I have tried over the years to have separate friends for Joel and Jules. I thought, for some silly reason, that it would be good for them. But it never worked. All the boys just ended up melting into one big blob of tousled heads. The exact same boys will be invited to Jules party when he turns 11.
On the night before the party I had to pick up one boy who lives out of town, then pick up The Joels at co-op. That resulted in Harlan joining us and the 4 boys slept outside with the coyotes that night. The next morning they were joined by Levi before we headed out to pick up the other two boys, brothers Jack and Ian, on the way to the arcade. Levi and Harlan have been friends with Joel since they were 3. Levi brought a rather large book with him. His mom snatched it away, saying he needed to leave the book at home. "He needs some socialization," she said. This made me grin because Levi is the only one of the bunch who attends school. Austen called shotgun, yelling, "I get to sit up front with Joel's mom! Yes!" Nobody was fighting him over this, but he still thought he scored a win. Austen does 1 of 2 things in the car - he sleeps or talks. He did both on the way to the arcade. The back of the van was rambunctious with many conversations going on at once, most of them centered around bodily functions. I was relieved when Levi began to discuss his favorite book series, which held the other boys' attention only until Austen impressively stuck nearly his entire ear through the tiny little hole of a CD. Then everyone wanted to stick their ears through CD holes. How could Levi compete with that?
When we picked up Jack and Ian the excitement intensified. The van literally rocked back and forth all the way to the arcade. First up was the bumper boats. We purchased tickets and stood in line. A blond-haired boy who didn't look much older than my group slowly saddled over.
"Where's the guy who runs the boats?" he said. I was like, "You're asking me?"
"Ahhh, he's probably on break," he said. Then he looked at us and sighed and said, "That's the story of my life."
I liked the kid immediately.
He began a long tirade in a tour guide/ flight attendant tone. "Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to board the boats yourselves. Do you hear me? Everybody look at me. I help you in the boats one at a time. Don't try to get in the boats without me. Don't rock your boats. Don't rock anyone else's boat. If for some reason, your boat capsizes, do not panic. For God's sake stand up - it is only 12 inches deep. Now then, do not run to the boats....blah blah blah, yada yada yada." I am not kidding. This is exactly what he said according to my memory.
He opened the gates. The boys ran to the boats and began to jump in....
"STOP!!!" shouted our friendly boat boy. "Are you deaf? Did you hear me?" He turns to me, "Did you hear me? You heard me right? I told them not to run, I told them not to get in the boats....am I even here? Can you see me?"
I assured him that I felt his pain. He was preaching to the choir. He managed to get everyone buckled in, untied, and kicked off. He said they would have a 5 minute ride.
I opened my book and began to read. Then I hear, "So what do you have planned for the rest of the day?"
I looked up. "Excuse me?" I said.
"I asked you what you're doing for the rest of the day," said Bumper Boat Boy.
I told him my plans, which basically included driving boys to their various homes. Then I opened my book back up.
"So do you live around here?"
I closed my book. Was he hitting on me? I glanced down at my crossed white thighs with their intricate varicose vein maps....no, he was just bored. I set the book down.
Bumper Boat Boy used to live in Maryland, which is nice, but DC isn't all its cracked up to be. It has a lot of problems. High crime. Taxation without representation. I heard about how education is overrated (which I kind of agree with - read The Teenage Liberation Handbook)...he was quite the philosopher.
I told him I had forgotten my camera and Bumper Boat Boy told me that cameras are also highly overrated. "Who looks at their pictures?" he asked. "Who ever sits down and watches all the hours of useless videos they take? All these folks do is go home and download everything into a computer where it sits until the computer crashes and then they get all sad and miss all the pictures they never looked at in the first place...." Oooohhhhh, I liked this kid. I was like, "Right? Don't you think that people sometimes live their lives watching their lives through a lens rather than really being there?"
"Yes, yes!" he said. "That is exactly it. There is no integrity to life. Just a recording of the false version of it..." OK - I LOVED this kid.
Eventually the boys weren't even shooting their water guns at each other, anymore. They were kind of looking at Bumper Boat Boy like, "Dude - how long does this last?" Harlan looked sea sick. I think they got about 15 minutes out of it. He got them all out of the boats and we headed off to the go carts. Bumper Boat Boy and I were like two bumper boats passing in the night.....
I formed no such connection with Go Cart Kid. Half of my group (including the Joels) had never been on go carts. Go Cart Kid mumbled a bunch of rules that were interspersed with "if you do that you can get seriously hurt or killed" while pacing back and forth and messing with his keys. 90% of the time his back was to the boys. I looked at the boys. A few looked terrified, one was panicking over his seat belt....all were excited.
"Hold on, " I said to the kid. "Jules, did you hear anything this young man just said?"
"What? Who? Huh?"
I asked Go Kart Kid to repeat his rules, and I interpreted. Go Kart Kid threatened to evict anyone who started any monkey business in between telling the boys they could die on the track at any moment. He started their engines and they were off!!
Two of them drove like my grandma :). But they had gigantic grins on their faces, even though their knuckles were white. The rest were pretty gung-ho. There were, after all, two sibling groups out there jockeying for position.
