19 November 2007

On Growing

My Godsons, Texas Chapter:
Will and Tommy, November 2007

Contemporary culture places great emphasis on height, and this is especially true in Texas, where everything is supposed to be big, and rewards are doled out liberally to the boys who most closely resemble cattle. In childhood, I used to announce, with great seriousness, that I intended to be six feet tall. That was a nice round number, and it seemed a worthy goal, every bit as manageable as my other ambitions: to become President of the United States, to be a famous violinist and motion-picture actor, to marry both the high-school girls I’d met (and proposed to) at the swimming pool.

My parents had the good grace not to laugh in my face at these announcements — or perhaps they were being judicious. I made ridiculous statements with such frequency that it would have been difficult to choose which ones to laugh at. A person could spend all day laughing at me. Yet at the time, my six-foot ambition must have sounded more poignant than comical, because I was so short, and they had no reason to expect I would ever be tall. I wasn’t quite midget material, but close enough, according to the pediatrician.

And as the years passed, I remained the runt of the school. When I got to junior high, my new friend Karen didn’t exactly tower over me, but she was certainly taller, perfectly capable of beating me up (and perfectly willing). Sometime around the summer I turned 15, I shot up — though, I have been made to recall, I was still far from my goal. When I reestablished contact with Carlene Klein Ginsburg, she remembered me as short: she last saw me when I was 16. And a recently rediscovered photo of us, returning from Europe in 1977, confirms that I was hardly any taller than she at the time. By college, I was five-eleven, and five-eleven I remained. (Although my roommate, Alan, insisted quite rightly that he was much more five-eleven than I was.) I’d fallen short of my goal, yet it seemed a pretty good height. There wasn’t much more I could do about it. And I felt like a grownup, at last.

Then and only then did my parents reveal just how far I’d exceeded my doctors’ expectations.

Godchildren, Westchester Chapter:
Unaccountably grownup Emily and Will,
with their mother, Elise Goyette.

I’m taller now than my childhood friend Karen, although it’s likely she could beat me up still if she chose. Instead of walloping me, however, she’s opted to give me two godsons, and it’s their turn to grow. Will, the firstborn, turns 15 in a few weeks, and he is already within a quarter-inch of me; since his shoes are a monstrous and pitiable size 13, we can conclude that he hasn’t stopped growing yet. By the time I write this, it’s likely that he’ll have surpassed me. Tommy, who’s 11, is growing at his own pace — much as he does everything. He has not a Napoleon but a Stewie Complex, after the scheming baby on the animated television program, Family Guy: soon enough, Tommy will rule us all. You heard it here first. All hail our new Overlord.

Back in New York, another godson who bears my first name is applying to college and, although slightly shorter than I, dispensing his hand-me-down clothing to me.

How is this possible? Don’t these people realize that, mere minutes ago, they were tiny infants in my arms? How dare they be adults?

This business of growing has become a useful and vivid measure — not the measure of a man, as my Texan upbringing led me to expect, but a measure of the passage of time. My childhood has lasted a very long while, so long that in some ways it’s as if time has stood still. Yet my godsons’ childhood has passed so quickly. When I look at them, I have no choice but to face reality. If the boys are getting older, then so am I. Is it time at last to get serious?