When I was in 7th-grade, it seemed like there were only two kinds of kids: those that were miserable, and those that made them that way.
Guess which one I was.
Thirty-five years later, I get to re-live 7th-grade again through your eyes, son, and I realize I was wrong: you’re all miserable. And why wouldn’t you be? You’re in the midst of puberty: life’s most drastic metamorphosis. It’s like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
Well, it would be like that if the insect started as a beautiful, innocent butterfly, then transformed into a dirty, smelly caterpillar that, despite all the physical changes, still managed to retain its feeble immature brain, poor judgment and frighteningly impulsive tendencies. Other than that, though, it’s totally the same.
There are so many kids afflicted with puberty in your class, the concentration of hormones wafting around the room must reach near lethal levels by noon every day. Your teacher is probably on her fourth or fifth puberty by now just from constant exposure to second-hand hormones. That can’t be healthy.
It doesn’t help that the girls have become freakishly tall right when your Y chromosome is at its most vulnerable. You’ve finally reconciled those conflicting infatuation/hate feelings you had for girls (it’s pretty much all infatuation now). Unfortunately, it’s just in time for girls to become way too intimidating to consider ever doing anything about it.
And while the girls’ bodies are visibly changing to eventually accommodate the making of babies, the only outward signs that your testicles are becoming fully functional are the pus-filled globules adorning your nose and face. (Also, to the trained eye, the way you hold your books in front of your groin after seeing Emmie Carlton in a bathing suit is kind of a giveaway, too.)
It may be hard to hear this from me because, as you know, I was a total stud at your age:
Still, for some reason, I felt a bit awkward in 7th-grade, too. *
The bottom line is that puberty sucks even without lederhosen. You are now a slave to your own testicles, which have taken it upon themselves to produce a dangerous cocktail of mind-and-body-altering drugs. The changes associated with puberty are tough: the moodiness, the insecurity, the lapses in judgment, the late nights spent crying in bed. And those are just the changes your mom and I are going through; you’ve got your own set of issues to deal with.
One of the toughest things about being a dad is seeing you having a hard time figuring out life and knowing that there really are no good answers for the questions you have. I used to have answers to every one of your questions. But I don’t know why Marty keeps picking on you, or why Emmie likes Tommy instead of you; I don’t know why you got a boner right in the middle of your oral report, and I have no good answer for why it’s not cool to like Scooby Doo anymore; I don’t know why just “being yourself” requires so much bravery; nor do I know how to convince you that all your friends are just as confused and uncomfortable as you are.
Your world is getting a lot more complicated. I never doubted my ability to be your guide up to now. But it’s no longer about reminding you to put your jacket on before going outside, or that it’s important to share and always say thank-you. The emotional pain you feel lingers longer and the stakes of lessons learned are so much greater now. Sometimes I think you’re handling your puberty better than I am, especially since you’re doing this entirely without the aid of coffee or alcohol.
I was going to say, “We’ll figure this out together,” but I know we won’t. You’ve got to figure this out for yourself, but I’ll listen any time you want to talk and I’ll keep trying to convince you that what you’re going through is normal.
And remember, no matter how confusing it is and how hopeless it seems:
Don’t blame me, son; puberty wasn’t my idea.
* I’m starting to think that Mr. Kirk, our band teacher, was doing some kind of secret government-sanctioned psych experiment when he started the German Band. They’ve probably been tracking me ever since. I bet they’re studying the life-long impacts of being seen by one’s 7th-grade peers wearing suede shorts, suspenders and knee socks. Or maybe it was just a conspiracy among shrinks to ensure that there’s always a new generation of patients being cultivated. PLSD – Post-Lederhosen Stress Disorder.