By DERRICK BARNES
I think, on average, that ten is the cut-off age.
It’s around that time that boys begin to almost completely lose the innocence that we secretly wish that they could retain a sliver of; you know, just enough to continue to be inquisitive, creative, and oozing with zeal and optimism. But not so much that they’ll be swindled, bamboozled, and hood winked by every Peter Popoff waiting around the corner.
Ten is the prepubescent calm before the pimply, metal-mouthed, squeaky voiced, embarrassing involuntary erection, peach-fuzzed storm. It’s before they start to believe that they can really take their old man; they’ll think they can beat you in a wrestling match, push-up and chin-up contests, they’ll think they can belch with a deeper and more manly presence. And probably, most disturbing, from what I’ve observed from my buddies with older, teen sons is that somehow, these little rascals start to believe that they know just as much as you do. Just months ago you were the coolest guy in their world. Now, you might as well be Steve Urkel’s drooling, cock-eyed, smelly step-brother, Lee Lee Urkel.
But on the real, I think I’m ready for itbut not really. On every birthday I reflect on their development and how they’re growing into awesome young men before my eyes. But I sure do miss 9-year-old Ezra sometimes. Three year old Silas was a tad bit sweeter than 4-year-old Nestle Snipes. And five year old Solo didn’t take himself as serious as 6-year-old, superstar, athlete Solo does. They change. I mean, it seems as if the core of who they are never changes, but a multitude of outside influences begin to alter their attitudes a lot. A whole damn lot sometimes. But I digress. I’m going to enjoy these last few months of Ezra at age 10 because all of those inevitable changes that I mentioned earlier, signaling the boy officially becoming musty and mannish, have not happened yet. And I am so grateful for that. Really (well, he’s plenty musty Lumberjack, middle of July musty).
When was the last time you had a conversation with a brilliant yet geeky, sci-fi, anime loving, 10-year-old Black boy, sans girls, sans macho sports laden bravado? I love the boy till no end, but his conversations are kind of like President Obama sitting in on a cabinet meeting the PTA cabinet meeting of Littlehorn Elementary. They’re discussing the pricing of the cupcakes at next year’s bake sale. I don’t smoke, but just like Brotha Barack, I want to duck out and light up a Newport sometimes. Here’s a typical conversation initiated by Ezra:
E: Hey, daddy, who do you think would win in a fight between the Lion-O on the new Thundercats or Wolverine? Not cartoon Wolverine, but the gruesome one in the comic books that swears and smokes cigars?
Me: (First I give him a blank stare like I’m thinking about it, but really, I’m wondering why in the hell would he think I’d care who’d win. All of the important stuff on my mind, and you’re gonna ask me some) I don’t know, man. Probably Wolverine. Wolverine is gully like that, son.
Now don’t get me wrong about E. We’ll have conversations about politics, music, football, serious topics like racism, international conflicts, his future ambitions, etc. But most of the time, it’s something that most adults would find insignificant like a joke he heard on one of Cartoon Networks’ new shows, how cool the fighting sequence was on a video game he played or from the new X-men movie. When I give him that look, he knows good and well, especially if I’m busy doing daddy stuff, that I don’t have time to discuss Naruto’s family tree and why he and Sasuke aren’t boys anymore (big ups to all of the Japanese animators out there!). But I entertain the little brother, even when I don’t feel like it. I discuss these issues that he may find perplexing or interesting. If I recorded these talks, I’d sound like a damn fool. But it’s cool. I talk and I listen.
I say this to remind all of you, regardless of your child’s age, don’t be too cool and too adult to converse on their level from time to time. As we discussed earlier, their “levels” change so fast, you might just miss out on a discussion that may never, at least in this life time, take place between the two of you ever again, and that matters. It matters to them, and it most certainly matters to me because, having someone to listen to you talk about anything or nothing at all, just listening, without judgment or ridicule, in complete confidentiality, are the makings of a beautiful, unbreakable bond. And isn’t that what we all want? Someone to listen to our BS? Someone that will listen to us as we go through the changes life will undoubtedly put us through? That’s the key. They’ll keep morphing, and adapting, and we have to do the same thing. Change right along with your kids or become dreadfully disconnected and miss out on the pivotal stages they will pass through. Speed through. Jet through.
That’s where I am now. No girls, no high auto insurance, no stealing my Chuck Taylors or Geoffrey Beene button downs, or one of my fly Donny Hathaways (those are my apple caps). For now, for this short, short moment in time, I’m left to ponder why the bad guys on Voltron or the Power Rangers stand around so long to watch the good guys form their robots. And why is it that villains dialog for so long right before they have their chance to do away with the hero? Why, dammit, whyyyyy! I don’t know why. But I’ll let it marinate and I’ll talk about it for a while. I sure will, with sincerity. Because he won’t ever be ten again, and I know that someday, early in the morning or late in the midnight hour, I’m going to want him to listen to me.
And I just know that he will.
The M4S joint of the month: Ben Folds Still Fighting It
Derrick D’wayne Barnes is the author of eight children and young adult books, including the literary middle school masterpiece, “We Could Be Brothers.” He’s given his insights about fatherhood on GreatDad.com, has been featured on NorthParan.com, and is an incredible role model for brown babies everywhere. He lives in Kansas City, MO, with his wife and their four sons. Read more about him on DerrickBarnes.com.