There was one little surprise, though. In the middle of it, Jules turned his cart around and came roaring through the pit area with wide, wild eyes, before crashing full-speed into the wall. He narrowly missed splattering Go Kart Kid into the track. Go Kart Kid was not happy. In fact, he was no longer mumbling and was kind of screaming, "What are you doing? How did you get back through here? You could have KILLED me!" This was an excitable kid. He somehow got Jules turned back around and back onto the track. Go Kart Kid spent the rest of the ride on the sidewalk - staying out of the pit area, entirely, which proves that he was merely impersonable, not stupid.
"I have never seen that, before," he said while shaking his head back and forth.
"Well, he is hearing impaired," I informed him. As if that explained it. I always say that. It makes me feel better and the other person feel slightly guilty. (Jules is completely deaf in his right ear - which really doesn't affect him all that much).
"Sorry," he said.
"That's okay," I answered smugly.
After the boys got off the go karts we headed into the arcade area for pizza, sodas, and games. The boys exhibited various levels of skill at the video games. Jules had 34 tickets when it was all over and Jack had over 900. The birthday boy made an impressive haul (not as much as Jack, though) and traded his tickets for some sticky eyeballs, pop-ups, ANOTHER egg-laying rubber chicken (you can't have too many of those), and a glider that he broke as soon as he got in the car. Jack is saving his tickets. He wants to get enough to trade for the lava lamp. The lava lamp costs a zillion tickets. I told him you can buy a lava lamp at Wal-Mart for like $10. He looked at me like, "What's your point?"
Austen called shotgun again and we headed home, making a quick stop for snow cones on the way. I returned kids to their homes with tongues of various shades of red, blue, green, and purple. The boys all had a great time and so did I. Somehow, my telephone is now exhibiting Austen's eyeball as a screensaver.
Tonight we took the family out for dinner. The Joels ate their weight in sushi. We went to a buffet that was somewhat questionable in quality. It was what Joel wanted and he enjoyed it. We brought him home for cake and presents and we were joined by my dad and sister. Joel got the geek package for his birthday. Everything he received had something to do with Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Runescape, or World of Warcraft. He said it was the best day of his life. Of course, he says that when I hand him a sandwich, which is why, (Ellie would say) he is my favorite.
I can't believe this child is 14. This is the child who answered "Sweet Baby" when someone asked his name. He is my happiest child. To me, turning 14 is kind of like turning 6. When you turn 6, it is official big-kid time. Turning 14 is official teen time. It is a "jump". I always get sad right before a jump such as this. I think I am going to miss the person they were. I really fixate on it. However, it never happens. The new person fills the space. It is weird. They leave no ghosts behind...they take themselves fully with them into the next phase. I look at the old pictures and I marvel at the changes, but I don't miss the babies and toddlers and children in the photos. They've not gone anywhere. Still, yesterday was tough for me, waiting for today. But today came and Joel is still here, all smiles and hair and grin - not the baby I held at my breast - but still Joel. There is nothing to miss. I came across a poem I wrote the night before Joel turned 6.
He makes his fashion statement by way of a Super Hero on his underwear.
He saves the world by day and dreams in a well-worn pirate costume at night.
“Baby” is a bad word.
He loves cowboy boots and belts.
He mashes a butterfly to see what happens, and cries that it can no longer fly.
He squats to watch ants for hours.
His speed at running is determined by the color of his newer, faster sneakers.
A mud puddle is an invitation he simply cannot pass up.
He still needs a nap but no longer takes one.
He still needs hugs and kisses but no longer wants them.
His little knees are rough and there is dirt under his fingernails.
He likes to pour sand in his socks, or throw it into the wind.
He’ll cry when it lands in his eyes. Then he will do it, again.
There is treasure to be found in his pockets, and in his laughter.
Real and imaginary are mostly the same.
He expects the magical and knows not of impossible.
Who is he; this whirlwind of activity wrapped in the stillness of awe and wonder?
He is a little boy with the last remnants of baby stuck to his rough edges.
He is something he has never been before and never will be again.
He is my five-year old.
He is mostly mine but partly his.
He is learning how to claim himself, little by little.
Stealing bits away from me until one day, I shall wake to find him all his own.
So today, I will hold tight the little hand when we cross the street.
Tonight I will kiss shut the little eyes.
I will memorize his chubby face, his tousled hair, his baby tooth grin.
For tomorrow, he will be different.
Tomorrow he will be six.
Looking back through all the birthday pictures, Joel changes a little year by year. But the change between last year and this year is quite dramatic. Manhood is truly upon him. His face has lost its softness. His features are sharper and more angular. He is taller than me and Ellie. His voice is so low. His outside doesn't match his inside. I guess that day will come. Will I be sad? I feel like I will be. Here is his birthday picture from last year, when he turned 13.
And here are some more goofy pics of the cake scenario. I asked Joel for a serious picture but he said it wasn't my birthday. Oh well. He's right.
So there is a new boy in my house tonight. A 14-year-old boy where there wasn't one, before. And yet, nobody is missing. How can that be?
A slightly melancholy Sardine Mama