Awash with insight

A father sorts through socks – and his son's recent maturity.

I think we parents are only marginally aware of the growth of our children until some outside force draws our attention to it. Sometimes it is a friend or relative ("My, look how big he's grown!"). In my case it was the laundry.

Until recently, sorting my son's and my laundry was a breeze. Anton had medium shirts and 28-inch jeans, and I had large shirts and, ahem, a somewhat more generous waist. The socks also fell neatly into two distinct batches – Anton's, which complemented his Size 9 feet, and my more expansive ones, which could easily double as Christmas stockings.

All of this has changed, and it was the socks that first caught my eye. The other day, while doing the laundry, I found myself unable to distinguish Anton's from mine.

There I stood, holding the damp mass in my hands, wondering which belonged to whom. And then I glanced down at his sneakers, which used to be small, slender things but were now, as my mother would say, "clodhoppers."

That's when it hit me: Anton had grown. But when, exactly, had this happened? I wandered over to the refrigerator and gazed at a photo of him that I had taken only two years ago, when he was 12.

He's standing next to me in the picture, and I have my arm around his shoulder. But he's so small, so slight, the top of his head barely coming up to my chest. If I had stepped in front of him he would have completely disappeared.

And now he has grown into my socks – and other articles of clothing. Yesterday the boy, today the young man. It's as if some specter had entered his room in the dead of night and anointed him with an outstretched finger, proclaiming, "Big." And there he was.

This sudden and stark recognition of the mature proportions of my son put me in a wistful mood. I began to conjure memories of his young childhood, of the little boy who used to do pull-ups on my outstretched arm; ride horseback when I got down on all fours; and ask, insistently, for me to hoist him upon my shoulders. None of these things will ever happen again. Just when did Anton cross the line from liftability to impossible burden?

The other day, as my son raced past me, I reached out and took hold of his arms in an affectionate bid to horse around a little. As I made this gesture, I recalled grabbing the weedy little boy, but what I grasped now were two rock-solid, pulsing biceps. Anton paused momentarily and made no attempt at escape, as if allowing me to sample the evidence of his maturity. Then he broke free with the ease of a professional wrestler and continued on his way.

When I mentioned all of this to a friend of mine, emphasizing the phenomenon of the socks, she breezily suggested that I have Anton do his own laundry. In practical terms, this makes sense, of course, but the thing is, I like doing the laundry. The motions of sorting, washing, and drying are the same ones I have done from the beginning, when Anton's clothing was truly small and clearly his.

Although my son has grown, and his socks have become indistinguishable from mine, I hang onto the ritual of the wash because, like an old song, it has become "my" song, and it comforts me to sing it.

This morning, upon waking, I asked Anton to run out to get the paper. "I can't find my shoes," he said as he glanced about. And then, "That's OK. I'll use yours." I looked on as he hopped into my sneakers and dashed down the driveway.

Of course. It seemed only natural.

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