Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Turning Ten

Last night Walker had a soccer game. He's been running in an odd and unusually clumsy fashion this season, and after every game he complains that his legs--and more recently, his knees--hurt. When he began complaining this week that his left knee hurt especially, I sat up and took notice. As the owner of an artificial left knee and a cat who hurt her left "stifle" (cat knee) this spring, I was, um, let's say "concerned." So we went off to the doctor this morning. The doctor poked the place that hurt, asked Walker how old he is (13), and told us what was wrong. It's a variation on saying "growing pains." Basically, Walker's leg bones have grown faster than his muscles and ligaments, and the ligament that stretches over his knee is having the most trouble keeping up. He taped the knee and told Walker to stop running when it hurts bad enough.

On the way back from the doctor's office, I was thinking of this poem, "On Turning Ten," by Billy Collins:

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never feel so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees, I bleed.

Yeah, the days when a trip to Build-A-Bear-Workshop was fun are past. The "emo" moment when the kids at Walker's middle school were wearing eyeliner and black clothes and quoting lines ridiculously similar to Shelley's "I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" is past. What will be next in the build-a-teenager household? Will there be time for adventure in between trips to the grocery and shoe store?


Claudia said...

Sigh. This makes me melancholy. Dusty is not even nine yet but there are so many "babyish" things she's tossed to the wayside already - dolls and ponies, pink and purple, fairy wings. Even science is beginning to lose out against other things.

Harriet said...

A lovely sad poem. My sympathies to Walker. I had that problem too at the same age and it was excruciating at times -- it's par for the course when you do something crazy like grow 8 inches in 6 weeks.

Anonymous said...

When I was 7 or 8, I remember thinking that 12 would be the golden age. I would still be a kid, but I would be old enough and capable enough to go on amazing adventures. That golden age probably was 7 or 8, though, I realized later. By the time you're 12, you're not really a kid anymore. Probably this kid has it about right.

Jeanne said...

It does seem to me that girls get a little less childhood than boys right now. Eleanor got about 10 years. Walker got almost 12.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading this poem with my 5th grade class right now. I loved it, and my 16 year old son says, 'I can't believe how well it explains how i felt at that age', but my ten year olds in class don't like it. they think it is too sad, and we are currently writing a joint construction called 'On turning 10- a Positive View', to incorporate some of the positive ways they are seeing themselves as they grow up. Maybe this is a poem we relish more in nostalgia.

Jeanne said...

True, it is nostalgic. I eye with amusement my kids' nostalgia for the things of childhood. My 15-year-old had a sleepover recently and they watched old Digimon episodes.