.
I stroked his head and kissed his greasy adolescent hair and hoped to god my tears wouldn’t fall on him because I really didn’t want to have to explain my gratitude at that exact moment.
He still lets me tuck him in, which I did with some satisfaction feeling like whatever else I had screwed up, I was doing at least one thing passably well.
The moment didn’t last.
It only took one eighth birthday party to undo.
I hate birthday parties. Unfortunately, kids do not. Especially eight-year-old kids. I may hate them so much because my kids’ birthdays all fall on the first or last week of the school year (for Labor Day and Memorial Day, I have two words for you — pelvic rest).
My youngest child deserves two birthday parties. The second for all the times he’s gotten dragged along to somebody else’s game. Or birthday party.
And he certainly deserved a better effort from me.
I started by making a complete hash of Evite (I’m not the only one, right?). Which class list? What’s the teacher’s name again? I invited, re-invited, un-invited and reminded the un-invited. The resulting multi-year homeroom mashup didn’t gel on the kickball field despite game efforts from my oldest. The water slide was fun, but while I was chatting with adults, devolved into chaos.
The pizza was late. The icing on the cake was melted.
This time, the tears belonged to the birthday boy and nobody was Having a Moment.
His mom and I know what and who he likes. He doesn’t want the corporate party, the packaged deal with his homeroom. He wants something messier. He likes the community parties we throw. Kids of all ages, older and younger. But we stuck to convention because it seemed like less hassle. It wasn’t, and although Coop was a good sport, he was a ruffled by the whole thing, disordered and really ready for bed.
We all went to bed a little frustrated.
And that’s my parenting summed up in a weekend. A win and a loss. The things that should be hard go easy; the things I have locked in I screw up. But the sun came up on Monday and everybody went to school. Later, there will be cocktails.