Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Father-Son "Connection"

Diego and the author, in a rare "cuddly" moment last Christmas
Today my work took me -- as it occasionally does -- to my son's middle school, where members of my AVID team and I were interviewing 8th graders interested in joining our AVID program at the high school next year.  I decided it would be a good idea to run out and get my son some lunch and surprise him in the cafeteria to break bread. Taking my place in the lunchroom a few minutes before the bell, I strategically chose a position where I would be able to see him coming, while avoiding being trampled by a couple hundred 11 and 12 year-olds.

We spotted each other fairly quickly, and he flashed a vague smile, shaking my hand.  I suppose I could have gone for a hug, but I didn't, as he's not generally a big hugger, even in the privacy of his home. "Not this room, we eat in the other room," he said, moving quickly to where he and his friends normally eat.  Pointing to a row of round seats permanently attached to long dining tables, Diego broke it down for me.  "This is my seat, and that one is Alec's," he said, motioning to the one I was about to settle onto.  He raised his eyebrow and said, "You can sit here," motioning to the seat on the opposite side of him.  Obediently, I took the seat he had indicated.

I produced the Subway Sandwich Shop bags and his smile grew a little broader, before he suppressed it.  "Did you get it right this time?" he asked with a grin.  I laughed, (a) because it's a running joke that I can never remember the exacting specifications of Diego's sandwich order (turkey, no cheese, lettuce, no tomato, pickles AND cucumber.  Salt, pepper, oil and vinegar.  NO MAYO), and also because my wife had just texted me his sandwich preferences earlier that morning, when I'd let her know of my plans.

He looked up at a sign on the wall that I could not read and said, "Oh good!"

"What?" I asked.

"We can use technology during lunch.  If everyone behaves well enough in the cafeteria, then they let us use our devices the next day."

"Oh great," I answered.  I had originally pictured us being like those kids at my school when their parents come in, sitting comfortably, laughing, chatting.  That paradigm clearly did not exist in the 6th grade cafeteria experience.

And that was okay by me.  Again, I could have made a big deal of it and forced him (and myself) to put away the iPhone.  "Talk to me, son!" I could have intoned.  "Be here with me in the moment."  Or some such whiny-old-mannish complaint.

But then I told myself, Hey, it wasn't like he was expecting you.  You decided it would be nice to drop in on him with lunch, and I'm sure it was, indeed, nice for him.  On some level.  Two things to consider, though, were that this was his time, and that I was only an interloper.  My experience does not equal his experience.  And my expression of love and joy is not necessarily the same as his expression of love and joy.

In the end, I got to sit with my boy and laugh with him a bit about a new game he was playing on his phone:  something called "aa," in which one has to deposit spokes onto a spinning wheel, trying always to get to the next level.  I watched Diego and his friend Alec laugh together as they played the game, each on his own iPhone.  I feigned interest, asking them about their strategies for beating the game.  They were politely tolerant of me, though I could tell they were much more content just to be playing together, or at least next to each other......

"Well sir," I joked with him as I got up, "good talk.  Alec, you take care."

Both boys shook my hand, and I made my way over to Diego's assistant principal to say hello and drop dime on a group of boys playing "truth or dare" at the next table.  As I left, I took one look back at my son, still a boy, but on the verge of the next phase, laughing, happy and in his space.

A little sad, I made my way out of the cafeteria, leaving the din of too many children behind me.  "This is as it should be," I reassured myself.  "This is exactly as it should be."