In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
The Boy had basketball camp last week, and The Girl had “zoo camp” at a local zoo. Both were day camps, so whatever they did during the day, they were home at night.
This week, they’ve been partly absent. The Boy went away for the entire week with a friend’s family, frolicking on the beach. My Mom came by and took The Girl out for a few days, exploring farms and restaurants a few hours away. So The Wife and I were utterly alone for a couple of days, and we’re still a kid short now.
The house doesn’t feel quite right.
It was fun at first. On Sunday we were able to see a movie intended for grownups, and we didn’t even have to find and pay a sitter. (“Moonrise Kingdom,” for the record, which we both enjoyed.)
That evening, we broke a house rule and actually ate dinner in the family room, in front of the tv. It felt like the parental equivalent of playing hooky.
But since then, it’s felt like a disturbance in the Force. I’ve actually been surprised at how noticeable it is.
He’s 11 and she’s 8. She’s still safely in kid years, despite her facility with wisecracks. (I don’t know where she gets it...) He’s entering the angsty-tween years, though he handles it with more grace and class than most of the boys his age. I knew we had hit a milestone a few weeks ago when we saw “Madagascar 3,” which was funnier and smarter than it needed to be. I laughed loudly at the Tom Jones reference early in the movie, and TB was mortified. He asked me to please be quieter. I told him to laugh proudly, but had to smile at the “you’re embarrassing me...” message he was trying to send. He has no idea how embarrassing I’ll be in a few years.
Evenings at home have a rhythm to them. There’s a chaos-lull-chaos-homework-bed cycle that establishes a certain level of background noise. (During baseball season this Spring, the cycle was interrupted most nights by their games. The stress was amazing.) With the background noise gone, things just feel off-balance.
We’re lucky that they’re such great kids. The Girl has a poise beyond her years, and a way with words that you wouldn’t expect from such a cherubic face. In other words, she gets away with murder. The Boy is a gentle giant -- five foot six at age eleven, pre-growth spurt -- who manages the intersection of masculinity and decency far better than I ever did, especially at that age. But even with great kids, there’s a certain decibel level that has a way of becoming normal.
Part of parenting is preparing the kids to be independent. We do that deliberately, and take real pride in seeing them spread their wings. Now I’m realizing that part of the preparation involves the parents preparing ourselves for that moment when they’ve flown away.
I’m not ready yet. The Girl is home, and we’re counting the minutes until The Boy is back. We have a few more years of busy dinners and fart jokes and lessons and camps and sports.
It never looked so good.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts