Monthly Archives: February 2016

First Time for Everything


The other night my son, Clyde, and I sat down to watch a movie together. We do this about once a week, and as long as I provide the snacks he is willing to put up with whatever I want him to watch. In exchange, I try to make the movie we watch semi-relevant to whatever’s going on in his life, or in the world, or sometimes even both. When he started to get more interested in dance we watched all of the Step Up movies. When Alan Rickman died we watched Galaxy Quest. And when he started to read poetry we watched Dead Poet’s Society.

I felt a little guilty about Dead Poet’s Society, because I didn’t really tell him anything about the movie before we watched it other than that even though it had Robin Williams in it it wasn’t really a comedy. So he was totally blind-sided when we got to the scene where Neil kills himself.

“Did that—did that really happen?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I replied, although I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was asking me if a main character had really just killed himself, or if I had really tricked him into watching it happen. Sometimes, when the movies resonate a little too closely with what’s going on in his life at the moment things can get a bit meta, but in this case my answer worked just as well for both questions.

Later that evening, long after the popcorn had been eaten and the movie was over, I was still feeling kind of bad about tricking Clyde into watching that scene when I realized something disturbing: watching our kids watch the heartbreaking scenes in movies can pretty much sum up the entirety of our parenting experience. In other words: watching the people you love the most experience all of the worst parts of life firsthand is kind of the essence of parenting.

That, and being entirely unable to stop any of it at the same time.

Sure, if you’re lucky you get to avoid watching them experience the absolutely worst of the the worst first experiences: first time they get a life-threatening injury, first time they watch a friend die, first time the world falls out from beneath their feet and they lose absolutely everything. But the other terrible firsts, the ones that feels just as bad as an amputation—first heartbreak, first failure when they really, really tried, first betrayal—those we get to be front and center for.

Of course, we also get to be front and center for the best kind of firsts as well—first loves and first successes included—but as usual those moments don’t resonate with us for quite as long as the negative ones. And besides, for moments like those there are always their real friends.

Some cultures believe that all of our existence is a great karmic wheel, and that we are doomed (or privileged) to come back over and over again until we finally understand enough of what’s going on to get things right. Other cultures think that’s nonsense. As for my culture, I think I am doomed (or privileged) to get to watch the people who look a little bit like me (but are exponentially better), have a go at every single aspect of this life thing—the good, the bad, and the ugly—for the very first time.

And then, to top it all off, you guys get to watch me watch them.

Talk about meta.

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Because our house was built in the early 1900s by poor people, it is insulated with about a week’s worth of the newspapers of the day. (It is amazing how much of the front page news back then was dedicated to ships sinking, something that probably affected absolutely no one in this mountain town. Although I suppose it is no stranger than us obsessing over an airliner crashing in the Indian Ocean today.) This “insulation” means that our house gets extremely cold in the winter, which also means that, sometimes, our pipes get extremely frozen, and burst. “Luckily,” our ancient house also came equipped with a gigantic hole in the floor, courtesy of a floor furnace that no longer exists. Most of the time this hole is covered up, but occasionally, when we need to get under the house (say when a pipe bursts, for instance), we open it up. Which is what happened just the other night. Which is why I felt compelled to give my son, Clyde, fair warning. (The hole is located right outside his bedroom door.)

“Clyde!” I shouted. “Don’t fall in the hole!”

I expected agreement. I expected him to make an appearance, to check things out. (Who doesn’t enjoy looking at a hole?) What I didn’t expect was for him to shout back in annoyance, “What hole?”

After thinking about it for a second, I answered with, “Well, any hole, actually. But in particular, this hole.”

“Fine,” he replied, obviously annoyed at being interrupted in his quest to save the post-apocalyptic online world by my efforts to save his pre-apocalyptic real life. (Or at least his shins.) By the time he finally came out of his lair the pipe had been fixed, the hole covered up, and (most of) the mud that accompanies such a repair cleaned up. As such, there was almost no evidence a repair—and the subsequent hole—had ever existed in the first place. Which was why I found it rather odd when Clyde brought up the hole the very next day.

“I am trying, you know,” he said, apropos of nothing. (We were driving down the road and I was busy trying to find a radio station that was not playing any Adele.)

“What?” I asked, at almost the exact same time Adele breathed out her first “Hello.”

“Not to fall in the hole,” Clyde said, as if the intervening 24 hours between the pipe bursting and now had never happened.

“O-kay…?” I helpfully replied.

“I know, alright? School is important, grades are important…I don’t need you randomly shouting at me to get it”

I thought for a minute, and then it hit me. “Do you think I was telling you not to fall into a metaphorical hole?” I asked.

He looked at me like I was crazy. “Well, yeah. Isn’t that what you meant?”
I laughed. “No. I was speaking literally. About the very real hole in our very real living room.”

“Oh,” was his only reply.

“But while we’re on the subject of grades, and holes…”

And that’s when Clyde reached forward and turned up the volume on the radio. “I love this song, don’t you? I think it’s Adele.”

And that was the end of that conversation. Maybe having him fall in the hole wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all—at least that way he would have had to stay in one place while I nagged.

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