I took my daughter to her skating lesson Saturday morning. The week before she cried and didn’t want to go, terrified that she would fall. Driving over to the rink this time she said “I’m not as scared today.” On the ice, she was tentative at first but quickly became more confident, even hopping and crouching along with her classmates. After, she said “We did something called a scooter glide and that was scary but I did it.” She smiled, and I smiled.
Every time I brush my daughter’s hair—which for a while now has been quite long and therefore requires a lot of brushing—I think about the fact that the only reason I know how to do anything with long hair is because in high school my friends and I were metalheads. I think about growing out our hair, the better to headbang with; practicing how to windmill our hair as we thrashed, the catharsis of aggressive music contrasting with the earnestness of that practice; and learning how to start brushing from the bottom so as to avoid snarls, how to brush underneath for thoroughness. Just two boys, talking about the finer points of heavy metal and hair care.
Listening to Scene On Radio’s “MEN” series last week, I found myself finally anxious about my son’s transition to middle school. He’s always been such a good and compassionate kid, always trying to take care of others. But listening to this dad talk about his son, who announced on the first day of sixth grade that he intended to join the Gay-Straight Alliance, but who by the beginning of seventh grade was defending the necessity of using homophobic slurs, it was hard to hear. We’ve always tried to model kindness and tolerance to our kids, to talk about peer pressure, to encourage them to trust their own feelings and be themselves. But the world is such a toxic place and masculinity is such a pervasive pressure, and middle school is so hard and so confusing, trying to figure out your self and your body, your friends, your community and your place in it. I just don’t know what people will come into his life and how they’ll influence him.
But maybe what this really is is that I’m worried and scared of him growing beyond me, of leaving me behind. Of not mattering to him anymore. It is both a silly fear and completely understandable one, I think.
A few months ago I woke up to see a coyote standing in my back yard, just standing there in the middle of my fenced-in lawn, which was just getting to the point of being noticeably overgrown. It was gone before I could grab my camera or even my phone, and I didn’t see where it went or how it came in.
At one time, before there were fences and lawns and concrete and patio furniture here—though, not before there were people here, just before people lived this way here—this hill looked, I imagine, much like the hillside just across the street, rocky and scrubby chapparal, the same lizards and birds and insects, though perhaps more of them. At one time coyotes stood in this spot and didn’t look out of place or confused, or at least if a person saw one there they wouldn’t have found it confusing our out of place.
What is confusing is that we assume we have made of this place a place without wildness, a place where things can be in or out of place. We tell ourselves a story of control, of power, and feel comforted, and feel safe. But the world is wild, whatever we say about it. We will one day be dead, we are unsafe, and the world will remind us one way, one day. I saw a coyote outside my bedroom window, and it saw me. I’m more careful now, or at least I try to take care.
(Brandon, if you're reading this one, I apologize for the asterisks.)
I hope you're well. I'm feeling a little low today, a little worn out and lonely and frustrated. But it will pass.