Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Swimming From Alcatraz
OK, I'm back. Am I a little disappointed that no news reached my ears of any sort of worldwide panic or wave of global existential malaise caused by my brief distraction by the rigors of everyday life? Sure. But I'm going to go ahead and assume that's because journalists were caught up in the very same malaise and simply lacked the will or energy to report it.

And while there were no eruptions of spontaneous group violence related to my absence specifically, I rest assured in the knowledge that you all, no doubt, suffered in your own way because I skipped Monday.

As for why I went missing, well, I could do what I usually do and entertain you all with some fantastical and obvious lie replete with invented details and manufactured melodrama, but frankly, my NSA case-handler has forbidden me from discussing my freelance work in any detail. I'm not even allowed to mention that I've done any work for the NSA. So if anyone asks, shhh...

My supervisor and I have agreed that my official cover story will be that I was gone because this weekend my oldest boy turned seven. We did NOT--repeat, did NOT--celebrate this by spending ANY kind of time in a bunker deep underneath a mountain in Wyoming, looking at satellite images on a computer monitor and directing orbital laser platforms to eliminate individual enemy targets in Afghanistan from space. Did NOT. I mean, ha ha, we don't even have that kind of technology as a country. Ha ha.

Instead what we did was some typical kid-birthday stuff ending with dinner at one of those Japanese places where they cook your food in front of you whilst (yeah, I said "whilst") throwing the cutlery around. I like to think that my son likes this place because of the casual ambience, the social nature of the participatory experience and the quality of the food, but deep down I know that it's because the cooking implements are shiny and make a clanky-clank sound when banged together. But a father can dream.

My deeper concern is that, as a seven-year-old, my boy has officially reached what the Catholic church refers to as the age of reason. Apparently he's now officially old enough to qualify for Hell. To celebrate this, we bought him some Star Wars toys and a subscription to Playboy.

Actually, what this ostensibly means is that he is supposedly old enough to start making some moral discernments for himself, which means by extension that he is to be expected to shoulder some of the weight of his own sin. Frankly, it's a relief to know, at least theologically speaking, that EVERYTHING is no longer my fault.

In practice, this is an old idea left over from Olden Times (as an historian by training, this is my favorite phrase ever) when at the age of seven, a boy would start along the path that would determine the course of the rest of his life either by taking up education or the first steps toward taking religious orders or, in the case of peasant farmers, why it's more advisable to milk the cows and not the bulls or, finally, in the case of young nobles, how to finger the chambermaid.

These days, of course, we put adulthood off longer and longer. College isn't even the delimitor of personal independence as more and more of us leave the dorms and move straight back in with our parents while we try to figure out what exactly it is we can do with a degree in 18th century Italian rhyming poetry. I mean BESIDES kill ourselves.

As the social mark of being "grown up" gets pushed farther and farther out, seven these days is practically still infancy. And that's fine with me. Since child labor laws came about and ruined the Dickensian ideal of factory work, there's no place for him to go out and get a job at anymore anyway. So he might as well stay home.

I do recognize that at his age, he is starting to pay a little bit closer attention. He's just beginning to become plugged in to the culture around him. For instance, I've been listening to the same crappy morning-zoo type radio show since I was 15 years old. I still listen to it when I take the boy to school in the mornings. At first he annoyed me by talking over it, asking all kinds of goddamn unrelated questions and making all kinds of ridiculous observations ("Dad, look out for that truck!" etc.) in the perturbing way only young children can. Then he stopped talking over it. And now he will occasionally make a remark or ask an annoying question DIRECTLY related to the material coming off the radio. So now when they do a whole call-in segment about STDs (always funny!) I have to change it really fast. Unfortunately, the next pre-set button over is NPR. So we get to hear, at least for a little while, about misconceptions regarding the Chinese economy. Which is less fun than gonorrhea-talk.

What really disturbs me is when on the show they sneak in something inappropriate and I'll catch my kid chuckling to himself at it. At first I'm all: how the hell does he know the word "rimjob"? And then I remember I was in first grade once as well. Some kids play kickball; others huddle together and expand each other's vocabularies by repeating the words they hear from THEIR parents' morning radio selections. Or, OK, from their parents directly.

As for what I expect of him now that he's seven, well... I clearly don't abuse him enough to expect anything great out of him in the short term. All I can really expect at this point is for him to a) not eat anything he finds on the ground that he did not himself just recently drop and b) keep his alternate vocabulary a secret from his teachers. I don't want to be the parent to explain to the principal how and from where my kid knows the word "blumpkin."

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 9.9



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