Little Sister Love

Lily came home tonight to a house without Jake. Lily and Lisa have been San Diego. We find my ten year old in the bathroom crying. She and Jake are intensely close. He always looks out for her. On the floor of the bathroom she tells us “I feel like an only child when Jake is not here.” Her big tears are hard to bear. “Daddy, I miss him. I hope he’s okay. I cry when he cries.” I encourage her to write him.

There is an email service for Camp Colman. This is what she writes:

Dear Jake,
I MISS YOU SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO much. when i came home i missed you so much that i cryed in the bathroom for 10 min. i really want you too come home. but i hope your having a great time. i start crying every time i think about you.
i will love you for ever. your the best.
you are the best brother i could ask for

Lisa unpacks their bags. I come upstairs to change. Lily is asleep in Jake’s bed. A copy of  “Jake and the Magic shoes”, a book he wrote when he was seven, lays next to her. I grew up an only child. I get it now. Having a sibling means you always have someone who knows you as well as you know yourself.

Jake we miss you.

Separation Anxiety

The night before Jake goes to camp he tells Lisa “Mom, if Dad loses it in the parking lot of camp I’m going to lose it.” He has never been away from us for an entire week. I’m trying to be strong. I repacked Jake’s bag three times.

Jake is constantly singing. I can tell he is nervous. Lisa labeled everything down to the individual socks. I marveled at the paper thin decals with Jakes’ name printed on them. They attach on to anything. NASA must have come up with these labels. This way astronauts don’t get their delicates mixed up. Jake is guaranteed to forget at least one thing. A few centuries from now, an archeologist will discover a lost sock of Jakes’ and know this is where YMCA Camp Colman once stood.

I decide to drive Jake to Long Branch, WA. More for me than him. We pick up Jake’s two other buddies. Listening to the Beatles, a battle breaks out between the three twelve year olds on whether Abbey Road is better Revolver. I throw the White Album into the mix. Absolute chaos with Jake trying to one up his buddies on the Beatles lyrical history. This argument is broken by the kids singing “Maxwell Silver Hammer.” Jake tells us that “Martha, My Dear” was written about Paul’s dog. Then Jake’s iPod shuttles to “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road.” There is nothing like hearing ‘tween boys rip through that song with glee.

To get to Camp Colman you must cross a tight one lane road that splits through the middle of an inlet, with the Sound on one side and a wide lake on other. Camp Colman’s cabins and lodge hug the steep walls of the hill. The views are gorgeous. You can absolutely imagine pirates living amongst the Douglas firs and evergreens.

The camp opens at 2:30pm. We are at the gate 2:00pm. We’re in early so the boys get prime picking. Jake and his buddy are the first to secure their bunk beds. There is an advantage to having a father who likes to break the rules. I hang around to chat with the camp counselors. I witness a father awkwardly exchange a quick hug with his son and depart. Oh! – I think, I would never do that. Jake and I are tight. He still holds my hand. We even kiss on the lips.

The time comes. All the kids have picked bunks. Time for the first cabin meeting. The counselors start to assemble the boys. I look over at Jake. He is waiting to see if I’m going to break. I look around the room, the sun is pouring into this forest oasis. He is safe. Jake is going to have a great time. I smile. I go over to hug him. Instead of our typical embrace it’s replaced by a quick awkward hug. Damn. I’m trying to hold it together. I move to the front door of the cabin. I exchange pleasantries with another camp counselor, just in time to see Jake looking back at me. He is struggling. I give him the thumbs up and a big confident grin and I turn and go out the door.

The experience is like ripping off a band-aid. It is more for him than me. I get three feet from the cabin and I lose it. The drive home is a long one.

I have some comfort. The entire family went to see “Eat, Pray Love.” In one scene, Javier Bardem says good bye to his adult son. He hugs and kisses his son and starts to cry. I look over at Lisa and the kids and they are laughing. “What?” I ask. Jake points to the screen “Dad, that is soooo you.” I’ll take being compared to Javier Bardem any day.

I miss Jake.

Surrender To The One Eyed Pirate God

The Enchanted Forest is a hydraulic masterpiece. The park is set against Douglas firs, and it’s a stone’s throw away from Weyerhaeuser, the northwest lumber giant. I surprised Jake with a late afternoon trip to the land of Enchantment. It is directly connected to Wild Waves Water Park.

