At some point around the 5th grade (I can only get a rough estimate based not on time, but on specific girls I had a crush on) my mom sent Matty and I to Waiau Summer Fun. I had attended a small Catholic school all of my life to that point and consequently, I wasn’t prepared for the kinds of kids I would meet in a public program. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not making a value assessment – it’s more that my mother sheltered me for most of my life and I don’t think she knew (I certainly didn’t) how instructive those summers would ultimately be.
I learned about lying and theft and sex and divorce and mixed families. Perhaps these concepts carry negative connotations, but for a young, naive boy, theses first experiences were fascinating. I had to pretend I knew what the other kids were talking about because I didn’t want to constantly ask “What do you mean?” and seem like an idiot, or – worse – uncool.
Waiau is where I first heard non-KSSK music. Summer Fun is where I learned the gloriousness that is sham-battle. There were girls wearing things other than plaid skirts and white blouses. I didn’t have to wear shoes that were exclusively white or black or blue. For two months every year, I disappeared into another world. I loved it.
Random Memory #1: I considered the guys I hung around with the “cool guys”. What made them cool to me was that they behaved in a manner no one else I knew did. They openly defied authority. It wasn’t aggressive; they just didn’t always immediately listen. The talked back. For two months of the year I would behave in a manner more aligned with theirs than my true nature, then somehow revert back to my true self for the school year. I suppose this explains how I tried my first cigarette at 13, but didn’t actively smoke again until I was 20. It seems insane, but it’s true. Also, these guys were hilarious. I am 36 and to this day, one of the funniest exchanges I’ve ever witnessed took place between two of the guys I hung out with. In a supposed time of silence, a boy named Nathan Bee (at least two years older than me) shouted – seemingly without provocation – at Mikey Fong (a year older than me) “Fong, Fong, go to Hong Kong.” I suppose this was an attempt at a sick burn. Anyway, this statement prompted Mr. B (pictured above) to shout Nathan’s name in anger. Mikey’s reaction was to shout back at Nathan, “See, Bee – drink your shi-shi.” Mr. B. Then yelled Mikey’s name in anger. My entire body was convulsing in laughter.
Random Memory #2: There was a boy a year old than me who some of the other kids referred to as “Lonny”. In my memory, he was an extreme cool kid for two reasons: he hooked up with (you know, in as much as a 6th grader in 1990 “hooks up”) with the prettiest girl at Summer Fun, and his attendance was extremely sporadic. He was almost always there on pool and beach days, however. Anyway, he started wearing a black trucker hat (which, back then was just a “cap”) on which the question “Where the heck is Lanai?” was printed in white. Do you know what I did? I spent an entire day trying to figure out why he wore that particular cap. Was Lanai’s location a secret? Was it some kind of cultural – pop or otherwise (remember, I was sheltered) that I simply was not aware of? Did he wear it because “Lanai” approximated the sound of “Lonny”? Can you imagine my quiet embarrassment and self-loathing that occurred when I later realized that he wore it because he was f*cking 11-years old and that’s what was lying around his house? Damn it. But the point is: I assumed it must have meaning because I thought he was cool. Only I couldn’t see what was cool about the cap, so I had to come up with a reason why a cool guy would wear that cap.
The earliest set of memories I can date originate in 1989, the year I started playing baseball. It’s the lone event of significance that helps me organize my past. To be sure, there are earlier memories – my first grade teacher getting pregnant and leaving for half the year; being utterly terrified of my second grade teacher; visiting my mom at the hospital after she had given birth to Paul. But here and now, at 36, it feels like 1989 is the starting point of my memories. This terrifies me. Because Madison is in the neighborhood.
Madison is 8 now, but since about the age of 6, she’s grown increasingly willful and defiant of her mother and me. We have had many talks about this conflict. Madison has her good days, but in my opinion, there are still far too many bad ones.
Madison is 8 now, but my default view of her is as my 4 or 5-year old baby. She’s growing up. Her eyes widen when she hears a swear word on television or in a song. She talks back, and while she doesn’t quite understand sarcasm in others, when she is in one of her moods, her tone is so acerbic that part of me marvels at its poison. Did I teach her that? I’m almost certain that I did – by exposure rather than instruction, but still.
I am 36 now and what I know is that the learning never stops. I know what I didn’t know back then: from here on out, her most critical learning is going to come from her peers. Her resistance to my voice now troubles me. Can it possibly improve as she gets older? Or when she hits double-digits, will I yearn for the halcyon days of 6, 7, and 8-years old?
I want to stop it, but I know I can’t. Experiences like the ones I collected during my summer fun days were invaluable lessons. I want her to have those experiences, to learn those lessons. I just… I want to control them. And then I remember how much I absolutely hated my mother’s attempts to control me. I think about this all the time. In fact, whenever I come down on Mad for deliberately disobeying me, I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but they aren’t the ones I want to say.
Please. I have tried to be reasonable with you. I don’t understand why you cannot heed my simple instructions. It hurts. It hurts me. Things would be so much simpler if things were the way they were.
It goes on like this. And I don’t know that it will end soon.