My personal effects have gone missing of late. I’ll prepare for a gym visit and realize my exercise pants have disappeared. I’ll look for my baggy sweatshirt of preference (an ugly gray thing with orange lettering), and it’s nowhere to be found. Recently, my hair gel vanished. Poof.
While my mind is far from as sharp as it was in the day, my gone-baby-gone experiences are in no way related to my brain or its shortcomings. Nor is my situation the result of magical pixies or gnomes seeking out a good laugh by pilfering a middle-aged man’s accoutrements.
My affliction is far more prosaic: I have a 14-year-old son who takes my stuff. The last few months, Alex’s growth plates have gone into overdrive. Not long ago, the boy experienced an “aha” moment when he noticed that we were essentially the same height. His eyes twinkled in the palpable realization that he was about to surpass his father. Since this moment of equalization, he’s realized that he can raid my closet.
Thankfully, the supermajority of my clothes are not worthy of Alex’s pilfering talents: the boy is beanpole skinny; most of my shirts would fit him like a shroud, and no amount of belt tightening could keep my jeans from descending to his ankles.
Somehow, the boy has found a few items that serve his needs. It began with my exercise pants, pants with an elastic waistband so tight that it conforms to Alex’s waistline. He accompanied his first acquisition with a bit of playful gloating. I was sitting on the couch and the boy walked by me, slowing down as he crossed my path. Then he reversed course and walked past me again.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
“Nothing” he said, his mischievous smile belying his words.
“Do you need money?” I asked reflexively.
Finally, the boy stopped moving. “Why would I need money when I have such nice, comfortable pants?” He punctuated the display with a maniacal laugh.
I’ve accepted that my items are now just one big lender’s library for my son. My preferred baseball cap? On loan until the end of the weekend. The sweatshirt for cool evenings? Checked out until the next heat wave arrives. Overall, I find the entire situation amusing.
Once, I almost got mad about my son’s proclivity for my stuff. Not long ago, Alex left for a diving meet. After I watched Alex march out the door, I went into the bathroom to comb my hair. There was a problem: no comb. Also, no brush or hair gel. They’d all joined the boy at his diving meet.
“Are you kidding me?” I said out loud. I knew that the universe — my son’s universe — was not kidding me. I could feel frustration bubble up in my throat.
The level of frustration almost got the better of me.
To be honest, anger and frustration have been getting the better of me far more than I’d like to admit, particularly when it comes to Alex. The past few months, I’ve been too hard on the teen for, essentially, being a teen. What’s to say? It’s been a rough year for me. I’ve not been the person I aspire to be, especially when it comes to Alex.
When the boy was younger, I had the most incredible patience with him. When he was a kid (and I was essentially the primary caregiver), I would never get frustrated. When he was seven, he once spilled milk all over a bunch of student papers that I needed to grade. My reaction? “Could happen to anybody, son. It just happened to happen to you.”
These days, I’ve been too quick to anger, far too easily set off by inconsequential events. I’ll snap at the boy for leaving garbage on the floor or forgetting to let the dogs out. And how irrelevant is hair gel?
I need to be grateful that Alex continues to take my things. I’ve not been the most patient or attentive dad of late, yet he still aspires to be like me in a small, small way. It’s really no different than when Alex was a toddler and discovered my shoes. He would put them on and admire the deep, dark shoeshine. His fledgling smile extended to the depths of his being as he clopped about the hardwood floors, imagining a future self that reflected my image.
It’s easy to forget that underneath that lithe frame and deepening voice, he remains a little kid in shoes far too big for his feet. The next time I find my effects missing, I’ll think of those big old shoes, shoes that, at times, I have trouble filling.
David Weinshilboum, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, would like to take a moment to rat out his older sister who once pilfered a very expensive bottle of scotch from her father.