When your birthdays push you past the half-century mark and beyond, there’s something the great P. G. Wodehouse would have called a stone-dead cert: You have a long list of things that mark the increasing acceleration of time. Candles on the cake, growth in the garden, waking up and finding it is Easter, when Christmas was just yesterday. We’ve all got ‘em.
Yet none of those ubiquitous markers has smacked me on the old bean quite as powerfully as when, on a recent day, I looked into the light-blue eyes of my 12-year-old grandson. And realized I was looking up. Because, though we have checked and debated this metric multiple times in recent months, there is no longer any question. The ref has blown the whistle, and there is no need to examine the video. It is official. He is taller than I am.
If one pays the slightest attention to genetics, which I view as increasingly powerful, the older I get, this milestone should be no surprise. Lanky, long-limbed Buddy, two months shy of his 13th birthday, is the child of a six-foot-plus father and a mom who has proudly towered over me since she was not much older than he is. Still, there is something particularly poignant about this illustration of the fleeting passage of years. Why is that, I wondered?
Maybe it’s apprehension about the official arrival of the teen years, and all that they routinely include. I recently lamented to my daughter (his mom) about the marked recent signs of maturity in Buddy and his younger sister, two years behind him on the birthday calendar. “I KNOW!” she wailed. “They used to be babies!” Indeed, I thought, remaining convinced that was only about two weeks ago.
Flags indicating the onset of Teendom in Buddy have been waving for several months now. Not long ago at the dinner table, I watched while his mother’s husband swiftly and without comment swapped his slices of roast for hers, providing her with the cuts he knows she prefers. Wow, I commented in appreciation, that’s true love.
“Awwww,” Buddy moaned, “I want true love! And I’m going to have wait so LONG!” Maybe not, I thought to myself, remembering the 70-year romance of my parents, who met at 14. You never know on that one, I said aloud. He didn’t roll his eyes, but he probably considered it.
Then there’s the dreaded Maybe Syndrome, a highly effective tool for teens to wield against anyone who holds any degree of responsibility in their lives. It’s a subtle, but effective, power-shifter. There are days when anything you ask Buddy generates the same answer: Maybe. Want a sandwich? Watch a movie? Sauce on your ice cream? Maybe maybe maybe maybe. I recently took a cue from his younger sister, who is admirably sharpening her skills in fighting fire with fire. He asked me after a recent meal about dessert, and before I could respond, she jumped in with strategic advice. “Tell him maybe, Evie. Tell him maybe. That’s all he ever says, so say that.”
Across the dinner table on another recent evening, family chatter lagged for a moment. Buddy stepped bravely into the breach to announce, apropos of nothing, “Guess what, Evie! I started wearing deodorant today!”
What’s a grandmother to say? I blabbered the first thing that popped into the G-ma brain: Is it working? What a rookie mistake. His ever-vigilant sibling immediately seized the obvious comedic opening. Leaning over from the chair next to her brother, she thrust her nose into his armpit, then issued her ruling: “NO.”
So far, at least, in spite of all the fears around us in our tumultuous world, I’m not too worried about what the teen years will mean in life for Buddy. He has a devoted, competent, no-nonsense mom, a very present father and stepfather, and many other adults who love him. Still, looking down the road while looking up into his eyes raises other questions. What’s my role now, with this boy I adore? No more need to check his shoelaces or remind him to go to the bathroom or wonder if he remembers the safe way to slice an apple (well, I might still hover a bit on that last one), though he does maintain his propensity for getting lost. He is much more likely to explain to me some complex scientific concept to me than the other way around. My role as second-team safety patrol and/or entertainment/information source is over, at least in its old form.
Another surprise brought this question to mind again recently. I’m not sure if my reaction, which was clearly sought, was right or wrong. A grandmother can only, with love, do her best in the moment. The phone rang a couple of days ago with a FaceTime request, and when I hit accept, a shock awaited. Buddy’s handsome face filled the screen, his shiny hair cropped to about a quarter-inch all over his head.
For months, maybe more than a year, our young man had grown out his hair until it reached below the top of his shoulders. My hairdresser confirmed the predominance of this trend with young teen males, when I may have shared my dismay with a professional. Thick, wavy, and blonde, Buddy’s hair drew comments all around. In my circle, the reactions reeked of envy, especially from women of, shall we say, a certain age. In recording this for history, I’ll leave out the details of my own view, which I may have failed to keep to myself in front of him. Let’s just say I often missed a clearer view of his handsome face.
On the phone, on camera, my jaw dropped way below sea level. What on earth? What made you decide to do that? And Teen Man gave voice. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I was bored, I think.”
Well, my goodness, I stuttered. You look very handsome. Of course, you were handsome before, and you’re handsome now.
Under pressure, it was the best I could do. It’s Teen Time. More surprises are surely coming.