Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Daisy Game

Around our house, we're wondering how "Kate" (name change protects my not-so-innocent son) feels about us this week. I solemnly promise the use of the word "us" is not a reflection on my suffocating, over-doting, living-life-through-my-child's-life parenting style. Rather, it is a reliable expression marking the exact impact whether or not Kate likes Jake has on the entire family.

She pursued my son briefly a few months ago, and he enjoyed the temporary spoils that come from one of the most popular girls in the school giving him an endorsement. This prompted wardrobe enhancement, hair gel investment, and twice-a-day teeth brushing. So naturally I wasn't complaining, and it took quite a while to be able to spot the true source of "good days vs. bad days".

Ever since Jake's first days of preschool, I have always looked forward to pick up. Don't misunderstand--I love maternal down time, but I usually miss my kids within a couple of hours of being away from them. But dismissal in the fourth grade has been much more of a roller coaster ride. Nothing is better than pulling up and seeing my shining 10-year old's face, slightly sweaty from running, and grinning the only way a kid can when he has lost almost all of his side baby teeth--making his front chompers appear monstrous. He jumps in the car ("HEY, Mom! Love you infinity!!"), checks on Olivia, and informs me of how ravenously hungry he is. Those are great days. He does homework with only a reasonable amount of prompting and assistance, we laugh a ton, and bedtime comes before even I know it.

Somedays, however, Kate is vague. She is expertly skilled in fancy yo-yo stunts with Jake's heart. At a young age, she has mastered the blithe, fickle manner that men find so attractive, and my poor son is so visibly a fly caught in her web.

Kate has ignored him today. I can recognize this now because he walks slowly to the car, backpack dragging through the dust. He lacks confidence, joie de vie. "Hey, Olivia" is the only sentence he manages.

"Are you hungry?" I query.
"Any homework?"

He would never succumb to my probing into the source of his disappointment, back in the days before I knew what was wrong. No, this took months of fancy charting and dot-connecting to find the direct relationship between his attitude and Kate's attention that day. And even now that I am au fait with his car-approach, and able to coax him out of his black mood with patience and bribery, he loses his snappy step that day, is less quick-witted and sprite. As I tuck him in bed that night, he requires snuggling, more praise, extra attention.

Kate-ish women will plague Jake his whole life, I see it. He always likes the ethereal girl, the one a little distant and demure. He loves her attention, but respects her aloofness. And I will just have to watch his heart ache as he waits for her to decide.

Maybe Olivia will be that girl out there, and I will worry in a different way, watching her play with the heartstrings of the boys in her class. Or perhaps I will have had the requisite practice with Jake, and oversee her sitting by the phone, waiting for the boy she adores.

This has been a long weekend, with school closed for Good Friday. Jake is enjoying the time off, but I know he is eager to get back to school Monday, lest Kate forget him entirely. Either way I will be ready for after school pick up, and work on being at peace with the fact that the emotional climate of my family that night lies in the hands of another female.


Walter said...

You may not want praise. You may be the type of person / writer / blogger that wants a dismal comment. You won't get it from me. Thi is a great piece of writing. I see the Kate / Jake phenomenon at school but am too removed from it to make as powerful a statement.

tracy said...

The scary part of all of this is that "kate" probably(maybe I am hopeful) has no clue about her impact on him no less the family. On the tough days I have to say, I do not like Kate!! Jake run while you can.