When you have kids, you become a kid again yourself in many ways. Some of these ways are fun—you can jump in mud puddles, drink hot chocolate, lounge in your jammies, read silly books. Others are not so much fun. Like going back to school.
After re-enduring 13 years of public school, I am happy to report that neither I nor my son will ever have to go through that again. (Unless the same phenomenon occurs with grandchildren? Somehow, I don’t think so.)
Here is a piece of short fiction* in honor of the accomplishment of high school graduation and the decidedly mixed feelings it brings for parents. I originally wrote it for the upcoming MASH Stories Competition (hence inclusion of the words pizza, selfie, corruption). But I decided to publish it here instead. I’ll have to come up with something else for Mash.
* This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
By Audrey Kalman
He doesn’t respond to my voice. I stand in the doorway. His body, still as a post, spans the length of the twin mattress beneath the blanket.
A soft ping from the microwave in the kitchen tells me the coffee is ready.
“Eli.” More urgency this time.
He keeps the mini-blinds down all the way. I squint at my watch. Close to nine, I think. The practice is at ten.
The room teems with demons and I must walk among them. I step over the threshold and kneel beside the bed. The blanket is the same one I picked from an online catalogue six years ago. Royal blue, covered with cat hair. My hand hovers above his shoulder.
This cannot be happening.
Demon the First arrived on his third birthday and was named Defiance. Morning till night, Defiance occupied Eli’s sweet body, stabbing the walls with colored markers, throwing the pizza crusts on the floor, dropping the blocks in the toilet.
“He’s such a boy,” my mother said, as if that could help.
Demon the Second arrived during second grade and was named Provocation.
“Eli is very bright,” Mrs. Smitty told me at the parent-teacher conference. “But he needs some help managing his anger issues. Is everything all right at home?”
I’d be angry too if you stuck me in a chair all day and expected me to fill out stupid worksheets.
“Home schooling,” my friend Trisha suggested. But I was incapable of that much love and dedication.
Demon the Third arrived on the cusp of his fourteenth birthday and was named Rebellion.
Rebellion’s sentence was suspended. No time in juvie, no listing on the sex offender registry. “Because he’s a minor,” the judge said. “Because he has no priors. Because he seems remorseful.”
“Jeez, mom,” Eli said. “It was just a selfie.”
Last year he painted over the multicolored alphabet I stenciled on the walls of his room. Next year at this time the room will be empty.
I could let him sleep through the graduation practice and the ceremony later and the collection of the diploma and the party and the sneaking off after midnight to get drunk with his friends. I could keep him sequestered in my heart, away from the corruption of the world, forever and ever, amen.
“Eli,” I say a third time, even more loudly, and begin shaking him.
Have you lived vicariously through a family member—willingly or not? Had to let go of something? Do share.