X and Why? By: Atthys Gage
X and Why?
By: Atthys Gage
My son is in church. A plastic turtle in ninja garb climbs the seat-back in front of us. There is a hushed voice, mine. It says: “Please stop doing that.”
He stops, for about eight seconds.
(We confess that we are in bondage to sin…)
Green-shelled Raphael ascends again. Now he is walking along the back of the pew.
(by what we have done and what we have left undone…)
The turtle totters, falls, clatters on the hardwood. I growl, reach down. It is under the bench in front of us. I retrieve it from between the heels of a pair of polished black wing-tips.
“After,” I say, quiet but deadly. “You can have it back later.”
Children are crazy.
I’ll repeat that: Children are crazy. Most of them act so bizarrely most of the time that the ones who don’t can rightly be regarded as abnormal because they don’t act like the rest. The main problem with about half of them is that they are boys.
The wise man, they say, walks with his head bowed, humble as the dust. Sometimes that seems like the whole point of life – to humble us, to show us how powerless we really are. But nothing in my life has been more humbling than having kids. Nothing has ever made me feel less adequate, less prepared, less grown-up than being a parent. No one has ever provoked more feelings of resentment in me, or more anger, than my own children. And though I would’ve been the first to insist that there was no fundamental difference between boys and girls, and to claim that socialization was the prime cause of their apparent dissimilarity, well…that was before my son.
It is Tuesday morning, and we are yelling about shoes.
Shoes are a stupid thing to yell about. Shoes are trivial. They lack scope. You’re either putting them on or you’re taking them off, and other than that they’re fundamentally ignorable.
But when it is time to put on your shoes, that’s what you should be doing, not sorting your Yu Gi Oh cards or reassembling Bionicles. Of course, this particular argument is about more than shoes. It is also about socks that aren’t on yet either, and about how if you’d put your shoes where they belonged in the first place they wouldn’t be so hard to find, and no, I do not think you are looking for them because you are sitting on the floor snapping the Death Jaws back on Vezok the Destroyer, and the four times I’ve had to ask is four times too many in my book because you’re nine years old and you know full well when you’re supposed to be getting your shoes on. So just do it!
“That’s what I’m doing!”
“Don’t raise your voice to me!”
Oh, but he is. So am I, of course. It is a testament to how emotionally invested we are in our kids that a forty-seven year old man will bandy shouts with a nine year old boy.
By the time we reach the car, he has already moved on to recess football games and what he’s going to have for snack, but I am still seething about shoes. Pulling out of the driveway I cannot resist one more lecture about shoes, about being on time, about respect, about caring for others. I am rapidly sliding into dangerous territory: they are going to start laughing at me soon. They won’t mean to, but the pressure’s building up. They’ll trade looks, stifle the impulse. But the more they look at each other, the higher the needle on the laugh pressure-gauge will climb. I have to stop before we reach the stage where they can’t hold it back any more.
I never wanted to be this person, a person who yells about shoes. Before parenting, I was famous for my calm demeanor. I never yelled about anything. Now I yell about everything. I always hoped I would be Calm Dad, even Zen Dad. Instead, I am Bad Dad, Torturer Dad, Dad the Impaler. I make my voice rough and ugly, wanting my anger to be obvious and scary. I make myself, frankly, ridiculous. They should laugh at me. It’s the appropriate response to such a spectacle.
But not right at this moment.
When I return his turtle after church, he is twitchy and ungrateful. I picture God telling Ezekiel that the children of Israel are a “rebellious house”, that they are “stiff-backed.” That’s how he seems to me – rebellious and stiff-backed. Probably, he is also hungry. I give him a snack and that too produces an argument. It is not the snack he would have preferred. Once again, he cannot have what he really wants out of life.
There is something about the transition between church and home that brings out the worst in my son. Likewise between school and home, or baseball practice and home, and pretty much anything else you can think of and home. I do not think that this is a matter of him hating home. On the contrary, I think it is the shift itself, the grinding of his gears, or perhaps the roar of his slowing engines trying to absorb all that excess energy, like an eighteen-wheeler engine-braking on a long downgrade. He is being cranky because he is tired and being lippy because he is stressed. It’s his own word.
“I’m just stressed, Dad.”
Stress. Job-related stress. When he is at school or church or practice, he has a job to do: he has to get along with others. My son is a highly competent social animal, charming and likable. He can get along with others, but it is definitely work. There are rules to follow, turns to be taken, impulses to be controlled. Other people’s needs and feelings have to be considered, at least nominally. This is his job, and it stresses him out. All day long he is fighting to keep himself under control. When he gets home, the beast comes roaring out.
I recall a diagram from a high-school biology text-book, the chapter on genetics, showing the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome. All the little X-chromosomes are lined up in pairs, arms and legs extended in eager, pert jumping jacks. The single Y, the one that makes you male, seems to have collapsed, doubled-over by a stitch in his side. He looks shriveled and incomplete, even sad somehow. Indeed, the Y chromosome contains a mere 78 genes, which code for only 23 distinct proteins. This is compared to the mighty X which averages over a thousand. Such a puny little chromosome could never measure up. How could it?
I am not talking about my son here of course.
God, no. I am talking about me.
See the rest of the Pregnancy and Children Short Stories