This month saw two major developments in our lives. My medical problem was finally diagnosed and I had my appendix (along with six inches of my intestines) removed and have spent this month since the 12th transitioning from agony to recovery. You’ve been very nice and very protective. On the day I returned from the hospital, not even an hour after returning home, Bella, who had been on my lap, heard the door open and attempted a bank shot off my tummy on her way to the side door. Somehow, with spider-man-like reflexes, before I even had time to put my hands up to stop her, you reached over, grabbed Bella, and put her on the floor. You saved me from having to return to the hospital. No doubt.
And another, more subtle milestone occurred. It’s much bigger news. Your stuffed animals are now in a bin, the lid has been closed and they have been placed into the garage. Your reaction to this has been interesting. You were definitely reluctant, and have told me that mom “kinda forced” you to do it to make room for your new dresser. There seems to be–from your perspective–both truth and exaggeration in this narrative. The exaggeration, I think, is for my benefit.
A little history…in case you’ve forgotten…
From the time you were 3-and-a-half to about the age of 9, we went into your room and I made your animals come alive and interact with you for 10 minutes every day. No weekends off. And when we missed a day, we’d “do a double,” the following day. (But triples were not allowed and you could not carry a balance greater than 20 minutes.) It was a strict, time-boxed event, with built-in warnings. “Five minutes left. Two minutes left. One minute left. OK, time for a last thing.” And looking back on this, I wonder if you think this was incredibly anal of me. In my defense, we started these play times loose and untimed. But then every session ended with a rage against its ending. I tried lots of things and finally landed on a super-rigid structure with very definite rules. That put an end to the bad times. Then the regimen stuck.
Some time around the age of 9, you became much more busy with homework after school and trying to fit these evenings in became difficult, so I’d say we probably did this 3-4 times/week, always skipping on bath nights. By the time you were 10, we were down to once a week on the nights mom was teaching at North Park and the occasional weekend. And then since you turned 11, I’d say we’ve maybe made animals talk 3 or 4 times and each time felt like playing to a tough crowd. You don’t seem to have fully accepted this, but you’re over it. I can feel it.
I’ve seen you go from pretending to be one of the animals, to being yourself but with magic powers, to just being yourself–a snarkier, tougher, slightly too-cool-for-school version of yourself. You’ve gone from tyrannical bouts of screaming at your animal friends, even biting them, almost every night to occasionally beating the stuffing out of Monkey. I had to work harder and harder to be funny as you got harder to amuse. By age 11, I’ve definitely reached my funny-on-cue limit. I can’t make you laugh like I used to. At first, I could just make the animals fart and you’d laugh your head off. Eventually, I had to develop consistent characters, tell more involved stories, get us (usually with your participation or even lead) into fantastical realms and serialized plots. The extent to which this kind of entertainment is hard work for a guy my age has definitely been lost on you.
Anyway, while I’m not sure we’ve said our formal goodbye to them yet…we have crossed a threshold. I do wonder if this is goodbye because a more formal one would be too hard on you. But…
Even if it’s not technically over, it’s over. And what do I think looking back on this? Do I miss it? That’s a hard question to answer. I can’t pretend that I miss being so in-demand as an entertainer in my home. But every time you got me into your room and we sat down and pulled out those animals, I had a really good time. Even when I was tired or sick or had a really bad day, I would usually find myself locked in and enjoying our play times. What I can say for sure is that I miss having some kind of activity we can do together.
Is it any coincidence that this is a time when you and I are struggling to be closer?