I left my 10-year old son home alone (his brother was spending the night with a friend) for about half an hour today while my friend Elise drove me to my car. For the second Friday in a row, I had managed to lock my keys in the car. For the second Friday in a row, a friend bailed me out. Never mind the hows and the whys.
Before leaving the house, I hugged him quickly, told him to practice piano while I was gone, and of course, as always, no computer. He's a good kid. I trust him. I know it is impossible for him to lie to me. He wears guilt on his face like a caricature.
But today, I heard it in his voice. After successfully retrieving my car, and feeling a newfound sense of optimism, I called to check in with Grant.
- Hey, kiddo, I just called to tell you I'm on my way home.
- Ok. Did you get the car?
- Yep. I think I'll stop by Boriello's on the way home and get us a pizza to have during the movie.
- I'd rather have Blackjack.
- Well, I'd like Boriellos's.
- Oh, well.... I guess that's ok with me. Hey, will you call me when you get there?
- Sure, Bug. Talk to you in a little bit.
- Ok, Mom. Bye!
Suddenly, I just knew. The way a witch knows it's Samhain. The way my grandmother knew my father. The way you know without my insulting insertion of italicized adjectives or adverbs.
I've done this before: known things. Mostly with rather exhausting consequences. But this time, it's my own child, and it feels vastly different. I am in control. I know exactly what to do.
Dial up Blackjack. Drive straight home. Don't call.
And then there's that moment when you realize that you're no longer Sally in The Cat in the Hat. You're the mother. And you want the ending to be very, very different.
He intercepted me in the only-area-in-our-westside-bungalow-that-could-vaguely-be-called-a hallway with a hug. The kind of hug that says, "Hi Mom! I'm so glad you're home," while muttering, "Oh, please, please, stop right here... please don't go any further..."
I peered over his head, into the dusk-tinted living room, to the top of the bookcase where my MacBook should be. It wasn't. In the sternest, yet calmest voice I think I have ever managed, I asked, "So, where's my computer?" He hung his head, and stepped aside. I walked straight through the living room towards the faint bluish glow of radiation, reflected on the beige carpet, the orange walls and the back of the recliner. I picked up my computer, returned it to the bookshelf, and said, "Get your shoes on and get in the car."
"Where are we going?"
"Don't ask. Just do it."
I've never seen him move so quickly to comply with an order. On the short drive to pick up our pizza, I asked him why. His pure and heartfelt confession came spilling over to me in the dark from the back seat.
Through sobs and sniffles, he related to me how his desire to play Battle for Wesnoth had led him to "disobey" me. After his story, I really wanted to say something about him not taking responsibility for his own actions! But I couldn't.
We talked about addiction, about feeling out of control, about how awful it feels, about solutions. It's so much less threatening for a boy to talk to his mama from the back seat of a car, I think. I let him know the consequences would come later. I actually think I heard him say something like, "Yes, Mom."
I made him give the man behind the counter our name. I made him carry the pizza. I didn't open the car door for him when he asked for my help. Once we were home and safely inside the kitchen, I looked him square in the face and said, "Here's the deal. No staying home alone for awhile; everywhere I go, you are going with me. No computer all weekend. On Monday, you can use the computer, but no Battle for Wesnoth until a date that you decide on, and I agree to. Got that?"
"Good, now repeat it to me."
Which he did, accurately, to the very last word, while successfully interchanging the i's and you's. Without prompting, he went straight to his own calendar (we hung it up just a week ago), came back, and said, "January 15th. Is that ok?" I said I thought it was perfect.
- One last question, Bug.
- Do you want to tell Dad?
- Not right now.
- Ok. He'll be home in a few minutes. Let's make it like a party in here!
After that, I didn't need to tell him a thing. He put the pizza in the oven, and set the oven to 250. He put his shoes and coat away. He cleaned off the coffee table (no small feat) and laid out 3 plates. With napkins! John arrived home. Grant gave him a big hug, and asked him what he wanted to drink. After he had poured the juice and set the pizza on the coffee table, he asked us each what kind we wanted, and served it up.
The Two Towers began, the three of us snuggled up on the couch together.
It was, perhaps, an over-eager and childish attempt at atonement. Yet it was also natural and beautiful and mature. We crossed into new territory today. I can't believe I get the privilege of watching my son grow into a man.