I took the boys to Goodwill the other day and Indigo found a beat up, inoperable Power Wheels 12V Battery Powered Jeep for 10 bucks. You know the kind: designed by Fisher-Price for toddlers and weighted for up to 120 pounds. He had babysitting money to burn and since the internet has been down at our house all month, he was also brimming with latent inspiration. He approached me completely jazzed announcing he was going to convert the old thing into a go-cart and could I please pay for it on my debit card and he would pay me back when we got home. I was immediately on board with this plan – anything to get my brilliant kid off the couch.
We got the thing home and Indigo immediately set to work.
Tolkien, to this point, had no interest in the go-kart, but he soon saw its potential. He approached me, enthusiastically offering me two five dollar bills and saying, “Mom! I want to pay for Indigo’s go-kart.”
“Why?” I asked.
“To be nice!” he said. “Because I love him.”
I was instantly suspicious. This isn’t how the boys interact. They’ve just turned 14 and as they grow and testosterone overtakes their brains and bodies, they battle more and more. They call this “playing.” Yeah. Here’s a recent picture of them playing.
“Why do you really want to pay for it?” I asked.
Frustrated, he repeated, “Because I love him, mother.”
“Or is it because you want to take over ownership?”
“But it’s so cool!” Tolkien protested.
I told the boys to work it out between themselves, and eventually they did. They dragged the old thing down to the Dude Dungeon and spent several hours sawing stuff off, screwing stuff in, removing old wires, etc. Indigo talked with his dad on the phone for a while, looking for advice, then emerged from the Dungeon and began drawing up schematics and calculating whether or not a lawnmower engine would have enough torque to bear their weight. It was the best day since the internet quit working. I went to bed hoping Century Link never figured out a fix.
Then Monday came.
I was at work when Indigo called, just around dusk. “Mom,” he said, “you know that kid down the street that carries a BB gun?” I knew the kid – kind of feral and lonely seeming, but also a troublemaker with a mean streak. Tolkien’d had a run-in with him last summer when the kid challenged him to a fist fight in order for Tolkien to “prove he wasn’t gay.” Tolkien took the challenge because he’s “not going to back down from a challenge,” but somehow the fight never happened. After that, the boys had clear instructions to steer clear of the neighbor kid, and Tolkien and I had a long discussion about taking the high road and integrity and whatever.
“Yeah, what about him?” I asked.
“Well,” said Indigo, “Tolkien and I were going to Austin’s, but that kid followed us, and I didn’t want to be at Austin’s with that kid there, but Tolkien…” The story went on and on. Indigo isn’t great at getting to the point quickly, but in summary: the feral BB gun kid somehow convinced Tolkien to take the newly stripped down Power Wheels go-kart to “the top of a hill” on a side street facing SE Burnside and ride down.
The motherly instinct to run screaming toward my child in times of danger doesn’t come immediately online as a first reaction when it comes to Tolkien. It hasn’t since he was brought home by the cops in the middle of night after escaping into the cold, dark world alone to “go on an adventure” when he was 5. And then when dressed as the Grim Reaper when he was 8. Or any of the numerous times he’s gone AWOL from school in a pique of frustration. Et cetera. I know now that if I’m getting a phone call and there’s a calm voice on the other end of the line, Tolkien is likely still alive.
I put my head in my hands and interrupted Indigo,”Goddammit. Has this already happened?”
“Yes, mom. I told him not to, but he didn’t listen.”
“Listen,” I said, “Get your brother and go home. I’ll be there in an hour.”
I got home and walked in the living room and Tolkien was already in full defense mode. “You know, mom – Indigo didn’t need to call you! Everything was fine! He was just c0-parenting again!” This is how he greeted me. No hello. No space to walk in and put my shit down. Just posturing and loud statements that all ended in exclamation points.
“Tolkien,” I said, silently counting to a million in my head, “Did you actually ride that go-kart down 90th toward Burnside?”
“God, mom! I was fine! Why can’t a person ever just do something without other people getting all upset about it? Indigo is just co-parenting again!”
“You realize that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of you doing, right? And Indigo isn’t co-parenting so much as he’s trying to save your fool life!” I was ending statements in exclamation points now, too. “You were willing to risk your life just because some random kid dared you to? What the hell, man? And I specifically told you that go-kart wasn’t to leave the yard!”
“GOD, MOM!” Tolkien replied. And yes, he said it in all caps and with an exclamation point. “IT WASN’T A DARE! JEEZ! AND WE HAD A PLAN!”
“Oh yeah? A plan? What was this genius plan?”
“Mother!” He was animated at this point, gesticulating madly. But then he tried to calm his voice. He really wanted to prove his maturity by way of explaining his plan. “You know that scene in that Star Trek film where that kid is driving that car and being chased by the cops…”
I’m going to pause here. Because if you haven’t seen the first film in the newest Star Trek reboot, it’s pretty important you have this scene in your mind. I got the scene in my mind immediately. Here it is:
“…and so you see, mother, if we had actually gotten too close to traffic – WHICH WE DIDN’T – we were just going to bail out!”
I stared at him. This kid. How the hell was this kid even alive? How the hell did any impulse challenged, testosterone-stricken male of our species ever make it out of adolescence alive? (No, really – I’m actually asking.)
“That is! The! STUPIDEST! Thing I’ve ever heard,” I told him.
The conversation went on a bit longer and we came to some agreements: the go-kart doesn’t leave the yard. No more free falling toward busy streets. And no more accepting challenges from the neighbor kid. Also, he’s grounded from the go-kart completely for a week.
The boys go with their dad on Friday. By the time they come home, the internet issues will be resolved. And thank god. I’ve taken just about as much of this “inspiration” as I can handle for a while.