“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” Chapter 24 “Puberty”
By Bruce Williams
Puberty has come unbeckoned to the Williams household in the form of greasy hair, pimples and body odor. Now 14 and 11, our kids are becoming these alternating mercurial and sullen strangers, eaters of entire pizzas and capable of storming out of the room with a single offhand comment. As we navigate these tumultuous years, I look back fondly on their loving, simpler childhoods, and brace myself to withstand the unrighteous fury of adolescence—bearing the storm until adulthood eventually comes and calms the waters once more.
My home has become a world of smelling salts—bitter, acrid, soupy, eye-opening aromas of awakening body scents—the results of casual indifference to regular showering and a lack of thoroughness even when undergoing the spigot. Apparently the boy thinks simply washing his hair is enough, and that deodorant is still an optional choice. In he comes, for one of his patented wrestling maneuvers, casting his armpit across my unsuspecting face as I read the paper, only to awaken a primal panic in me once I inhale his salty musk. “Good Jesus…!” I’ll exclaim, writhing out of his headlocked fumigation quick enough to hear my knees crack. Even the little one will sometimes float by, leaving a vapor trail of veggie beef (or was is French onion?) in her wake—the recent, enthusiastic discovery of makeup not coinciding or pairing with its distant cousin antiperspirant.
And here come the pimples. I was a regular pizza face as a kid—my acne got so bad that even my notoriously “thrifty” dad okayed the expensive prescription use of Accutane, which worked wonders along about my junior year of high school, but has since been banned due to its long laundry list of horrific side effects (depression, irritable bowel, rashes, etc). My daughter had three blackheads on her nose, and I found myself staring at them so intently that in longer conversations my eyes began to cross. Finally, I broached the difficult conversation and instructed her how to squeeze them out, successfully clearing her pores—which was much more gentle and kind than my own mother’s technique of sneaking into my room as I slept at night and going to town on my nose with her two big thumbs, waking me unapologetically as she triumphantly screamed, “I got it!” at the removal of a similar, stubborn blemish.
Mood swings seem to be the new standard as well. There’s a lot of stomping going on upstairs, which I’ve come to ignore for the most part. It’s the door slamming that sets me ablaze, though. A few days ago I tore into Jack’s room after an emphatic slam, and in a deep, loud, measured voice informed him, “If you wanna slam doors, then buy your own (expletive) house!” leaving him pancake-eyed and stunned with an Xbox controller limp in his hands. The power cord to same said gaming device is my one powerful umbrage—the great equalizer when I need to get him to do something via its ceremoniously yanked removal.
And the blooming bodies—the unexpected hairs everywhere. My habit of enveloping my small daughter in my arms when she greets me as I get home from work thwarted abruptly when my hand accidentally but unmistakably brushes what could only be discerned as “mini-boob”—causing me to recoil and wince in abject horror. My wife’s newly carting of an emergency feminine starter pack in her purse. The dropped voices, the leapfrogging in height of my son over his mother in a two-week window, the extra sleeping, the hours of FaceTime and headsets that suddenly go silent after I enter the room, now sheepishly with a knock out of fear of some unwanted but suspected discovery.
We’ve had The Talk—Lou shuddered when she first heard what goes where and how and stated, “You guys need to keep those things to yourselves!” We’re pretty open about most subjects, encouraging them to ask and doing our best to answer honestly before the window of opportunity closes and they convince themselves that they do indeed know everything already. For now I just wish they wouldn’t talk back, they’d put their plates in the sink and their clothes in the washer, they’d get their homework done, and they’d take a goddamned shower. Oh, and that they pee IN the toilet. It doesn’t seem like that much to ask does it, but what do I know?