Friday, October 1, 2010

Too Old???

My oldest son is eight so I am less aware of his personal business than I was a few years ago. With babies and toddlers there are days when life revolves around what is excreted from their bodies. If there is a rash or a mark on a two-year-old’s behind, his mom or dad can probably tell you how long it’s been there, if it’s gotten bigger, and if he’s been scratching. But eventually, they can dress themselves, wipe themselves, even shower by themselves (more or less). So it came as a shock when we were sorting through and trying on last year’s jeans that I saw nasty red welts on my son’s hips.
“Owen, what is that red mark?”
“It’s from my underwear?”
            “Your underwear is doing that? It’s time to get you new underwear.”
“Do we have to throw these away?”
“Yes. They’re too small. Look what they’re doing to your skin.”
“But they’re my favorite!”
            It wasn’t just any underwear. It was Star Wars: The Clone Wars underwear. He only has a few pair of character underwear. Plain underwear is a lot cheaper than the fun stuff and I am just too frugal to buy them. I can of course understand the attraction. I remember desperately wanting Wonder Woman Underoos when I was around his age. But when it comes to frugality and practicality, my own mother has me beat by a mile. And knowing my propensity for playing dress up, she probably figured I’d be wearing them constantly—outside my clothes. Or instead of my clothes. When Santa comes around he usually slips a pack or two of the pricey underwear into the boys’ stockings. Frugality gets a little reprieve at Christmas time. 

We were very lucky this year when it came to back to school shopping. The boys didn’t need much. Between hand-me-downs and the fact that I bought everything a little too big last year we got off pretty cheap. Their grandmother gave them L.L. Bean backpacks for their birthdays. So the only things we need to re-supply were sneakers and underwear.
            Remembering the time Owen fished his Transformers boxer briefs out of the trash despite a hole the size of a half-dollar, I knew throwing away his beloved Star Wars underwear could turn into a battle. So I decided to make a magnanimous anti-frugality gesture. After all, we wouldn’t need to spend much money on clothes this year.
            “What if I buy you new ones?” I offered
            “Will they be exactly the same?”
            “Maybe not exactly. Styles change. But I’ll do my best to find Star Wars underwear.”
            “The Clone Wars?”
            “I’ll do my best.” I promised.
            Notice my phrasing. I didn’t make any promises. If I’ve learned anything on this parenting journey it is this: never make a promise you aren’t absolutely certain you can keep. Come to think about it, it is pretty good advice in general. My search took me to two Targets, three Wal-Mart’s, one Kohl’s and one Marshall’s. None of them had character underwear big enough to fit my eight-year-old son. No Star Wars, no Bat Man, no Iron Man, no Lightening McQueen, no Transformers. Apparently eight is too old to want to wear a picture of Yoda on your butt. Maybe you’re thinking that my son is bigger than most eight-year-olds but it isn’t the case. Thanks to my meager genetic contribution, my boys just reach “average” in the size department (my tallest blood relative is about 5’10” so we aren’t breeding any future NBA or NFL stars in this house).
            Who decides when you’re too old for something? By the time most kids are eight they’ve already given up nursing, bottles, sippy cups, diapers, pull-ups, naps, binkies, blankies, and training wheels. They go to school for seven hours a day, spend 30-60 minutes on a school bus and finally come home and do an hour or so of homework then rush off to something else—scouting or soccer or karate or swimming. At eight years old I walked home from school then watched TV or played outside until it was dinnertime. There was no homework. There was no standardized testing for elementary school kids to stress over. Every once in a while my son wakes up in tears because he’s just plain tired.
            So if there is a small piece of childhood that he can keep close to his skin, he ought to be able to. Maybe some kids feel the need to be grown up down to their skivvies, but not my guys. It’s a little thing. But when you’ve had to give up so many of the big things from childhood, you ought to get to keep one or two of the little things.