Jake leaves tomorrow for a week of over-night camp. I figure that bonding time is in order. We meet up with other friends and hit a few water rides together. Eventually Jake wants to break off. He is not the thrill-seeking type. His buddies like to hit the water rides that have four story drops. Jake likes to bob and duck dive in the wave pool. This type of attraction is more our pace.

I first see the Pirate while we are getting tossed around in the hydraulic induced waves of the wave pool. Jake and I go to investigate. The classic one-eyed marvel is actually a large, 100 gallon tea cup. The attraction is called the Caribbean Pirate Adventure. A huge rush of water fills the Pirate’s bandanna covered head until eventually the enormous head begins to rock back and forth. The water forces the head over, and a large volume of water hits the entire activity center from six stories above.

The water is extremely cold for this Caribbean activity. The Wild Wave architects do not want you to dawdle. The structure has water coursing throughout it’s metal veins. Cold water splashes you from above, it squirts from the side + a constant geyser surprises you from below. It is a barrage of water chaos. “Come on, Dad lets go for it.” The tea cup Giant starts to teeter.

I hate cold water. I need to surrender. So I do. Jake reaches for my hand and grips it tightly. We go together. Water soaks us, in a biblical way. We laugh our asses off. Now cold and extremely wet we scale to the top of the structure. A purple tube wraps around one end of the structure like an Olympic luge track. The objective is to hurl straight down without a tube or mat — your body is the projectile. Not my idea of fun. I surrender.

I surrender to every single moment for the rest of the day. Jake has such joy on his face. He tackles a wave in front us. At one point, the setting sun plays against the water, dancing on the light that give Jake’s face an unnatural glow. The moment of  pure joy brings tears to my eyes. This frozen image is made possible only by surrendering to its sweet rhythms.

I realize now that parenting is not the sum of rules laid down or strict guidelines for behavior. To be a parent is more than just being a chauffeur or a cook or a maid. All your kid wants is your complete attention.

Twelve year old boys are consumed by thoughts of themselves. They are swallowed up  by what their peers think. When you have the chance to surrender to the One Eyed God, embrace the moment with the child you love. Don’t be distracted, don’t be afraid, stay focused, be with your kid.

My friend  said that his son  was active in their lives for 18 years. They shared meals, arguments and hundreds of conversation. Now he is in college across the country. My friend says he will be lucky if he see his son for more than a month over the course of this entire year. One month… in a year. Crazy — right?

Enchanted days like these are as fleeting as summer.

Women’s Hair – 12 Year Old Boys Perspective

Jake asked, “Dad you can tell a lot about girls and women from their hair.” How so? I asked “Well, a girl with short hair and a nose ring is sorta of making a statement that’s different than a girl with long flowing hair that she brushes a bunch.” I asked for a deeper explanation from my twelve year old sage.

“How a woman wears her hair says a lot about the image she has of herself and the way she lives her life.” Oh really was my response. “Some girls that have short hair want to be thought of as artistic, I think. Women who have super long hair some time want to still think they are teenagers. Women who have grey hair seem to be comfortable with getting older. I dunno just seems sorta of interesting.” Jake got me thinking. So I asked him one last question on the matter of women. When you see a pretty woman or girl on the street do you look at their hair first? “Nope, I always look at their face. A woman’s face is important but their personality, if she funny or warm, that is the thing I look for, that’s what matters to me most.”

Jake is getting some good training for Lisa and Lily.

How To Out Do Lou (as in Piniella)

I’m not sure when it started. The hand signals. It was probably the first night I turned out the light, when Jake was still awake in his crib. As I got to the door, he popped up. Jake wobbled like a Bowery wino for a minute. He extended his hand into a “grasping wave.” The motion is like using one of those hand gripper devices from gym class but exaggerated. That became Hang Signal #1 “Grasping Wave.”

Signaling always starts after lights out. We progressed to #2 the “Heart Throw.” The “Heart Throw” is usually initiated by me. It is done at the doorway. I pretend to pull out my beating heart from my chest and throw it to Jake. In full Willie Mays form, at the wall, just behind the bed, Jake reaches back and snags the imaginary heart in mid air. #2 turned an extended version #3 “Reverse Heart Throw.” That is simply me snagging Jake’s “Heart Throw” like fly ball out close to the third base line.

