Friday, May 29, 2009

Of Nate and Julie and Brendan

My someone's-growing-up trauma

Last night, Brendan went to bed without saying good night to me. He doesn't do that very often. I stewed about it a little.

It has been so long since I lived with Nate and Julie, but when they were around Brendan's age I was gone many evenings at city council meetings or for other stuff. Not saying good night to them every single night just happened, so I didn't particularly notice when it did.

And then other things in life happened, separation and divorce among other things. So the frequent and absolute separations from Julie and Nate had a different sort of painful and poignant quality. Not saying good night was such a small thing compared to being in Dayton, say, while they were in Ann Arbor.

But life with Brendan has a different sort of rhythm. I'm home almost all the time. It is Marrianne, who travels much more frequently than I do, who has to deal with the little separations, with not being able to read together at bedtime, with missing tender "good nights."

So last night, when Brendan was acting indifferent to the point of clowning around excessively while I was trying to say good night, I pleaded with him to chill out. When pleading didn't work I stomped out. That didn't work, either. If he felt guilty, he didn't act it out. There was no "sorry, Dad," no hugs. He and Marrianne read a while and they both fell asleep.

This morning, he was fine. So was I. But as I watched him preparing for school, getting dressed, sorting out his book bag, I saw a boy both on the cusp of adolescence and a child with eyes still way too big for his face and a book bag too heavy for his still small frame.

"I can't decide sometimes," I said to him, "whether you are a teenager or a little boy. How does it feel inside you?"

"Right now, I can't decide whether to rehearse my part in Hamlet or sit on the floor and watch Sports Center," he said. "I have to get my part right, but ESPN seems more exciting."

Given that watching ESPN seems to be a part of the lives of many adult men, I'm not sure if Brendan was defining the pull of two opposite poles, but his answer wasn't what I expected from a ten year old. To be honest, I think it's me who isn't keeping up here.

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