Another parenting milestone today. One I absolutely saw coming. Utterly predictable. Should have accepted it with grace. Better yet, I could have avoided it altogether. Alas, I attempted one more “spandex-suited school lunch” with my second born than the universe would allow. And when I say “universe,” I mean my newly-minted 12 year-old’s sense of propriety.
This is a tradition I have enjoyed for approximately a dozen years, give or take, since my elder son was a kindergartner. Saddle up and ride my bike from our home in San Francisco out to my sons’ school in Marin. Slide into the cafeteria line, and enjoy a little lunch with one of my boys. When Max or Everett measured up merely to my navel, these unannounced journeys would be met with genuine “My Dad is here! My Dad is here!” over-the-top enthusiasm. They might even jump into my arms at a full sprint, causing my slick cycling shoes to lose purchase with the pavement. I don’t think this magic ever wore off for Max, even as he grew taller, older, and graduated out.
Everett, on the other hand, is officially over it. After today, I suspect he would avert his eyes, disclaim my paternity, possibly take a vow of silence as it relates to me, should I tempt fate with a lunchtime bike ride ever again.
Back to today. I arrived at school with a few minutes to spare before the appointed lunch hour of 12:05pm, using it to clean up in the adult restroom, so as not to appear a sweaty mess with a mohawk-esque hairdo. As I duck-walked towards the bathroom, I saw a strangely familiar face head off in the other direction — at least I thought I saw a familiar face. I dismissed the notion almost immediately, as I was already wasting precious time and had to focus on stepping daintily in the name of safety with cycling shoes that aren’t made for stepping on anything. Plus, why in the world would George Lucas be hanging around my kids’ school?
So I cleaned up. Cleaned up nice, even. Made my way (carefully, again) back to the usual rendezvous point at which I’ve met my sons dozens of times over a dozen years. I saw Everett come running at a full sprint with the rest of his buddies, as if none had eaten in weeks. I felt the familiar feeling of expectation and anticipation as he approached. Our eyes met, he stopped short, and I knew — immediately — that I had made a terrible mistake. I was not the Dad he was looking for, “Star Wars” aficionados might have said. I suspect he didn’t want to see any Dad. Certainly not his dad, at least not while his dad was decked out in spandex.
To Everett’s credit, he was polite. (His parents have evidently taught him some manners.) We sat across from each other at the lunch table, my legs cramping due to a seat too close to the floor, and ate. Unlike every other lunch like this over the years, he and I were an island unto ourselves. His school chums did not sit with us. No high-fives with anyone — though I have coached many of them on baseball and basketball teams over the years. Ev suffered through 15 minutes of relative ostracism. Gamely — if monosyllabically — answering my vanilla questions that fell flat at striking up a meaningful conversation. Thankfully, the kiddie rumor mill confirmed that George Lucas had apparently visited campus that morning. My “sighting” of him sparked a few seconds of novelty and appreciation in my 6th grader’s eyes, saving me from an otherwise disastrous lunch.
Everett and I became separated in the chaotic recycling/composting/garbage line that immediately follows lunch. I scanned the room and playground. But he wasn’t there. For a moment or two more, I hung around out of force of habit. I am conditioned to his needing to see me, and his feeling abandoned if I disappear unannounced without saying goodbye. The moment passed. And that period of his life where he needed to see me and say goodbye has passed, too, I realized, standing there in my spandex and slippery cycling shoes.
Yet another instance where I grudgingly acknowledge that I am slowly working myself out of the best job I have ever had: Being Dad.
I geared up for the long ride home, without exchanging goodbyes with my son. A bit of an empty feeling in my stomach, despite the full plate of cafeteria food gurgling away in there. The trek back to San Francisco was more challenging than it should have been, most likely because I had taken a bit of an emotional hit. I arrived back home on fumes — physically and emotionally running on empty. This was the fatigued and depleted state in which I lingered, in a bit of a funk, while absent-mindedly pulling on sneakers to take the dog for a quick afternoon jaunt around the block.
Fortunately, I caught my error shortly before Everett arrived back home on the school bus. Disaster (narrowly) averted. I had barely endured the morning’s “Last Spandex Lunch” experience. I surely would not have survived the disgusted look on Ev’s face had he spied his old man shuffling around the house with two different sneakers on. And this time, George Lucas could not save me.
Thanks for reading.