Our Son Enters the Iron Age

The other day my 15-year-old son came down the stairs. "Do we own an iron?" It was if he had emerged from his adolescent fog to rejoin the family of his birth. Yes, I admit to having used an iron on occasion, but obviously out of our son's field of view.

His emergence into our world is welcome. Fortunately, his older brother educated us about the process of growing, and we have a better sense of humor this time. That's not to say we don't have a sense of foreboding that a passing phase may instead be a permanent part of his personality. For example, eating with his face two inches above his plate could limit him to employment as a field hand.

A good friend assured me her son learned to chew with his mouth closed not after years of her admonishments, but rather on his discovery of girls. More specifically, a girl. I suspect my son's question regarding the family iron may have a similar source of inspiration.

I have never understood my son's apparel. The days of worrying about pants being outgrown are far behind us. These days his pants are so long he would have to grow seven inches to threaten his ankles being revealed. Height would have to be accompanied with weight, for his pants sag three inches below his appropriately exposed boxer shorts. No one knows his boxers are exposed, of course, because they are covered by a T-shirt that nearly reaches his knees. In shopping for these oversized shirts, I've heard him say, "This one's too big." I've bitten my tongue and not replied, "How can you tell?"

You see, he's only recently allowed me to accompany him into the store. My lot has been the thoroughfares of the mall, pretending to look in windows until he saunters out of the store and allows me to pay for his choices. Heaven forbid he should go into a store with his mother. They might know he's 15.

It's only taken me two boys and 18 years to learn not to buy clothes for teenagers. I've been known to make the mistake of buying Christmas presents, only to see them hang forlornly in closets until they are outgrown. I learn quickly.

My oldest son remains my best teacher. A local store decided to carry sweaters in his size, stacks of them. I carefully sorted through all of them until I found the perfect one. On the beginning curve of my learning years, I had the forethought to seek my son's opinion.

He accompanied me to the store, sorted through the stacks, and made his announcement. "Any one but that one." He was pointing to the one I had chosen. Does a mother always select the only piece of clothing her child would not want?

THESE moments of insight pervade my children's lives. The youngest, looking through his baby and toddler pictures, complained, "You didn't dress me very well." I glanced over his shoulder at the photo of the ragamuffin boy with his big grin and mismatched clothes. I had no choice but to tell him truth:

"That was the summer you dressed yourself."

And so, my baby, my adolescent charmer who snags his father's discarded clothes before I can whisk them to the thrift shop, the one whose pants are frayed at the bottom, whose shirts will never be outgrown, asked if we owned an iron.

Yes, it is time to celebrate. Kill the fatted calf, the prodigal has come home.

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