Happy Holidays, everyone!
Starting with the youngest this year, Alex is thriving. He loves his soccer as much as Charlie, and is a star in his own right already. He’s played the game for three years, and is his coach’s favorite striker, scoring almost every game. Like Charlie, he has an innate gift for moving the ball around and inspiring his team.
At the same time, he loves doing math, and scored one of the school’s highest grades ever in the State’s 2nd grade “STAR” testing, which cheered his principal up, not to speak of his parents. And he continues to play the violin regularly and at times soulfully, with a lot of help and support from his mum.
Snip, one of the resident black cats, has an unfortunate habit of wetting Alex’s bed, as a result of which we’re constantly reminding him to keep his door closed. Snip wetted our bed for the first time the other day, and when I complained that we’d have to keep our door closed, Alex responded drily, “welcome to my world!” He turns nine in January.
For reasons which escaped us, his project of the autumn was having blond highlights colored into his hair. We finally acquiesced, and Alex was delighted to confuse his teacher, who took a while to learn to distinguish Alex from Charlie now that each had almost the same color hair. They do look more alike.
The two younger brothers are also reassuringly close. As their older siblings strain their tense way through adolescence, the “little guys,” as I tend to call them, have created a strong protective barrier for themselves. They are influenced by those they admire, of course, and that of course includes the older siblings, but they rely and count on each other first and foremost. Their closeness is a joy to behold, and seems well nigh impregnable.
The big news this year for Charlie has been that at age 11 he “finally” (that’s his point of view) moved into his own room. Daphné moved out of her room into our cottage during the summer, freeing it up Charlie. Alex now has all to himself the room he shared with his brother.
Soon after the move, Charlie started writing stories for his new teacher at Happy Valley School. They have characters with names like “Smurf-smurf,” and assorted superheroes confront challenge after challenge before finally winning through. He’s begun a relationship with the English language, to complement his continuing fascination with films and TV shows like Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Although he does give us a fair amount of lip these days, he is bright and charming and remains spontaneously kind. He has been asking for a drum set for a while, and finally had his wish on his eleventh birthday, but has yet to really put it to use. And his mother does not have the familiarity with drums that she has with the violin: needless to say, nor is she particularly eager to develop that familiarity!
Charlie’s still a star at soccer, and was in the final of the local District Cup. His Breakers team was tied 1-1 at half time, and the play was hard and tense and great to watch. About ten minutes into the second half, Lynden took the ball down the left, crossed it to Isiah in the center, who headed it on to Charlie on the right. He volleyed it with one delicate touch over the quickly advancing goalkeeper and it dropped in a parabola just inside the top right corner of the goal.
We realize that this is a lot of detail for those of you who are not mad about “football,” but the crowd on the sidelines went crazy, and the U-11 Boys Breakers won the Cup, and this was one of the high spots of Charlie’s year. He is confronting real world issues, as his teams get more competitive and the level of the other players improves, and we’re proud of the way he’s dealing with them.
Soccer for him was a veritable minefield of doubting coaches and nagging injury, but he persevered and made himself a much better player and a character. His first coach to believe in him, Ian Adamson from London, toasted his “craziness,” when he headed a ball next to an opponent’s foot on the ground! He also became very fit, in part by running up and down our driveway dozens of times. Try it!
The self-confidence that the soccer gave him added to that stemming from his increasing mastery of the guitar. He works and works at it, and immerses himself in the work of his heroes, the John Lennons and Bob Dylans of this world, as well as some who postdate our appreciation of rock’n’roll. Now if he could just immerse himself a little more in his school work . . .
Santa Cruz passed a voters’ initiative in November instructing the local Police Department to treat adult marijuana violators as the least serious criminal in their allocation of enforcement resources. In the car on the way home from school the next day, Tom announced with glee that all you needed to do now to avoid being arrested for pot smoking was have a friend jaywalk (cross the road other than at a pedestrian crossing) in front of the policeman! We did point out that at 17 he was not yet an adult.
Alban also tends to think that he is already an adult. He spends most of his weekends out of the house, or at least most of the weekend evenings. Returning at 6 am on Saturday or Sunday morning and sleeping all day is not unusual for him.
But, finally, he has been mixing this intense social life with a little schoolwork. After getting the repetitive and incessant message from the parents that his being given a car depends on his getting good grades, he began getting good grades. Just like that! He put in the necessary effort, and the better grades arrived immediately.
He discovered a little of the meanness which his peers can express when one denounced him to his school for the second time in two years for having pot in his backpack. This was again a false accusation, as the school’s ensuing search proved, but this second failure just riled the accuser, whose almost perversely sneaky follow-up did cause Alban to be (unjustly) disciplined. I couldn’t believe that a school district would allow itself to be used and manipulated in such a way.
What happened was that the boy constructed a string of texts with Alban where he acted threatened, and then accused Alban of threatening him. Knowing that the boy was a wimp who spent his time and energy denouncing Alban to the authorities, the latter studiously avoided biting in the texts despite great provocation from the sneaky boy. Reading through the string, I was impressed with Alban’s savoir-faire.
