Thursday, August 21, 2008


Today Sr. Jr. turns 11. This is what an eleven year old boy looks like, complete with sneer:

But not so long ago, he looked like this:

He was just over four years old in that shot. That's about the time we had the "African squirrel" discussion that has long been the story I tell when I want to give someone insight into his personality. We used to (still do) take lots of walks around the neighborhood. The owners of one house around the corner from us often leave out bowls of peanuts for the squirrels to take. (In fact, it's the same house that was nearly demolished by a tree a couple of months ago, pictured in an earlier post.) One day when we were walking by, I commented that the squirrels must really like the peanuts.

"But Mommy, they haven't eaten any," said SJ.

"Yes they have," I said, pointing out how the shells had been broken and the nuts removed. "The squirrels eat the nuts from the inside and leave the shells behind."

"Well, mommy, those are the American squirrels. The African squirrels eat the shells, and they haven't been by yet."

"Oh," I said, playing along to see where this was going to go, "African squirrels? Really? How do they get here?"

"They walk, of course."

"But, sweetie, there's a really big ocean between here and Africa. How do they get across the ocean?"

"They get on the boats and sail. And then they get off here and walk to our neighborhoods."

"Oh, that's really interesting. How can I tell which squirrel is an African squirrel and which is an American squirrel?"

"The African squirrels eat the peanut shells."

Then and now, the boy will NEVER admit he's wrong about anything, and will contort himself verbally and rhetorically in all sorts of ways to minimize any wrongness there might be. As one of his teachers put it, "he likes to have the last word."

About a year earlier, we had our first cross-examination experience. It was holiday time, and we had a tree up in the living room. We had baby gates around the tree, mainly to keep SJ from getting over there and possibly breaking something or pulling the tree down. We told him that the gates were there to keep the cat from getting to the tree. One evening, I was busy cooking and baking when SJ decided to question me about the need for the gates.

"Mommy, are the gates in front of the tree to keep the kitty away from the tree so she won't break the ornaments?"

"Yes, sweetie."

"Mommy, cats can jump, right?"

"Mmm hmmm."

"And the cat can jump on the couch, right?"

"Yeeesss," I said, seeing where this was going.

"And once she's on the couch, she can just jump off the back over to the tree, right?"

"You're right, sweetie."

"So the gates don't really do anything, do they?"

*Sigh* Beaten in a cross examination by a three year old. He did something similar to me in the produce department of the supermarket once, gathering a following as we went along. At the end of it, three people looked at me and said, "He's hysterical. You're going to have your hands full!" Yes, SJ WAS that verbally talented when he was three.

Here he is on the first day of kindergarten:

And with his little brother, later that year:

Now we get into the bike racing and hiking years:

I am amazed at what the little tiny bundle I cuddled for so long has turned into. He's ferociously smart and opinionated. He's so strong! He's passionate about nature, the environment, and politics. He loves baseball, biking, tennis, and hiking. He's beginning to be interested in girls. He's responsible and conscientious (mostly). He never stops talking. He loves to argue. Way too many of his sentences start "Actually..." He can be arrogant when it comes to people who don't understand things as quickly as he does. He can be surly one moment and sweet the next. He's a pretty good judge of character, which I hope will serve him well in the coming difficult years of adolescence. He's my Doctor Who watching buddy.

Middle school seems scary to me. I know he's ready for it, but I'm not sure I'm ready. I know the issues he (and we) will face will be much tougher than those we've faced so far. I think he's got a good head on his shoulders, but temptation and peer pressure can be strong. I'm encouraged by the way things have evolved this year. There was a bit of a friendship group realignment this year, which started out painfully as his best friend moved in one direction and he in another. But I think (unfortunately) that his friend moved into a crowd that will end up getting in trouble later on, while SJ moved more toward the group of kids who won't. I know all of that will change as he makes new friends from new schools this year, but I hope that his judgment holds.

And in only a few short years he'll be going off to college. I already miss him.


Scott T. said...

well, that was unnecessarily tear-jerkery.

Makes me think that I need to spend more alone time with the little one

kippi said...


what a beautiful post. Love the photo of SJ on his bike as he looks so fierce and determined. The beauty of his personality as you describe it is he will surely be a survivor.

So where did he get his argumentative skillz? Ma or Pa?

Sharon said...

Ooh, I so know how you feel. With one starting high school, and the younger starting middle school (she turns 11 on 9/1), I feel like the hands on the clock have sped up more than ever. Only 4 more years at home for my baby boy (who now stands 3 inches taller than me and outweighs me by 20 pounds!). And my still-10-year-old asked me the other day if, when she turns 11in a week and a half, she can start shaving her legs and would I teach her how. Sigh.

Middle school was really a different adventure. I would say that the first year, my son sort of laid low until he figured out the new social scheme of things. The second year, which began with his bar mitzvah, was a great one for him--he was in with a great group of kids and his social life was EVERYTHING. Parties, girls (more theoretical than anything), and being part of the herd as much as possible. From a kid who would wear anything I laid out for him, he suddenly would not wear anything unless it was from American Eagle or Hollister. Oy, that was a painful stage. The 8th grade was the best though. He realized that (1) the prettiest girls were not necessarily the most interesting or the nicest; (2) that the more intelligent kids in the less than "popular" pack were actually better friends and people; and (3) that he was not a lemming after all. He became a lot less inclined to suppress his intelligence by the 8th grade, and to go his own way intellectually (getting into TJ was the culmination of that--he was the only Kenmore student who got in).

Of course, I suspect navigating it with a girl will be a whole different story . . ..

Hang in there, Loren. As Lou Reed said, "It's the beginning of a great adventure."

Loren T said...

Thanks for the insight, Sharon. I hope SJ handles middle school as well as your son did. Like I said, he's a pretty good judge of character, pretty much dismissing kids he can tell will be jerks. And when he was describing his crush girl, he said, "Oh, mom, you should talk to her. She's so much fun to talk to!" It warmed my mommy heart to hear him talk like that. He's excited that he can take more advanced classes in middle school than he could in trackless elementary school, too. I'm really looking forward to hearing how TJ works out for your son.

Girls, yes, completely different! I have no current experience with them at all, but I remember it well.

Scott laughs at me when I talk about missing my kids already. It's nice to see that others feel the same way.

We're off to go have our first meeting with the middle school guidance counselor...