The 11-year-old will wear anything. In that sense, he's like a lot of 11-year-olds. It also serves as a reminder that for as much as our kids are like us, they're also incredibly different.
For example, I LOVED sports growing up. When I was seven, I remember using chalk to sketch out hashmarks in our cul-de-sac for a makeshift asphalt football field. When I was eight I spent what felt like the entire summer playing pick-up baseball with the other kids in the neighborhood.
(Two things: 1) Parents go to jail nowadays for letting their kids wander around unsupervised for eight hours at a time; 2) Is pick-up baseball even a thing anymore? It sounds like something straight out of 'The Natural' though it felt like a perfectly normal way for a kid to spend a summer day as recently as the '80s.)
By the time I was nine, I was on my first Little League roster, and I played baseball, basketball and soccer for the next decade.
The 11-year-old doesn't like sports. In fact, it's fair to say that he loathed his rec soccer experience to the point that we both decided that, in the interest of everyone's health, it was best if he retired at age eight. But here's the thing: he's a fantastic rock climber, something that wasn't even a thing when I was growing up in North Carolina in the '80s. Mostly because I grew up in North Carolina in the '80s. But he's been doing it for a couple years and he's awesome.
It's an amazing feeling to watch your kids succeed, especially when it's something you can't do. But again, it's those differences -- despite all the similarities -- that make them weird and funny and interesting.
Another example: The six-year-old LOVES looking nice. He's even been known to don a tie for special occasions.
The six-year-old is also an early riser -- well before me -- and when I make my way downstairs on school days, he's always fully dressed and sometimes he's already made his breakfast. Meanwhile, I still have to wake up the 11-year-old, and I still have to lay out his clothes. Unlike his brother, he's not a morning person. In fact, I'm convinced I could lay out a burlap sack and he'd slip it on, still half-asleep, wander downstairs for a quick bite to eat, and forget for the millionth straight day to brush his hair or his teeth before we headed to the bus stop where the neighbors would have further confirmation that I was raising a cave man.
I'm like the six-year-old in that I like looking presentable. The idea of wearing sweatpants somewhere other than the gym (and the bus stop; at this point, that's basically an extension of my living room) seems insane to me. But not the 11-year-old. In fact, the other day, we got into a shouting match about just that. I was going to take the kids to the coffee shop, and I asked the 11-year-old to swap out his Adidas sweats, lovingly covered in the dog hair of our nine-year-old yellow Lab, for jeans.
Instead of the 20 seconds it takes to change your pants, we wasted 30 minutes yelling about why wearing sweatpants bedazzled in dog hair in public reflected poorly on him, me and the dog. We went back and forth, me making empty threats, him having none of it, until he eventually relented. He did put on those jeans. And he also got the last laugh because the bottom of said jeans were inadvertently tucked into his socks.
This drives me nuts.
He does it 2-3 times a week, never on purpose, and he's perpetually put out when I bring it up.
"Why does it matter?" he'll ask incredulously
"Why does it matter?" I'll respond, doubling down on the incredulity. "BECAUSE TUCKING YOUR JEANS INTO YOUR SOCKS ISN'T A THING UNLESS YOU'RE RIDING YOUR BIKE TO WORK AND EVEN THEN IT'S QUESTIONABLE."
You'll be surprised to learn that, like the sweatpants and jeans tucked into his socks, the 11-year-old doesn't much care for what he wears on his feet. He'll gladly slip on his worn-down sneakers, the brownish-gray pair that didn't start out that way but now serve as a metaphor of his dirt-and-mud-filled existence. Put another way: He's due some new kicks, though that would never occur to him.
So I took it upon myself to order him some old-school New Balance, the ones that were originally popular when I was growing up and, thanks to the hipsters, have made a comeback. The 11-year-old knew none of this and, other than a pair of Chuck Taylors when he was five, he's only worn Keens.
I didn't ask him before I placed the order because his default response to something new is to reject it outright. Instead, I casually mentioned the shoes had arrived and left the box on the kitchen table while he finished dinner. A few minutes later, he laced them up, took them around the house for a quick test drive, and announced that he really like them.
I was shocked.
For someone who cares so little about clothes, this felt like a breakthrough.
He wore them for the rest of the night, thanked me at least three times for getting them, and when he woke up the next morning the first thing he did was was put on his New Balance.
He even wore them to the coffee shop -- along with his sweatpants. And I was cool with that. Hey, you can't have everything.