The first part of this is based on something I wrote years ago about my older son when he was 10. Now my younger son is 10. Time happens.
It’s fun being the father of a 10-year-old. I’m reminded of this when he sings Beatles songs that were “classics” before he was born; when he explains to one of his friends how to complete a tricky part of his current video game; when he giggles at something in a book and then reads it out loud to the rest of us. His interests are starting to take an adult shape, and his sense of responsibility is keen. At the same time, he has an irrepressible streak of silliness. He’s quiet in new situations, sensitive to embarrassment, sulky when tired or hungry, stubbornly resistant to things he feels awkward doing. He hates to be less than competent at anything he does. Around people he feels comfortable with, he’s a clown and a performer. Friends are important to him, but he needs time to himself as well. He has a strong sense of privacy and is wary of adult attempts to pry into his thoughts and feelings, but genuinely seems to enjoy spending time with the rest of us.
I recall 10 clearly. Like my older son, I wanted at that age to be a scientist. He still might make it. (He’s a math major in college now.)
When I was 10, I’d get together with friends to create and deliver anonymous flower bouquets. Most of the flowers were ones that grew commonly in yards around our neighborhood: not weeds, precisely, but not roses either. I remember picking dandelions, splitting the stems, and placing them in water to curl them, then adding them to our bouquets . We used clear cellophane tape to wrap the stems together, then added a handwritten label that read, “The Mysterious Mongoose Strikes Again.” Then we would leave them on randomly chosen doorsteps, ring the bell, and run away.
We even set up a factory to make the bouquets at school. Robin had an old-fashioned wooden desk with a platform a few inches above the floor. We kept our supplies there, and hung opaque plastic grocery bags around the sides. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that anyone was fooled. Somewhere in my mementos, I think I still have a letter of appreciation from one of our teachers, addressed to “Mysterious Mongoose, Address Unknown.”
Every age has its joys — and frustrations. Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). I think, though, that much of what I see in my children is still part of me as well.
My wife was 20 and I was 25 when we were married, making me, perhaps, almost as mature as she was. I soon came to realize, though, that it wasn’t just our 20- and 25-year-old selves who were getting married. Ours is a partnership between individuals of diverse ages. My 49-year-old body conceals still that same 37-year-old first-time father of a 10-year-old, the 25-year-old who kneeled with my wife in the temple, the teenager who went off to college, the 12-year-old who served as a deacon, the 5-year-old starting kindergarten. My wife too encloses a variety of ages. My 4-year-old and her 4-year-old play together well, though all of her ages are easily exasperated by my 12-year-old’s sense of humor.
One of the secrets of survival in marriage is the ability, when adulthood is too overwhelming, to retreat to an earlier age, play a while, talk, even cry. We need all the different ages we have been, for the strengths and lessons they give us, the flexibility they encompass, the friendships they bring. We are much the richer for them.
The picture at the top of this page shows my oldest son and two of his friends in the branches of the large maple tree in our front yard: three maniacally grinning 10-year-olds, each standing on a different branch about a foot above my head.
Perspective is everything. On the ground, looking into the camera lens, there was I. Yet peering down at me from the branches I seemed to sense a fourth familiar presence: the 10-year-old of nearly 40 years ago, my own past tree-climbing self. From the top of my tree, the 10-year-old I was — and still am — waves at your 10-year old. Climb up and join us.
Jonathan Langford (www.langfordwriter.com) is a freelance writer and editor who lives in western Wisconsin with his wife and two children (his oldest is currently serving a mission in western Washington state). His first novel, No Going Back, a 2009 Whitney Award finalist for best general fiction by an LDS author, describes a Mormon teenage boy’s struggle to remain faithful despite his homosexual feelings. Langford is also coauthor of the Latter-day Saint Family Encyclopedia, which was published by Thunder Bay Press in November 2010, and coordinates Dawning of a Brighter Day, the blog of the Association for Mormon Letters (word.mormonletters.org).