The engine revving, chugging, racing woke me up. The vehicle charging up and down the street, headlights spinning shadows across the walls, kept me awake. I pondered calling the cops, worried some drunk or drug-addled driver was about to smash into something, but then the engine cut and silence returned to the neighborhood. A mostly fine neighborhood, but we do have a house or two that reflects Manila’s worst stereotypes. The truck action seemed to stem from one of those. I lie in bed, listening, the window open an inch because sometimes the cold night air makes the house’s warmth feel more pleasant. Things outside remained quiet, but the water in my ear – I’d been caught inside a set earlier and ended up with both ears full of water; my right ear remains waterlogged – has made returning to sleep difficult. The subsequent inevitable thinking about things is making it impossible.
Nick. He turned into a teenager so suddenly. Always sociable, now he acts as if every moment not in school is supposed to be spent hanging out with his friends. Whatever “hanging out” means – I assume the worst. He’s the youngest; you’d think I’d have the parenting script down by now. But they trick you. Each one goes about growing up differently as if you didn’t already notice they’re individuals. Sure, you learn some coping skills, but forget about trying to get ahead.
Someone complained to me recently about how surfers will actually try to dissuade other people from taking up surfing. Well, duh, I said. It’s a stupid hobby, a dumb excuse for a sport. Do you realize the ratio of effort to reward? How much time you spend loading up, driving around, suiting up, paddling, struggling out of wet neoprene, driving home and washing your stuff off compared to how much time you spend standing up on waves? Assuming you find any? It’s completely ridiculous. Take up kayaking or bike riding or mountain climbing. Leave the surfing to the people who can’t scratch that itch any other way. You know, the dumb ones.
I feel the same way about parenting. Why does anyone do this on purpose? Do you realize what you’re about to put yourself through? The pain, the worry, the work? All so when your kid is sleeping, you can look at him or her and feel your heart melt? Before you get back to being overwhelmed by the responsibility. So much time spent on the mundane – laundry, dishes, groceries, school forms – and the more crucial – doctor visits, ER runs, sports seasons, family dinners – all so maybe one day before you die, you’ll realize you did it? You shepherded this person from infancy to adulthood and he or she remains safe, sane and successful? And if you’re really lucky, your kid might actually understand how hard it was and thank you for it? Can I suggest trying something with better odds – like buying Lotto tickets?
So here I am, a surfer and a parent. What an idiot. A parent of teenagers. I wish I felt more excited about their impending adulthood, but having survived my older daughter’s journey from child to quasi-grown-up, I know it neither comes quickly enough nor makes up for the heartbreak a glance at childhood photo triggers. Not a baby photo – babies are way too much work and rather boring. I don’t miss those days. But four to eleven? Magic. They’re fun, clever, yet innocent. They like you. They’re capable of going places and curious about what you want to show them. You get to feel like a wise and benevolent ruler. It’s fabulous. And then, abruptly, they dump you. You have no idea what they’re thinking – or you might, and it’s terrifying. All the struggle of parenting a toddler returns; like most two-year-olds, so many teenagers have increased desire and mobility, but lack the reasoning power to stay safe. But with a toddler, the dangers are clear: hot stove, streets, ladders, unfriendly dogs. You say no. You remove them from the situation. You’re clearly still the boss. But with teens that sort of thing doesn’t work as well. If I had gobs of money, I think I’d simply use these years to take the family around the world. Make the childhood wonder last, preempt the partying with peers, expand their experience in ways that don’t involve what the psychologists call “high-risk” behavior. Wouldn’t that be nice? I understand parents who opt out of the normal flow of things. (Of course, some ways of opting out are better than others!)
Not that I’m feeling competent enough as a parent to usher my children to foreign lands, at least, not at the moment: in all my imagining what sort of dangerous behavior Nick and his buddies might be getting up to (think “Basketball Diaries“), I missed out on the fact that he’s almost out of testing strips for his glucometer. A mundane thing, refilling a prescription – until that prescription isn’t refilled in time and we have no way to check his blood sugar and therefore no way to know exactly how much insulin he needs and then it becomes a really, really crucial thing. We have seven strips to last all day tomorrow (today) and Monday morning. If his blood sugar is perfect, we’ll squeak by, but if he’s high or especially if he’s low and needs rechecking, we’re in trouble. Makes my scolding him about responsibility somewhat less effective.
I have no conclusion, no way of wrapping this up gracefully. I looked at the clock and it reads 4:53 a.m. and now all I can think is I should try to get some sleep.