Thursday, August 26, 2010

Come As You Are

High school still feels ominous, endless walls of lockers, identical rooms, loud kids clogging the halls. Save for a brief time in my junior year, when I was involved with the drama department (led by the wonderfully intense Paris Goodrum), I was pretty much an outcast, on the margins, ignored. I had a small circle of friends, mostly other kung fu geeks, and a girlfriend who only made out and occasionally dry humped. But overall I was nobody, which in retrospect was a good thing.

These memories flooded me as I registered my son for his freshman year. Unlike my anxiety-ridden frosh self, Henry's secure in his skin, laid back, relaxed. There was some edginess in his eyes as he assessed his new school, but that was the extent of it. His pop, on the other hand, wrestled with this transition, trying not to project it on the kid. I worry that Henry will be swallowed whole, lost, in over his head. I remember how shabbily other kids treated him in elementary school, but this bothered me more than it ever did him. Middle school went smoothly, a small, alternative space created for artistic kids. Now Henry's jumping back into the mainstream where jocks are revered, the vacant noise of suburban teens its soundtrack. So I silently fret.

No matter how rocky our marriage, Nan and I always put the kids first. Trina was more difficult, a brilliant raw nerve tearing through space. The more freedom we allowed, the more Trina felt confined. She needed to bounce off walls regardless of distance. Trina moved east over a year ago, anxious to get the adult thing moving. Real life has balanced her out a bit. She's learning that you can't emotionally explode at every obstacle or frustration. Most grown ups tend to look down on that. When I talk to her, she's really cool and forthcoming. There were times when Nan and I felt that we failed with her. But we didn't. I can hear it in Trina's voice. She finally understands what we tried to instill. She's gotten serious about her music, composing and singing original songs. I'm happy that her intensity is flowing in a positive direction.

Henry is the complete opposite. He's more of an observer, tossing off one-liners when the mood hits. He's clever and quick but young. Some of his remarks are shapeless and unformed. Still, he goes for it; that's his nature. I can't wait to see how his mind integrates all the new learning coming his way. There's certainly no shortage of ripe material.

At 6'2", Henry's one of the taller freshman coming in. This was not lost on the lacrosse team, who badgered Henry to consider their sport. He shook his head and walked right through them. The freshman basketball coach latched onto Henry as well, asking him to try out for the team. Henry smiled and shrugged. He doesn't have a jock bone in his body. Nor the mentality. He's physically strong but gawky, and he isn't finished growing. I suspect when he hits 6'4"or 5", the coaches will be all over him. I remind Henry that just because he's tall doesn't mean sport is the sole option. Both Chevy and Brian McConnachie are 6'4", and they've done well with their wit. But it's his choice.

No matter how much I worry about my son, a warm feeling dominates. He has incredible potential, is kind and fair-minded. Nan and I have done a remarkable job with him, and now we'll see how he navigates new waters. I got through mine, splashing, crashing and flailing along the way. Henry's nowhere near the wreck I was. He goes with the flow, Kurt Cobain bangs over large blue eyes. A tender age in bloom.