Paula and I never gave much thought to numerology.
Until today, when we realized that we are triskaidekaphobians.
It's 5:28 a.m. on Feb. 1, and I'm recounting the life of one Zachary Matthew Chmiel, who 12 hours now will celebrate his exact birthdate. His mother and I recalled some of our favorite memories. First steps to first words, fingerpainting to drawing on our brand new bedroom dresser — in ink. First grand slam to middle-school honor roll. He's a good boy.
Despite it all, we're waiting for the black plague. See, this birthday is number 13. Our friends who've been through it assure us that the bundle of joy we brought home from St. Barnabas roughly 4,742 days ago was about to turn into a sarcastic, snarling, forked-tongued ball of hormonal malevolence, ready to overreact wildly to our unrealistic demands ("Wash your hair, brush your teeth, feed the dog.") while making allegedly reasonable requests of his own ("I don't need school. My room will be painted black by the time I get home, I am getting a tattoo, Why? Because my girlfriend, a sophomore at Seton Hall, thinks they're hot.").
So we sit here on the couch, tranquilizer guns in hand (one for him, one for us), waiting for the apocalypse. We've experienced moments of insouciance, paranoia, unhinged irrationality, inarticulated frustration and other manifestations of his impending condition and we lived to tell the tell. Part genetics, part man-child confusion, it always winds up with a hug, a kiss and an, "I love you, no matter how much you're pissing me off right now" from us and a baleful, "Sorry" from Zach.
But this morning Luke, the 9-year-old who idolizes his big brother, came down first, anxious to wake up his brother to give him his gift, an Xbox 360 game. Of course, it's not altruism that triggers his wake-up call; it's the gift that keeps on giving since Zach will need a partner for a Madden '12 marathon.
We kept waiting for the end of days, but didn't hear feet on the creaky steps. Of course! We realized that the sunny, smart, charismatic boy who, from the time he was in a big-boy bed used to hit the floor with a smile and a war cry of, "It's today!" would now need four calls to roust himself from the mattress sanctuary.
Time to test the waters. The four of us — including Zoe the dog — silently climbed our creaky steps and (Zoe, forgive the figure of speech) dogpiled our sleeping teen. We pounded him, tickled him, taunted him. Heck, we even wished him a happy birthday. Then we recoiled instinctively to the corners of the bed, waiting for him to blow.
Bouyed, we attacked again and fell into a heap of laughing Chmiels. He woke up, got dressed and came down to open his cards and presents and prepare for the last day in a week of midterms. Paula dropped him off at school and watched him jump into a pile of pals. So far, so good. Well, the day was just starting...
Of course, he didn't make his bed (a rarity for him) and his room has lately been looking more like the town dump than the tidy abode he regularly created. But hey, that's what bedroom doors are for.
Neither Paula nor I sweat the fact that we're old enough to have a teenager. But we have discussed our teenage years and have made a few wagers about whose traits will manifest themselves over the next six years (God, I hope she wins).
Still, we're in uncharted water here, folks. We need your help. Give us your stories, your wisdom, your secrets, your favorite adult beverages that will help us be better for Luke when he hits the big 1-3 in nearly four years.
If we survive, that is...