Back when I was a fourth grader at Kirkersville Elementary School, I received a Valentine’s card from a boy I kinda liked that said “You’re a real sweatie.” Being a spelling bee aficionado wrapped in a freckle-faced, 40 pound frame, I was confused. I thought, “either he’s trying to tell me I’m a sweetie, or I have a body odor problem that I’m not aware of.” Instead of asking the boy directly, I spent the next several months sitting abnormally close to family members to see if they remarked on my sweat issues. Nobody did. I also spent an inordinate amount of time with my nose buried in my armpit, attempting to self-diagnose my potential issue. This exercise returned no solid evidence of being stinky either. Then, as any insecure adolescent would do, I poured over the deodorant ads in my sister’s hand-me-down “Seventeen” magazine. “Seventeen” was THE voice for all girls in the 70’s. Based on their expertise, I made the determination that when mom finally let me get deodorant, I would choose the pink “flavor” of Tickle (Google it if you don’t remember this brand.) And, eight years later, when I finally hit puberty at age 16, that’s exactly what I got. I could drive before I truly needed deodorant. Isn’t that weird? If I were a character in that book “Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret,” Judy Blume would have had to write a sequel just for my character, because I was the lone friend who didn’t get her “monthly visitor” until she was nearly an adult. That book really messed me up.
Today, this late developer has a fourth-grader of her own, who appears to be achieving puberty as we speak. I’m gingerly navigating my daughter’s need for a training bra (a stupid name for a bra, BTW) and the emotional outbursts that come from absolutely nowhere. Seeing how she just turned 10 a few days ago, I think we’re in for a roller coaster ride through the actual teen years. Lord, have mercy.
Meanwhile, my nearly 13-year-old son has nary a drop of puberty in his sweet system. He recently had a checkup with his Endocrinologist, and while his height and weight do not register on the chart of “normal,” we were assured that he is growing, albeit very slowly. And an X-ray of his wrist shows that his bone age matches up with his chronological age. The doctor wasn’t expecting this (she thought it would show as much younger) but this result is an indication that he’s kinda on track. Growth hormones are NOT a possibility because if Ben did have some cancerous activity in his system, then the growth hormones would encourage the cancer to grow… and I think we’re all on the same page of not wanting that. So, Benjamin will just have to learn that having short stature is his destiny.
He is so graceful when publicly dealing with people who don’t know his true age. One evening, we were out to dinner at a Hibachi place. You know, the kind of joint with a communal table, pieces of broccoli flying through the air, and streams of fire shooting toward the ceiling. Exciting stuff. The people to the left of us kept trying to engage Ben in conversation, which, if you know The Bean, he is a very to-himself kind of character. He’s extremely polite, but NOT one to chat needlessly. Anyway, the nice gentleman was trying so hard to talk to Ben, but was talking to him like he was a toddler. He mentioned being able to drive and said “That’s a long time away for a kid your age.” Ben looked at him and said, “Actually, sir, I’ll be able to drive in less than four years.” The man reddened with embarrassment and started to say “Wow! But you’re just so….” Thankfully, he stopped before he finished his sentence. Ben said “That’s okay, sir. Many people think I’m a lot younger than I am.” But when we got home he confessed that it bothered him. He is very sensitive about his physical appearance. The man was really trying to be a sweetie, I’m not upset with him for trying to engage Ben. It’s our situation that I’m upset with.
But if they only knew what he’s seen in his lifetime. They’d understand that he’s never had a chance to be a child. He’s always been an adult. When I look back on my time of being 12, I remember the insecurities of not being like my peers. I was tiny. I was freckle-faced. My name didn’t end with a “y.” God, I really wanted a name that ended with a “y.” Sandy. Holly. Mandy. Those were clearly the names to have. Regardless, my trials were minimal compared to what my son is having to endure. On top of being tiny and freckle-faced, he occasionally doesn’t have any hair. He’s never participated in team sports due to stamina issues. He wears hearing aids. He’s lost a lot of his friends to cancer. And he worries about getting the chance to grow up himself.
But we’ve learned that it is what it is. We have decided to find the joy amidst all the crap and celebrate each moment as it comes. It doesn’t stop people from being cruel or simply insensitive, but we’ve found a way to hold our heads up. We’ve learned that there’s a lot of thoughtless people out there (people who are truly sweaties) but we’ve also learned that there are many people willing to do all they can.
Without these people – these true sweeties – we’d have a really hard time finding the joy.
Thank you for helping us see past the devastation. And puberty, or lack thereof.