Friday, August 27, 2004

The Last Tuck-In

For 13 years, I knew this day was coming. I’m not talking about my son Amir’s upcoming bar mitzvah. No, this was a moment of much more intensity.

The last tuck-in.

If you have kids – or if you ever were a kid – you know what I’m talking about. That special time of quiet bonding, books and cuddles, just before bed.

At first, the ritual fell mainly to mom: despite noble intentions, I just didn’t have the right equipment. I stepped in when bedtime evolved into story hour.

Instead of books, though, I created a whole set of make-believe characters whose tales I told every night. I never knew what I was going to say before I sat down on the bed. I’d look around the room for some inspiration – a new toy, a pile of dirty socks, a Barney doll – anything could trigger that night’s drama.

Over time, a whole oeuvre of characters developed. At the center were Frieda and Ernest, two pre-teens who lived in Paris and for some reason spoke perfect English. They had an inventor uncle named Giuseppe in Pisa, and another uncle who explored the jungles of Africa. Uncle Giuseppe was always getting into trouble, and Frieda and Ernest always seemed to save the day.

Did you know for example that it was Uncle Giuseppe who made that famous Italian tower lean...and Frieda and Ernest who stopped it from collapsing all together? Or that thanks to Uncle Giuseppe’s amazing time travel machine, Frieda and Ernest were responsible for the first Thanksgiving?

Well, now you do.

Eventually, my stories were supplanted by books. Amir and I read the whole “Indian in the Cupboard” series, various Beverly Cleary books, The Borrowers, Peter Pan and John Christopher’s sci-fi Tripods trilogy.

By the time we got to Harry Potter, Amir was reading on his own. His voracious appetite for literature soon pushed out any time for me to read to him. He was growing up and wanted to do it himself.

But that was OK. I just shifted my story telling and book reading attention to his younger sister and brother.

But no matter what the content of the routine, there was one thing that always remained: the tuck-in. A kiss and a hug before lights out.

Until a few months ago.

At nearly 13, Amir has already passed me in height. He hates it when I say how big he is, but I’m going to do it anyway: he’s huge. His body is 13 going on 30 and I’m not talking about the movie. He’s got the largest shoe size...and the biggest hands in our house. I’m dreading the day when he outgrows the bunk bed he shares with six-year-old Aviv and we have to get him his own room.

Where’s that Brady Bunch attic when you need it, anyway?

Along with his size, his bedtime has gotten later too.

But still, whether it was 11:30 PM, midnight or later, when I heard the call of “Abba, come down for a tuck-in,” I was there. Even if I was already nicely bedded down myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I loved every minute of it.

So imagine my surprise – and distress – when Amir announced one night that he could put himself to bed.

“I don’t need a tuck-in,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I answered. “Of course you do.”

“No, Abba, I don’t. I’ll put myself to bed. You don’t have to wait up tonight.”

He sounded so considerate, so mature.

“Really?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, Abba.”


“I think you need the tuck-in more than me,” Amir said.

Of course he was right. But what’s so wrong with that? Giving up the tuck-in is a major milestone in a father’s life. Like the first day of school. Or sending your kid off to the army. He might have warned me. Given me some notice.

Something like: “Abba, listen, I’ll be giving up tuck-in’s in three weeks time, so get ready.”

But no...he wanted me to go cold turkey on the tuck-in’s. Well, I wasn’t having any of it.

Our tuck-in’s may be going the way of Frieda and Ernest and a book before bed, and my son may soon be a head higher than his poor old father. But darn it, tonight wouldn’t be the last tuck-in. I would make my final stand.

Amir and I faced off in the hallway. But looking (up) into his eyes, it didn’t feel so much as father and child. Rather as two men acknowledging a change...and the specialness of the moment.

It may have been the last tuck in. But it was also the beginning of something new.

“Go on, get into bed and I’ll wait,” I said. “I’m not that sleepy anyway.”

Amir's bar mitzvah is this Shabbat, Parshat Ki Teze, August 28. Feel free email a mazel tov and I'll forward it to him. This Normal Life will be taking a break for a couple of weeks while we celebrate with family here in Jerusalem.

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