I Feel Largely Useless in the Summer
July 06, 2015
Posted By: Shaunescy
I feel largely useless in the summer. I have a large lawn—no idea what part of an acre it is or how many square feet, but it takes me four beers to mow it, even when the weather isn’t staggeringly hot. But how many times does a lawn need to be mowed? Twice a week, by my count.
So I spend maybe six hours each week mowing the lawn. That leaves some holes in my schedule. Normally that schedule would be filled with hours of teaching, hours of preparation for teaching, and a whole range of committee meetings (or town government meetings, now that I’m on the City Planning Board). But classes are over for the year, and I swing by my office only once a week or so, usually to get a DVD. This empty schedule is even worse now, I find, because my twins are often gone for long stretches of time. Sam and her friends are off to the skate park. John and his friends are off to kill zombies (which seem to be the villain in nearly every game he and his friends play, even age-appropriate stuff like “Minecraft”). I’m reduced to giving instructions, like “Check in with me at 2:30” or “Be home by 5:00,” plus the occasional condition: “If you aren’t going to be at House A or House B, then come let me know where you’re going.”
Feels pretty weak.
They’ve become free-range kids, while I’ve been reduced to the role of Schedule Coordinator, a position which, in practice, seems to involve me being around the house, watching the clock and annoying my wife. A lot.
Sam has friends come to stay at our place once in a while, but her crew isn’t into constant sleepovers.
John and his friends spend huge chunks of the daytime together, and we rarely get through three days without either sending him to a sleepover or hosting one ourselves. As I remember it, this was pretty much par for the course with me and my friends, starting right about this same time: the gray area between fourth and fifth grade, between being ten and being a teen.
When we host sleepovers, I stay out of the way. They check in with me (ok, usually with my wife) to ask for permission to play with the Xbox or the Wii. I unlock the garage if bicycles are suddenly needed. I fix dinner (usually greasy, generally built around something that used to be a cow). I fix anything that gets broken (because I’ve never fully explained things like how to reset the cable box, for example, in order to perpetuate the myth that I’m a competent adult). I fix popcorn.
Aside from fixing things and unlocking things, I serve no function.
I love being useless in such situations. It makes me think I’m raising kids who are…well, normal. Adjusted. Engaged. Parts of peer groups comprised of other mostly good kids.
John let me know I’m not totally useless, though, in a recent email (the first he’s ever sent to me). Staying at a friend’s house, John had his Kindle with him (so that they could play “Minecraft” by linking their systems…or something). At just before midnight, he emailed me: “I had trouble sleeping without Sara.” Sara’s his stuffed dinosaur, a green triceratops from a line of toys Build a Bear no longer stocks. She wears a Jedi’s brown robe and little leather Harley riding chaps.
She’s been John’s favorite stuffed animal for his entire life, but she lives in the bedroom and rarely even makes an appearance in the rest of the house. We took her camping a couple years ago, but she doesn’t tend to go to sleepovers. I don’t think John really needed Sara to help him sleep through that night. I think he just needed to touch base with his parents. I responded as soon as I saw his message: “I hear you, my man. She’s waiting here for you to get home. See you in the AM.”
That did the trick, I guess, since there was no follow up email from John. Message sent and received, comfort given. John went to sleep, came home the next day, and just shrugged when I asked about the email, repeating his claim that he couldn’t sleep.
Of course, after getting his email, I couldn’t sleep. It took everything I had not to drive out to get him (an absurd plan in the middle of the night, particularly when he wasn’t asking me to come get him). So I assured him Sara was well and then tossed and turned all night.
The next morning, before John got home, I mowed my lawn.
Shane Borrowman is a native of Anaconda, father of twins, and professor of English at The University of Montana Western. He has published on a wide range of topics, including the development of boxing in Renaissance England, medieval Arabic philosophy, and American zombie films. He is editor or co-editor of four writing textbooks and six collections of original scholarship. Visit http://www.shaneborrowman.com , home of Shane's blog, Kairotic Palaver.