In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
The Boy turned 13 this week. We officially have a teenager in the house.
Nothing really brings home the speed with which time passes than an adolescent boy in a growth spurt. As of this week, he’s six feet tall, and wearing a size 13 shoe. (I wear a 12; the shoe salesman helpfully told us that if the 13 feels tight, he could wear a 14 comfortably.) He’s the kind of young-skinny that makes him invisible when he turns sideways, despite inhaling food at every opportunity. Sometimes, on a quiet night, you can hear him growing.
He’s navigating junior high with far greater aplomb than I ever did. He’s tall, athletic, and handsome, so he gets to be relatively well-mannered without incurring the social cost that non-defiant young men otherwise incur. At that age, that’s no small thing. We’re encouraging him to go for the “gentleman” niche, since it’s pretty uncrowded. (The “knucklehead” niche is already saturated.) He has the instincts, and having a strong-willed younger sister has taught him not to get flustered when girls have minds of their own. This is a valuable life skill.
Although the logistics can get tiring, it’s great fun watching him play baseball or basketball. As a baseball player, he’s at his best as a crafty pitcher: average velocity, but enough technique to get inside hitters’ heads. He told me recently that he realized that baseball is as much a psychological game as a physical one, which I thought was pretty good for a twelve year old. Baseball was the only sport at which I ever showed anything resembling capability, so sometimes I play catcher for him in the backyard. It can be humbling -- after one recent outing, when I stood up, he declared that “I can hear your knees from here” -- but it’s great fun. He throws a devastating sinker that really does a number on overconfident young hitters, and he’s developing a knuckleball that -- when it works -- is spooky. It has the same effect on hitters that the roadrunner has on the coyote.
As a basketball player, he’s at his best on defense, playing center. When he’s in the paint, none shall pass. He simply takes away the center lane. It took him a few years to get confident enough to really get in other players’ faces, but he’s there now. I don’t know basketball from quidditch, but the games are always worthwhile.
Luckily for him, he inherited a visual sense from his mother’s side. He plays Minecraft aggressively, and has been known to disappear for hours at a time with new Lego kits, only to emerge when they’re completely built. (He did the entire London Bridge set single-handedly.) From both of us, he got the writing gene. Last year he wrote a multi-page manifesto explaining why he and TG should get more “tech time.” It was so good that TG’s teacher actually used it in class. The kid has chops.
It’s fun watching him grow into himself. As he gets older, hints of his own style are emerging. His sense of humor is his own, with an eye towards pranks that nobody else in the family has. He’s a great student, with clear interests and tastes, and some serious ambition. He’s the kid -- young man, really -- who voluntarily helps the older couple down the street shovel their driveway, and won’t accept anything more than a cup of hot chocolate for his troubles.
Once when he was about three, he spent a long time helping to clean up the front yard. When I told him he didn’t have to, he looked up and said earnestly “I want you to be proud of me.”
I am. Welcome to the teen years, TB. It’s an honor to have a front-row seat, watching a good man grow into himself.
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