My oldest is heading off the high school in a couple weeks, and we’re having some trouble grappling with the fact that he’s not a little kid any more.
That’s not entirely accurate. I’m having some trouble letting go. He’s pretty happy with it.
We had one of those big "let go" moments this weekend. He and two of his buds are big into computer games, and wanted to participate in an all-nighter at a local computer place. It’s kind of like an arcade for the PC generation.
I was horrified at the idea. This wasn’t a church lock-in — which I usually chaperone — or spending the night with a friend’s family, which they seem to do a couple times a month when school isn’t in session.
But this would be at a nearby business that I knew nothing about and with people I don't know. I trust my son, but he’s not exactly street smart.
He calls the computer friends his "peeps," we joked that when we were his age such people were called "geeks." We merged them to become "geeps."
My wife insists that we need to start loosening the parental grip. But I really wasn’t thrilled with the idea of this computer place. But I said I’d check it out, and if the place met a pretty rigid set of guidelines, I’d suppose he’d be able to go.
Of course, my plan was to never get over there in hopes that he’s forget about the whole thing. That didn’t work. His reminders came as frequently as his trips to raid the fridge.
So after running out of excuses, he and I headed down the gaming place. My disqualifiers were the presence of anyone with head-to-toe tattoos or piercings in untraditional places.
My son rolled his eyes — which happens a lot, accompanied by a sigh or head-shaking — saying that the geeps just don’t look like that.
Then I dropped my ace-in-the-hole: No posters advertising overly violent games. Anything messier than "Frogger" or "MLB SlugFest" and we were out of there! This led to much protesting, since all their games appear to includes various creatures pounding or blasting each other.
We walked in and saw what looked like a larger version of someone’s basement. Well-lit, each side of the room was lined with about 10 computer monitors, with colorfully painted computer towers mounted on shelves above.
The middle of the room had a trio of huge televisions facing out to form a triangle, each hooked up to an X-Box.
There was a guy behind the counter who looked to be 25 or so with close-cropped hair and no visible tattoos or piercings. He was surrounded by piles of PlayStations needing repair and boxes of Combos, Skittles and other snacks for sale.
I asked assorted questions about safety and what exactly goes on there, each question embarrassing my son more than the previous one.
The guy, who was the owner, didn’t mind. I suspect I wasn’t the first gamers’ "old man" to come in and check the place out.
He was the owner, and explained that groups of geeps come in and play the games, which he controls from a mainframe. He had all the top PC games.
"Occasionally I’ll announce that everybody has to play the same game for a while so they all interact a little," he said.
Looking around at the geeps already there, I’d say no female — other than a mom — has never entered the place. I suggested that I could start a riot with a Kirk vs Picard debate, but my wife pointed out that these kids probably have never seen Star Trek.
It all seemed pretty nice. I was running out of reasons to object, even pretending I didn’t see the "Medal of Honor" game poster on a back wall.
I reluctantly granted permission — on the condition that I could check in every hour on the hour. We negotiated this down to I could peek in once as long as I didn’t identify myself as his father. And we worked out a code so he could call on a cell phone to pick picked up should things go bad, and not have to say uncool words like, "Dad, please come and get me."
And this afternoon I dropped him off at his buddy’s house and watched him walk off with a fridge pack of Mountain Dew under one arm and two bags of snacks under the other.
I rolled down the window and called him back to the car once to remind him to be careful and told him I loved him.
This letting go stuff is hard.