My Teenagers’ Friends

My best friend is very likely still my best friend because she was nice to my younger sisters. When she invited me to the mall or movies, she assumed they would tag along. Never in our entire friendship did she ask ”do they have to come?” or act annoyed that they dragged out their sleeping bags for our sleepovers. She just embraced being the fourth sister – as responsible for my sisters as I was.

I guess that’s why I judge the friends of my two teenage boys by how they respond to a little brother in their midst.

He’s ten. He’s loud. He wants to play. He thinks he’s one of the big dogs… but really, he’s still the little guy. He might cheat. He might even cry.

So, I love teenagers who are good to him, and his two older brothers seem to hold onto the friends who are.

Last night, a long-legged teenage boy ascended the stairs from our basement brandishing a nerf gun. My ten-year-old was at his heels. The teenager – a friend of our eighth grader – wore a too-small army helmet and a knight’s silver armor from old Halloween costumes. The little guy wore an orange ski helmet, goggles and a grin from ear to ear… because they were playing his game, on his terms.

And it struck me instantly, as it has before, that this lanky teenager is a great kid. I’m glad he’s my son’s friend.

It was hours later, trying to fall asleep, that something else entered my mind. Does it ever cross his mind to say, “Do we have to?” Because I realized it never crossed mine, as we were trying to be cool teenagers, that my best friend might not want little sisters tagging along. And…

She was ten. She was loud. She just wanted to play…

Little Brothers Do Suffer

There are so few moments when the little brother gets to be the smart one. So especially if you were never a boy, it is hard to understand why big brothers can’t just let them shine every once in a while.

A few weeks ago, our nine year old showed up the always-in-the-know twelve year old with an American history trivia question. So proud, he grinned from ear to ear, “I’m smarter than you!”

“Oh yeah, what’s the square root of four?”

Rapid deflation of the little guy’s ego. He looked like a wounded puppy.

Then yesterday, I was people-watching from a bench, sipping hot cider on a cold but sunny afternoon. Two brothers about the same age as my boys walked by, and what did I hear from the eldest?

“Oh yeah, what’s the square root of…”

…apparently the twelve year old’s go to question for letting little brothers know who’s in charge.

So later in confidence, I asked my son, “Can’t you just let him think he’s smarter than you in the rare moment when he knows something you don’t?”

“No way!”

The good news for the little guy is that he will catch up.


The Trials of a Skinny Boy

My sixth grader sat on the edge of my bed crying two nights ago, because his little brother is bigger than he is. They are four years apart, and though the sixth grader is a head taller, they weigh about the same.

“He’s going to be bigger than me next month!”

Over the last few weeks, the poor guy got an expander at the orthodontist and was home with the stomach flu. Between the two, he lost five pounds that he needed.

“I am the smallest boy in my grade!”

Not the shortest. Just really skinny.

What a girl wouldn’t give to have his metabolism. But a skinny boy can’t throw the football as far as his friends. He can’t launch a three-pointer with toothpick arms. And pretty much anyone – including his little brother – can knock him off his feet in a game. If all you want is to be a sports star, skinny in sixth grade is a disaster.

“My ribs stick out. You can see the bones in my whole body! It’s not fair!”

I showed him old photos of me and my sisters and his grandfather when we were skinny kids. But all I could really say was be patient. We are late bloomers. We lose our teeth late. We grow slowly, despite huge feet. And skinny guys learn early to work harder, think smarter, play scrappier.

His little brother, who he fears will grow faster, was patting him gently on the back the whole time.