We are at the midpoint of our nine days together. On the first night, I arranged to pick up my son’s little buddy from down the hall to join us for the free Seldom Scene bluegrass concert at a local park. Bug snarled and fussed while I packed up watermelon and blankets. Then at the show, the banjo twanged, the audience swayed. Bug and his buddy rounded up a half dozen other kids and played soccer in a clearing until the trees twinkled with lightning bugs. He rode home flushed and grinning.
Yesterday morning, when packing up to go to the Spark!Lab at the Smithsonian, Bug fought until he cried. Then on the train, he thrummed with questions and leaned forward in his seat peering out the front window down the dark tracks. At the museum, he spent 2-1/2 solid hours building laser mazes, a sonar rover, a helmet with night vision and echolocation.
Yesterday afternoon, he sneered and stomped while I gathered our things to go to the free Lego build session at the library. Then in the common room, swimming in an ocean of blocks, he found the one other boy his age. The two of them crafted a space station and an elaborate armory of blasters. They chased each other under tables and into walls hollering, “I need more power!” They were the last of the kids to leave.
He resists any suggestion. Unless it’s, “Let’s order giant meat-lovers pizza and play video games for 12 solid hours,” every activity is boring and worthless. In addition to the museums and music and Legos, here are some others we have taken on during the first half of our nine days: bike riding, tie dying, swimming at the neighborhood pool, walking the dog, cooking, reading, playing board games.
He hates them all. “I’m just not interested,” he tells me all over again.
We fight. I insist. He howls. I stand firm. He gives in.
Then we are in it, inside the doing of it, and he breaks like clouds. He finds a friend. Or a strategy. Or the game. He shines, he thrills to the next discovery. We have a spectacular time. After, when I tell him what fun it was to play and learn with him, he rolls his eyes and denies it was anything special.
Yes, we are at the midpoint of our nine days together. It is a string of victories. It is a grueling tournament. My psyche’s bruises need ice packs. And a nap.
I am determined to sustain a creative, positive planning attitude for the duration of this stay-cation with my son. This means I am equally determined to postpone any self-improvement initiative that might divert energy from our formidable endeavor.
For these nine days, the following activities are banned here at Chez Smirk:
- Financial planning
- Cleaning up the resume
- Writing in any form besides meandering freestyle
- Home improvement
- Bike repair
- Diet modification
- Shopping at Wal-Mart even though it’s cheaper and closer. Besides its overlords being corporate thugs and homophobes, their stores’ anemic blue lighting makes me want to veer into the craft section to find knitting needles so I can jab them into my eyeballs. Saving $2 on Tide is just not worth it anymore.
- Reading non-fiction
- Signing up for a class
- Researching travel ideas
- Organizing photos, closets, mailing addresses, or the fridge
- Saying yes when I don’t feel like it
- Saying no out of habit
- Answering texts, voicemails, and emails in a timely manner
- Ignoring my kid because I’m supposed to be doing something purposeful
- Doing anything purposeful
With the remainder of our nine days, I make the rare and undoubtedly fleeting admission that the puritan ethic of duty and self-denial is a slow process of amputating one’s own soul (and enjoying a tiny, twisted thrill of pleasure from the pain).
Not this week, my friends. No heroic measures. Mary Oliver says I do not have to be good. She is wise and for once, I believe her.
Image:Roz Chast in The New Yorker, October 12, 2015