I will not write about Gaza and Israel; I will not write about Iraq or Syria; I will not write about income inequality or militarized police forces or racism. We’re in the dog days of summer here on the Platinum Coast and State Street is full of European tourists -- strolling, shopping, eating, gawking, bumping into and annoying us locals. What can one expect when one lives in a prime tourist destination? The world arrives here by plane, train, bus and rental car, eager to check us out, experience the fabled Santa Barbara lifestyle, whatever that is.
My son leaves for college in Oregon in about a month. We’ve been sorting out financial aid and loans, learning the definition of subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Like many 17-year-olds my son is hard to read; he rides his emotional train up and down, sleeps prodigiously, and tells his parents as little as possible about what he’s doing or where he’s going. We give him space, confident that when he needs to talk to us, he will. He’s facing a large change in his young life and although he claims it’s no big deal, we know better. The kid is nervous, as he should be. Is he ready or not? I don’t know. I fret a bit about his work habits and wonder if he has it in him to make the social connections that could make or break his college experience.
I have to stop and remember myself at my son’s age. I had the same hubris when I joined the Air Force and was sent to Japan; like my son, I couldn’t get out of provincial Santa Barbara fast enough. Aching for adventure, I landed at Haneda International Airport on a rainy night, the neon lights reflecting off the slick streets. On a long bus ride to Yokota Air Base I realized how alone I was – and how far from home. I had no idea what I didn’t know. Older hands tried to school me but of course I never listened.
My 12-year-old daughter has had an uneventful summer; she stays up late, watching TV on her laptop, and wakes up around 10 or 11 a.m.; she hangs with friends, paints her nails, fusses endlessly over the clothes hanging in her closet. Her moods alternate between sweet and demonic – and change without warning. We know one has changed to another when she slams her bedroom door and screams that she hates us. Our transgression? Unknown. Our very existence, I suppose, the fact that we say no when she wants – demands – we say yes. She watches lame shows on the Disney channel and their theme songs get into my head. Dog with a Blog? Really.
I do a lot of laundry, wash and dry a lot of dishes; I pick shirts and socks and underwear from the floor, uncertain if they are clean or dirty; I corral shoes, pair them up with their mates, and return them to the closet where they belong, wondering, always, why my children cannot put anything back where they found it. When I lay my head down to sleep at night the kitchen is clean, the sink empty, everything is in order and in its place, but when I wake up in the morning and switch on the light there are several plastic cups on the counter, crumbs on the counter, and banana peels in the sink.
One kid going off to college, another about to enter eighth grade, their dad has gray in his beard and worries in his head, a case of the blues. Tonight I’ll stand in the doorway and laugh at the moon.