A New Era (part one)A nice moment from the wayback machine:
That's one of my very favorite pictures of Eli, just so innocent and silly, much like he's been his whole life, really.
I've been very, very fortunate as a father, because Eli is such a good kid. I don't know if it comes through in my posts, but it's easy being his father. Sure, I'm tired all the time, and I need the day to be twenty-seven hours long, but we have such a good relationship that it makes up for anything else.
I mean, I've never been mad at him.
I know, that sounds ridiculous, but I can't remember the last time I was mad at him for anything (a few years, at least, and maybe never). He's easygoing, he's fair, and he makes good decisions. I've never seen him throw a fit. I don't put my foot down very often, because I only rarely need to, but when I do, he accepts it with no argument.
Plus, I know what to do. I feel like I know Eli so well that I never have any doubt or hesitation about what to do when it's time for me to be a father instead of just a buddy. It's been like that for five years, at least. There's something about having confidence that makes everything easy.
It never crossed my mind that it would ever be different. I mean, I've been so sure-footed for so long--that means it should last forever, right? I just assumed Eli 8.6 would grow older and more awesome, win the Nobel Prize, and marry a brilliant, beautiful, kind mathematician or something.
For the last few months, Gloria and I have both known that Eli was starting to play a little loose with the truth. He'd turned into a fabulist, sort of, spinning stories about moments that almost certainly never happened. Kids go through a phase like that, generally, but our concern was that it would bleed over into important things.
I've always stressed with him that it's important to tell the truth, both because it's the right thing and because truth is data. With good data, I've told him, I can help him with almost anything. With bad data (lies), I can't help him, because I don't really know what's going on. And I've always told him that both kids and grown-ups, when they do something wrong, get in much, much more trouble when they lie to try and cover up what they've done.
So I've had this very quiet sense of unease for a few months, but it's been very small. And while we've both sensed that he's being less than honest at times, there was never the right moment, the ironclad, can't-be-disputed moment to unmistakeably make our point.
On Friday, Eli's school called about 2 p.m. It was the principal.
As it turns out, Eli had learned the code to the computer room and had let other kids into the room when no classes were going on. The librarian caught him and sent him to the principal's office.
Ironically, he'd told me about this, sort of. He'd let me know that he knew the code, and I'd even mentioned that he should never let anyone in without permission, and he said "Of course I wouldn't."
Except, of course, he was, and he got caught.
That wasn't why the principal was calling, though. She was calling because Eli had been so upset when she talked to him, far beyond the level of regret she expects when someone gets in trouble, so much so that she thought it was a good idea for him to talk to a school counselor.
I felt good that he was taking things seriously. I want him to care about right and wrong, and I want him to feel badly when he does wrong. I didn't understand the degree of his reaction, but I was glad that he cared.
One of the things that happens when kids get sent to the principal is that they have to make "amends" for what they've done. In Eli's case, he was supposed to work extra hard in computer lab, help the teacher, and tell us what he'd done.
I went to pick him up that day, because we had unicycle club, plus a hockey game after that, and he came out and hugged me and said "Hi, Dad."
"Hi, little man," I said. "Ready for club?"
"Yeah," he said. "Let's go."
We started walking to the car to get our gear. "So how was your day?" I asked, like I usually do.
"Normal," he said. Uh-oh.
"Anything interesting happen?" I asked.
"Not really," he said.