A Year In Mill Valley

Growing Up

There are many stages of a boy’s life, and most appear gradually, over extended periods of time. You know the kind, where Granny Weez (my mother), who hasn’t seen the boys in six months, says “The boys are really growing aren’t they?”. And we, who have been here the whole time kinda have to sit back and scratch our heads, pull out some photos, and say, “You know what…you’re right.”

And then there are the stages when you realize things are changing all of a sudden.

Recently I’ve had one of those “all of a sudden” moments.

I’ve been riding to school with Nathaniel in the mornings. We ride down the hill, onto the bike path, right at the bridge, past the Dipsea Cafe, under the overpass (ducking way down so my helmet doesn’t scrape on the ceiling), and on into Tam Valley. When we get near school, we get off our bikes, walk past Tom the crossing guard, and park Nathaniel’s bike in the school yard.

Last year we didn’t ride to school because I was working in San Mateo (an hour drive away), so I’d park four or five blocks away from the school entrance, and walk with Nathaniel to his classroom. He would invariably slip his hand into mine, and we would cross the street, walk past the refuse center (where we always looked at each other and said “We forgot to recycle the batteries again!”), and hand in hand enter the school yard. As I am congenitally late, the bell would just be ringing, so I would send him off with a kiss, and a “There’s the bell, better get going.” He would run off, and I would watch his backpack swinging from side to side as he hurried to class. I couldn’t help smiling, and watching, and wondering if every parent was filled with as much love for their child as I was with Nathaniel at that moment. And then I would turn, and walk back to the car.

This year we started the year off biking quite a bit. Then the rains came, and it got colder, and my front derailleur froze, and we started driving more than we biked. And one day I realized that we were no longer holding hands. And on a morning not long after that, a morning on which we did ride in together, we were standing at the corner of the school, and as I bent down to kiss him goodbye I saw his eyes dart, first down one side of the building, then the other. And I knew right then that things had changed.

When I got home that night, I told him what I’d seen, and asked him if he was looking to see if anyone else was looking, and he was big enough to admit that he had, and we talked about why that was, and how it hurt me a little bit, and how he shouldn’t care what anyone else might be thinking, because there’s a good chance they’re not thinking what he thinks they’re thinking, and how the other kids probably wish their parents biked to school like we did.

It was a good learning experience. For Nathaniel. And for me.

It made me think back to the first time that my father and I hugged as adults. I’d gone off to study at UC Berkeley, and my roomate John Wiley dropped me off at the San Francisco Airport to fly home for Christmas, and gave me a hug as I picked up my bags. Boy, that was a surprise (not much hugging in my family growing up). When I got home I decided to give my father a big hug, which unleashed some kind of huge latent hugging buildup on his part, because thereafter he and I hugged all the time. Anyway, it reminded me of that because we do a lot of hugging in our family. And a lot of saying how much we like and care for each other. And even though my relationship will change with Nathaniel, I want him to know how much it meant to me to hold his hand walking to school with him when he was eight.

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