Jacob began Taekwondo at age 10; by 13 he had his first-degree black belt. He continued with Taekwondo when we moved to Austin in 2004, and to encourage him as well as spend more time with my teenaged son, I joined up, too. For two years I enjoyed some bonding time with him in our common pursuit of belts and martial arts perfection. He liked sparring, I liked forms, and we both liked weapons. After earning his second-degree black belt, he began to have other priorities, mostly social ones. I ended up tearing the meniscus in my right knee just 2 belts before the black one, and though I attempted to continue after rehab, once my son lost interest, I did, too. Then came the difficult teen years as my son turned away from me in his attempt to cut the apron strings. I understood this developmental rite of passage intellectually, but it was tough going emotionally. Now, with the house fire and all its consequences, there was a kind of bonding again, albeit based on a very unpleasant experience.
Sarah, my daughter, his sister, remained somewhat aloof during the entire experience. Naturally s0 — she was at college during the first few weeks of our post-fire life. She called her brother, of course, and e-mailed me off and on, but her attention was focused on finals, packing up her room, and spending a few days of leisure at her godmother’s. Now she was coming home for the summer, except of course, she was coming back to a rental house and none of the stuff she had left behind. I had warned her that I had no internet yet and that Jacob didn’t want to stay at my house until I did. She thought that quite funny, and I was relieved, realizing that she had no such hesitation. Her main objection to our new situation was that her room was too impersonal, so she took a few items from her dad’s house and purchased a few more and made the room hers.
The first week home, Sarah spent the day at her dad’s while I was at work. She and her brother did a few things together and got caught up on favorite TV shows, movies, and other common interests. She told him about her first year of college and they shared some campus stories. They also bickered now and then. Back to normal. Her first Saturday back, she invited her high school friends, all at different colleges the past year, to a pool and slumber party. I had forgotten how loud a bunch of teenagers could be when talking and laughing all together, but it was a happy noise. Her brother mostly stayed apart from the group, and I worried that he was feeling isolated and lonely again as was his common complaint during those late night phone calls to me over the last year. I checked in on him; he was sitting on his bed with his new laptop, watching a program. I tried to talk with him, but he just looked irritated and brushed me off, annoyed that I had entered his space. It felt like those last years in high school again. It seemed that our bonding event had expired.