After doing this every night for years we developed #4 “Zipper Heart Throw,” this is all the above but with a full Tim Burton pantomime. This includes unzipping the chest, pulling out the heart and throwing it. The receiver must always catch the heart, then unzip and throw his heart to the other.

The additional variations after the “Heart Throw” include #5 “The Lock” (zip, close a lock) to #6 “Four Locks” (zip, close, 2 small locks, 2 big locks with KEYS) #7 is the “Heart Throw + Reverse of the Four Locks.”

As Jake advanced from toddlerhood we began the swan dive to a grand finish with the miming of #8 “i L.O.V.E you.” Yes, this was all done in silence with hand signals. The “i” is made with a fist and a finger to dot the i. Next a heart is made with two hands, punctuated by “you” which is me pointing to Jake. Then of course the “Reverse of #8” Jake throws his “i L.O.V.E you” to me.

When Jake hit ten we would do the whole lineup with a twist — #9 a “Blowing Kiss.” This became my favorite. I could just see Jake faced illuminated from the bathroom light. He appreciated the language we had developed. By the the end of #9 he always broke out in a big toothy grin that I could see in the dark.

Now, the hand signals look like they are close to retirement. The daily rush through homework, good books, late emails have pushed our sweet ritual of hand signs to the side. A pure fact of modern life.

I did get a surprise tonight. Just like the spirit of Piniella managing for the last time, I got a #1, “Grasping Wave” from Jake. My heart could sing. Maybe there is just one more season left. A Father can hope.

Ghost in the White House and a Billion Other Things

Over lunch today I asked Jake what he wanted to be when he grew up. As a toddler, his matter-of-fact answer was inventor. Now with adulthood out on the horizon I was curious to ask him again. I was hoping to illicit some fresh perspectives from my twelve year old.

“Dad, I’d really like to be a professional baseball player or soccer player. Only if it was with the Yankees or Manchester United.” Okay, I was not surprised by those answers. Luckily Jake stopped and pondered. “Dad, really there are a billion other things I’d like to be.” Oh Really? Like what? – was my response.

Here are the top ten (out of) one billion things Jake Rehfeldt would like to be when he hits adulthood.

1) Yankee player 2) Manchester United player 3) President – “it would be cool, run all this stuff. Downside, unfortunately, there are ghosts in the White House. Oh yeah, being assassinated would be a bummer.” 4) Teacher – “it would be really cool to teach a bunch of kids every day.” 5) Writer – “not like a book writer, a magazine writer. I would write about sports.” 6) Photographer or Filmmaker – “I like taking pictures and shoot video, it’s real fun.” 7) Quarterback – “I’d like to run the plays. If I couldn’t do that maybe I would wide receiver. No way would I would be a running back. Too much running.” 8.)Chef – “it would be a delicious job eating all the stuff I would make.” 9) Study Space – “there are so many things out in Space to study: aliens… other planets.” 10) Own a Bookstore – “it would be cool to sell other peoples books.” 11) Comic book writer and illustrator – “I probably wouldn’t make a lot of money doing it but it would be fun to do something everyday that I love.”

I came back to the inventor. What’s up with that? “Yeah, not on the list. Everything cool has been invented. I’m mean look at the light bulb. How could I out do that.” My response – How about curing cancer? “Dad, I don’t like the thought of wearing a white coat everyday + I don’t want to spend my time in a lab.”

There goes America. Bye, bye math and sciences.

This is NOT a Problem

At the beginning of the last school year Jake did not connect with any of the boys in his class. Heavy knucklehead factor. He came to me: “Dad, I’ve got a problem, I really don’t like hanging out with the guys, they act goofy all the time. I sorta like having conversations with the girls. They are super smart and nice. The girls say they like the way I treat Lily.” My response “Dude, this is NOT a problem.”

By winter break Jake had figured it out. He took me aside again: “Dad, the thing I told you about the girls in my class? Yep. It is so awesome. You were right. The guys run around with tongues hanging out and punching each other. It’s like they’re in second grade. I’m getting invited to the Girl’s birthday parties. Pretty cool huh!”

Yes, Jake it is pretty cool. It’s all about respect. Treat your sister, your Mom, hell, all women in your life with respect. I learned that living with a single working mom. It is one of the grand lessons. This year Jake discovered the power of women.