A few years ago, my son needed an X-ray of his foot to explain some chronic pain. The doctor wanted to rule out a hairline fracture. The film came back negative, and the diagnosis was something akin to "growing pain" caused by the body's insistent stretching of the tendon. (There's a technical term for this that I didn't commit to memory.)
The day after the X-ray, my husband ran into our pediatrician. "Do you know what Jimmy has?" the doctor said to Jim. My husband's heart raced as adrenaline surged through his body. Maybe the doctor hadn't conveyed the truth about Jimmy's condition, hoping for a face-to-face meeting. Maybe it was something serious – something bad and serious.
"No. What?" Jim asked, dreading the response.
"Huge growth plates."
It turned out Jimmy didn't have a disease — only the potential to grow to an estimated 6 feet 7 inches tall.
That was four years ago. Jimmy is still waiting for these growth plates to fulfill their supposed mission of freakish development. So far, he's just an average 13-year-old.
Like all parents of late bloomers, my husband and I remind our son frequently that God created all of us uniquely, and included in that exclusive design is a timetable for maturity. We've given the "everyone grows at his own pace" talk so many times Jimmy could deliver the speech to himself.
In reality, when you're a guy playing eighth-grade basketball and the player you're defending had to shave before the game but you only had to brush your braces, it's no great consolation to know you'll tower over him at the ripe old age of 21.
Who cares? And why can't a boy do something to speed the process along?
I'm sure Jimmy would accelerate God's perfect timetable if he had the chance. What does God know about being in the eighth grade, after all?
For the record, I'm just glad Jimmy has no power over this issue. Why am I happy my son has followed his older sisters through the garden of "late blooming"?
Because, as my eldest daughter puts it, "Jimmy is the cutest stinking middle-schooler ever." We can't tell him this, of course, and thankfully my son is not an avid reader of this column, so our secret is safe.
Here is our logic: Jimmy still gives free-will hugs. He still giggles at the dinner table, especially if someone mentions a body part. He still lets his younger sister hang out with him while he's playing Guitar Hero or NBA Live on PlayStation. He still watches the Disney Channel on commercial breaks from ESPN. He still plays outside.
He still thinks of girls as friends or else people to be avoided strenuously.
He still thinks his parents are funny and the approval of his sisters is important.
We know it can't last.
Though he's perfectly affectionate around the house, he has made it clear not to get too close to him if we're out in public. Lately, when he's around his friends, he drops his voice an octave and uses single-syllable words in an effort to sound gruff and manly. We pretend not to notice.
Also, his gym bag is starting to smell like overripe bananas. His gym bag actually might contain overripe bananas, but still.
Even if Jimmy believes his long-awaited growth spurt has left him standing on the platform while the train for "Maturity" pulls out of the station, I'm in no rush to watch him outgrow all the things that make him the boy we hold so dear.
Never mind that he has grown more than a half inch in the past five weeks or that last week he told me he's having trouble buttoning his school pants because they're so small they leave button imprints on his belly.
Growth plates or not, there's a heart of a boy inside my teenage son. The trick will be helping him find a way to reach his full potential — all 6 feet 7 inches — without leaving that little guy behind.