Nurse Vivian went on every one of my field trips, and so I go on every one of the boys’. Not always a good idea. The teachers know what I do for a living, and they know how “spirited” my sons are, so they tend to put the other “spirited” kids in my car. They’re the first ones on the roller coaster vomiting up cotton candy. True story: On the trip to the Exploratorium, two boys had a contest to see who could put more sand in their ears. So when Ms. Munoz asked for chaperones on the hike to Mount Tamalpais, my son Aidan made sure that my name was on top.
Father does not always know best, despite whatever Bud Anderson may have said. No, fathers are frequently wrong.
My son Zane is 14, which means that Father never knows best. The problem with 14-year-olds is that even when I say, “I told you so,” he doesn’t believe me. I quote Mark Twain, who said, “When I was 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.” Zane rolls his eyes.
We are in that rough patch of letting go that is called teenage. It is the age when any normal boy, let alone a spirited boy, breaks the rules just for the sake of breaking them.
I was 14 once and I picked up my own bad habits, which makes me something of a hypocrite when I judge his. Brother X made me memorize the words on the Budweiser label before I took my first underage drink, and I wish there was such a test nowadays for my child before he embraces a new vice.
Maybe that’s the issue. He is no longer “my child.” He is “my almost adult.”
Though I cannot control high school, I’m still in charge of weekends, and so we went up to San Anselmo to visit our friends Stephanie and Mordecai (the SASBs). The SASBs also adopted children, and even though theirs are not quite as “spirited” as ours, they still understand the road we travel: extreme parenting.
Stephanie’s the sensible one. As soon as friends pull up the driveway, she uncorks a bottle of wine and lets the adults visit while the children ignore each other by playing on electronic devices. Mordecai, however, has this eccentric notion that children really want to spend time with their parents, and so he yelled out to his boy, some neighbors’ boys and my boys, “Let’s go for a hike.”
Two thoughts went through my head: (1) Maybe I should do a practice hike before I take on Mount Tamalpais and (2) Mordecai’s a vegan. He’ll never be able to handle my two sons out in the woods. So I put my sneakers on and said, “Let’s go.”
Aidan nodded, but Zane said, “No.” No coaxing could prevail. “Dad, I’m gonna try being reasonable with you. Trails have woods. Woods are full of spiders. Arachnophobia. Most common fear of a 14-year-old boy.”
I hunched my shoulders: “Zane, you can’t live your life afraid of one little bug.” Aidan and I ambled off, following Mordecai onto the Solstice Trail. I knew I was in over my head when we passed the sign that read: “DANGEROUS ANIMALS may be present including MOUNTAIN LIONS & RATTLESNAKES.”
We do not define the journey. The journey defines us.
We climbed on, past the star lilies, periwinkles and fiddleheads, over streams and up rocks.
Aidan stuck with me the entire time, even when the other four boys disappeared up a creek bed, searching for frogs, finding a snake.
We wandered back, just as dusk was sliding through the Monterey pines. We bid adieu to the SASBs and drove south through the fog. As we crossed the Golden Gate, Aidan complained, “My back is itchy,” and I had no cure other than scratching. We got back to the bedlam bungalow in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior, and my always-wise husband, said, “Aidan, take a shower.”
It was then we discovered the scariest tick ever to inhabit the Northern woods. Aidan panicked. I panicked. Papa calmed. As we called the emergency room, ready for another journey into the night, Zane whispered, “Daddy, it’s still nice to say I told you so.”