August 21, 2000
The Backpack

Countdown to Daughter #2: Three days!

Early Sunday evening. We are standing in the parking lot of Oakland International Airport, wearily unloading the Subaru.

It has been two and a half days of steady go-go-go. Friday night was dinner in Alameda, followed by an evening *tour* of the island. Saturday was a marathon of school clothes shopping in various pricey downtown San Francisco department stores. Sunday was an all-day field trip to the California Academy of Sciences, including the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium and the Natural Museum of History. ("This is my punishment, right?" said Kyle, only partly in jest.)

We have thirty minutes until departure time.

Son #Only, resplendent in his brand-new Polo T-shirt and his Nautica Khakis -- or is that his Nautica T-shirt and his Polo Khakis? -- has just lifted his suitcase from the trunk, and now is pawing through the assorted flotsam & jetsam in the back of the Subaru. "Has anyone seen my backpack?" he asks.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh ... shit.

David and I look at each other with matching expressions of alarm. We know instantly what has happened: Kyle's backpack has accidentally been left behind.

"Can we overnight the backpack to you?" David asks Kyle. "You would have it back by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest, we promise."

Kyle nods. He understands the time dilemma, and he knows that this isn't anybody's fault: it was just a stoopid oversight. But it is clear from the expression on his face that he is bitterly disappointed. In addition to whatever *Top-Secret BoyStuff* the backpack may contain -- I didn't snoop this weekend, not even once: honest! -- it also holds his Walkman, all of the new CDs we bought him, all of his reading materials/snack materials for the flight home, his brand-new bottle of cologne, plus the spending money I'm sending home with him to use for school supplies.

I cast David a look of despair and wild, unreasonable hope. We're both doing the math in our heads. Fifteen minutes to Alameda. Another fifteen minutes back to the airport. Barring traffic accidents, pile-ups at the parking lot toll booth, overturned Calistoga trucks, unforeseen acts of God ... is there any possibility we might make it?

We're at T-minus twenty-eight minutes and counting.

"You and Kyle go check in," David says calmly. And he climbs back behind the wheel of the Subaru.

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

Until this weekend, I had never shopped for clothes with a fourteen-year-old boy before. The experience was uniquely educational.

Here is some of what I learned, over the weekend:

  • Following a fourteen-year-old boy around too closely in a department store makes him nervous. He'll start grabbing stuff blindly off the racks, just to look busy. On the other hand, if you wander too far away from him ... say, if you're somewhere off in the far northwest corner of the Young Men's Department, watching Rob Thomas videos on the overhead monitor ... your fourteen-year-old tends to lose focus. The next time you glance over at him, he's standing there staring blankly into space, holding a pair of $65 Ralph Lauren socks in one hand and an empty pants hanger in the other hand.

    the spoils of the hunt

    Your best bet: position yourself two or three racks away from him and pretend to look at tech vests. This is far enough away to lull him into a false sense of autonomy, but close enough to remind him that you (and your credit card) are keeping an eye on his every move.

  • He already knows exactly what he wants, even if he says he doesn't. Making suggestions is a total and complete waste of *maternal energy molecules.* Save those energy molecules for more important suggestions. (Like college majors. Or Prom dates.)
  • Even if he is completely, totally, 100%, I-swear-on-Great-Grandma's-grave POSITIVE that this particular pair of khaki pants will fit him perfectly, make him go into the dressing room for the bazillionth time and try the pants on ANYWAY. Because they won't fit. They'll be at least two sizes too big. (Although *you* won't be able to tell, since the crotch of the pants will be hanging down around the vicinity of his kneecaps anyway.
  • Teenage boys wear BRIGHT YELLOW these days!! I swear to god!!
  • One bottle of Cool Water Cologne for Men costs roughly as much as dinner for four at The Stinking Rose in North Beach ... or three months' worth of ISP bills ... or those gold hoop earrings in the window of Silver Sword Jewelers in Alameda. PUT TOGETHER.

  • Unless you want to find yourself being unfavorably compared to your former mother-in-law ("This is the part where Grandma would start screaming"), show absolutely no emotion whatsoever when the sales clerk rings up your total.
mom digging out the credit card again
  • Be cool. It is not generally considered *cool* to hold up a Tommy Hilfiger football jersey and loudly ask a nearby salesperson whether they carry it in a women's size 14-1/2.
  • Neither is standing right outside the dressing room door, shouting "Remember to take off your shorts before you try on the pants!"

    (Neither is leaning over and giving your fourteen-year-old a great big noisy smackerooni on the escalator. But that's another story for another day.)

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

Last call for boarding.

Kyle and I have procrastinated as long as we can ... hanging back towards the end of the line, allowing the rest of the passengers to board the plane ahead of him, hoping against hope that David might show up at the very last second. But now even the stragglers from the airport cocktail lounge are weaving their way towards the check-in podium.

We've run out of time.

(Doesn't it just figure?!? The one time we would actually WELCOME a goddamn flight delay, everything is moving along right on schedule!  Alaska Airlines sucks, even when it's not trying to suck.)

"I don't want David to think I'm mad at him if he doesn't make it back in time," Kyle says worriedly. I am standing next to him, gently rubbing his back in counter-clockwise circles, murmuring vague, soothing maternal reassurances. He seems so sad.

"David will understand," I say. There follows another brief discussion about it being OK to get upset about a situation, without getting upset at the people involved, and about channeling negative energy into action, and about focusing not on the problem, but on the solution. This has been a recurring theme in our conversations this weekend. It is a recurring theme in our LIVES, frankly. I figure that if I leave him nothing else of value, I would like to leave him this: the gift of dealing with crises calmly. It is something new for both of us.

Kyle moves forward in line. There are only two passengers ahead of him now. The harried gate clerk has been watching us lollygag for the past twenty-five minutes: I can tell, from the look on her face, that she is about to bark at us again. I glance down the walkway toward the terminal one last time.

And suddenly: there he is.

David -- in all his glory -- is sprinting up the walkway from the terminal, waving Kyle's backpack in one hand.

I blink in disbelief.

"Oh my god!" I shout, joyously. "He made it!" And I run down the walkway to meet David halfway, where -- like a couple of middle-aged relay racers -- he hands off the bag to me ("Thank you!" I gasp, grateful beyond words: I will find a way to thank him properly later) and I turn around and run all the way back up to the gate and press the backpack into Kyle's arms, just as the ticket clerk is announcing "final boarding call" over the crappy airport intercom.

Kyle and I exchange one last hasty hug and kiss ... he shakes David's hand and gives him a sincere "thank you" (David tells him, "I was glad to do it") ...

... and then he is loping down the ramp towards his airplane, with the backpack slung casually over one shoulder.

one year ago

throw a rock