Each night I ask the stars up above
Why must I be a teenager in love?
— Dion and the Belmonts
(Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman)
Back to school we are. Nick is in the oldest group now, a big fifth grader.
“Now that Kevin’s graduated, I’m the best soft-sword maker,” he said to me last week.
It’s a wonder what he can do with a pile of old newspapers.
At Fern Hill, the year begins with a picnic at a local park. Dozens of families gathered on blankets and spread out their dinners. Each class had their own blanket too, marked by a banner. Nick took his pizza with him as he joined his classmates, leaving Nora and me to trade summer stories with other parents.
Every once in a while I looked over at him, animated among the older boys, nervously chiming in the conversation, trying to hold up his end. He’s still years away from being a teenager, but there it is.
At my twentieth high school reunion, I walked around nervous. I couldn’t understand it. I remembered high school as a long, golden moment. Then it hit me. This was how I felt in high school, all the time. Nervous.
Middle school (we called it junior high) was far worse. Thank God, no reunions there. Middle school was where the first cliques formed, hundreds of thirteen-year-olds, clustered around the yard at recess like so many galaxies.
I used to stand with one clump, listening and laughing to Dennis, whose magnetic personality was the sun around which we revolved. I thought that was all there was to it, standing there and laughing.
Then one day Gary said to me, “Wolf, are you in the crowd?”
“Of course,” I said.
“How come I don’t see you at any of the parties?”
There were parties?
A year of desolation followed, as I plotted and schemed to get invited. Finally I threw a party of my own, and invited everyone. By some miracle they showed up.
We lived in a tiny apartment, everyone else in houses. I had been ashamed of that, as I was ashamed of having no father. But no one else seemed to care.
Gary and Ellen made out on the couch in front of everyone. This made the party legitimate. I suppose there was music playing, someone had brought a Letterman album.
We pretended to be grown up, because what else can you do? It didn’t even feel like pretend, because it was so important. Parties were necessary because parties were what adults did.
NEVER EAT ALONE
Watching Nick at the picnic made me nervous all over again. He’ll take his own path, I know.
My friend Eduardo said the book Never Eat Alone changed his life. It’s a book about building relationships, the ultimate distillation of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
I got the audiobook without knowing why. To help me feel less nervous when I went to high school?
Nick saw me listening the other day and asked about it.
“It’s a book about how everybody needs everybody else in order to get anywhere,” I said. “It’s really about being generous, like throwing a party.”
“I want to hear that book,” he said, pretending to be an adult.
We listened together once or twice, then he got tired of it. I got tired of it.
I wish I’d had this book when I was in Middle School.
I wish a lot of things.
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So, how did adolescence work for you? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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