I was also impressed by how the boy convinced the school district that Alban had threatened him, by the simple expedient of putting the texts in reverse order. This made the series appear threatening when in fact it was the opposite.
Unfortunately, the administration didn’t notice this reversal itself, and so by the time I pointed it out battle lines (between the school administration and us) had been marked in the sand. I wish that Alban’s first real contact with external authority had exposed a little less of its stupidity and occasional injustice.
We’d like to share more about Alban’s life. In fact, we’d like to know more about Alban’s life! It is sometimes hard to believe that we all live in the same house. At 17, he is what Marie-Hélène calls a “dedicated” teenager, committed to his skateboarding, his buddies and his girl friends. We periodically meet his friends, normally as they pass through the kitchen seeking a snack before again venturing forth. As far as we can tell, they’re good kids too.
Daphné turned 19 this summer, and celebrated by moving herself (and on weekends her boyfriend Matt) into our cottage, the studio with a bathroom and kitchenette that is just down the hill from our home and still on the property. Independence! Well, sort of. We live in the woods outside Santa Cruz, and she was disappointed to feel how nervous a night alone in her cottage in the woods can be, and how many noises there are all around.
She’s still studying at the local junior college, Cabrillo, still focusing on handling criminal behavior, and still working part-time. Wells Fargo Bank is her current employer, and she much prefers the hours to the department store that preceded it. She is somehow less difficult to handle than her adolescent brothers, although in attitude can seem very similar!
Nicholas turned 20 in the summer, and if you listen to him his life seems to consist principally of playing poker and computer programming, with a little studying thrown in. He too continues at Cabrillo, and continues to find work as a programmer, one of the advantages of living right next to Silicon Valley. His most recent occasional job pays $35 an hour, and he does not have a degree yet!
His father took him to a Web 2.0 event at Google’s HQ, and insisted that he dress appropriately. To be fair, he did so, with the added embellishment of a baseball cap on backwards. The star presenter of the evening was a recent college graduate named
Kevin Rose, who co-founded Digg.com. (If you don’t know the site, it’s worth
checking out). Guess who was the only other person there with a baseball cap on
backwards. Yep, and Nick was thrilled to be dressed the same way as the star
He’s still living in an apartment in town, currently with a young French couple, and there it was his turn to run across the meanness of one of his peers. The housemate used his cell phone, on my family account of course, to make $230 worth of calls to France! I pushed to get that refunded, by Nick if not by his housemate, but with mixed results. There are too many creeps around our kind adolescents!
Nick did return home sporadically during the summer while we and the little guys were on vacation in France. Fortunately, we did not live through three adolescents (Tom was in Paris) sharing our home while we were on the vacation. Neither, for that matter did any of the plants on our deck! The automatic irrigation system was accidentally switched off, and not one of them even noticed that all the plants on the deck had turned from green to yellow in the baking summer sun and were dying!
No further comment is necessary. Our children have always been a source of wonder, and we the parents remain vaguely bemused by it all, still very much aware that these are our good old days. Except for those poor plants!
We hope that this finds you well, and wish you Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, whatever your flavor, go for it!
* * *
The missive that we sent out to everyone at the holiday season this year had no real mention of either parent. In part, that was because the children were as ever more interesting and filled a good few pages by themselves. But in part it reflected an increasing rift between us. This was the year that I first noticed the writing on the wall. Looking back, it was there earlier, and I had noticed the vague outlines of a few letters, but had yet to make out the words.
After not having shared a bedroom on a regular basis since returning home from Irvine in April 2004, I finally bit the bullet during the summer of 2006 and had my uvula removed. This is the piece of flesh that hangs down at the back of your mouth and in front of your throat. It has a lot to do with snoring, apparently, and there was ample testimony that I snored a lot! Marie-Hélène had blamed my snoring for her no longer wanting to share a room with me. Before I had moved to Irvine in 2003, we were still together in our room. When I returned, things had changed.
The minor surgery cost $1,500, which was not covered by health insurance, and hurt like hell for a week after the local anesthetic wore off: the uvula is removed by being burnt off one layer at a time with a laser. Even though the intervention is called minor, the body does not approve! And even though it worked pretty well, and my snoring was markedly reduced, it made not a bit of difference to Marie-Hélène, the intended beneficiary. We would never return to sharing our room on a regular basis.
That was the unstated subtext. It influenced the children to varying degrees, mostly not a lot yet, and an outsider will not have noticed a lot of difference. Daphné was the only one of the children who visibly participated in her mother’s increasing alienation from me. Her chosen forum was MySpace, then the most popular web page for the adolescent crew and one of the most visited sites on the net. Here is one of her more hurtful messages:
Thursday, October 12, 2006
|My stepdad is an asshole-part 2
Current mood: hopeful
My stepdad (most of u know him as ian) is a complete asshole and, as ive told him many times before, does not deserve to be with my mom. If anyone out there has a single dad in his late 40’s early 50’s, hit me up….my mom needs a change!!! (if u have a lawyer who can draft up divorce papers, that would be awesome 2) thanks guys!!!
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