Since this is the last day of my summer vacation, I’ve been reflecting about the past several weeks, thinking about the old standby essay topic: “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” Of course, with Alex, vacations are "staycations," but we enjoy our time off from work and the relaxed summer pace as we do things together. One of the main differences this summer—aside from Alex’s allergy issues and self-imposed silence—has been that he and Ed have been virtually inseparable. While Ed has always spent more time with Alex than most fathers do because of his job that allows him to be home quite a bit of the time and because of Alex’s special needs, this summer the two of them have had the opportunity to bond more than ever. Ed commented the other day that he wondered how Alex would react this week once he goes back to teaching. On one hand, Alex may wonder what to do when Ed’s not around, but, as Ed noted, he may be relieved to have a break from hanging out with his dad all the time.
The two of them have turned our family room into a “man cave” where they watch television together as they work on their computer laptops. Other times, they share a companionable silence as each enjoys summer reading—Ed with various novels and Alex with his stack of fact books. One of the differences I’ve noticed this summer is my own television viewing habits. Usually Alex and I watch his beloved Game Show Network during the day, and then he watches my favorite reality shows, such as Dancing with the Stars, Food Network Star, Project Runway, etc., with me in the evenings. Now that he’s watching tv with Ed, I can watch “chick” shows all day long in the other room, so I’ve seen just about all of the Little House on the Prairie and Sex and the City reruns this summer. Meanwhile, Ed and Alex have been watching baseball games, news programs, and the sitcoms The Big Bang Theory and Everybody Loves Raymond. Although Alex has to allow Ed full power of the remote control in some sort of alpha-male behavior (while I shared control of the remote with Alex out of a sense of fairness), he doesn’t seem to mind, happily watching whatever Ed chooses and patiently waiting as he flips through several channels searching for something to watch. I’m sure this is essential to Alex’s development as an adult male, and Ed is just modeling typical behavior for him. This guy time has become so sacred to Alex that he reacts to my entrance into the family room with two very different moods. Sometimes, he suspects that my joining them means that we’re getting ready to go someplace together, and he’ll immediately jump up and eagerly get ready to go. Other times, he seems to resent my intrusion into their man cave, especially if I sit down to watch television with them. In the equivalent of hanging a “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign, Alex will often look at me askance as though I don’t belong there, sometimes even giving me what Ed has deemed “the stink eye,” to let me know he’d rather I’d leave the room. Between the dirty looks and their choice of television shows, I haven’t spent a lot of time in that room this summer, but I’m happy that they enjoy each other’s company.
Besides watching tv, working on computers, and reading together, Ed and Alex have enjoyed going various places this summer. As in past years, Ed has taken Alex to the park to play basketball, but this year he took him to a new park. Unlike other city parks, this one has no playground, but is scenic and flower-filled. Teaching Alex some basics of photography, the two of them bring their digital cameras to take pictures, a new activity Alex seems to enjoy. In addition, Ed has taken Alex along on errands, such as going to the home improvement store, taking the cars to get gas or air in the tires, or going to his office to pick up the mail. Alex really likes going to these various places, and when the two of them go without me, he’s pleased to be able to sit in the front seat of the car where I usually sit. Around the house, Ed has engaged Alex in various chores they can do together, including taking out the garbage and watering the flowers in the garden. I like watching them do these tasks because Ed patiently teaches Alex, who is pleased to be doing something with Ed, and he has gained greater confidence over the summer by engaging in these tasks. Perhaps the most interesting bonding experience the two of them had this summer was one I could not observe. Prior to my birthday last week, Ed took Alex shopping for my gifts. In recent years, he has taken Alex to get cards and/or flowers for me, but he would shop alone for the rest of my presents. This year, he decided to shop with Alex at a few different stores, and they got along great, according to Ed. This amazed me because several of my gifts from them were clothing; in the past, Alex blatantly refused to go shopping with me if we were looking at “girls’ clothes.” I’m not sure what Ed had to do to convince him to go to the women’s department, but I would have loved to watch them selecting my gifts, and that thought makes me smile. Although Ed has missed out on many typical father-son bonding experiences since Alex hasn’t played organized sports, he has been rewarded for his devotion because Alex, unlike some teen boys, thinks his father walks on water. While Alex doesn’t show his love and affection in typical ways, the adoration he feels for Ed is evident and makes all the effort truly worthwhile.
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.’” Luke 15:31