One of the things about having a “surprise baby” when you are near middle-age – especially if his brothers and sisters are way older – is that you don’t rush things as much. So last weekend, when we finally bought our 13-year-old his first dressy blazer at a “grown man” store, was a little bittersweet.
A few months back John grew out of his boys 18/20 Columbia jacket with the zip-out lining, the one that had seen him through sixth grade and the early part of summer camp. Last fall its sleeves began to creep north of his wristbones. We knew that its days were numbered. We bought him a man’s ski jacket – one that looked like a bigger version of his boys jacket — at a local sporting goods store back in February.
But the blazer was something different. We are informal people who don’t belong to dressy clubs or go to church regularly, and its rare when we need to dress to impress. In the past when John was smaller we were able to get him through most parties with a pair of chinos and a casual shirt. But John has a bar mitzvah this weekend, his first dressy party with his peers and without us, and we have a family wedding in September.
So it was time for the boy who lives in worn tee shirts and elastic-waist basketball shorts to discover the grownup pleasure and responsibility of dressing for an occasion.
The jacket we picked out was navy featherweight wool with dull gold buttons, not brassy like a ship captain’s coat; more subtle and classic. The dapper men who waited on us at the clothing store showed us how the blazer could harmonize with different dress shirts and ties. Our salesman Gary, cheerful despite a bleary-eyed weekend handing out hundreds of tuxes to prom-goers, plucked a light blue shirt and a navy and gold plaid tie from the shelves and slipped them under the jacket.
“This is what all the young guys are wearing to the weddings and bar mitzvahs,” Gary told us. The combination was perfect – polished but youthful, classic but versatile, the perfect foil for khaki pants and a sheepish teen smile.
John was between sizes, and while the size 35 short blazer fit him perfectly it didn’t allow for any growth spurts, which we were sure would come this summer. We chose the 36 regular, a little long in the torso, but a surer bet for September and maybe even freshman year of high school.
So now the blazer and its accoutrements hang in John’s closet, above the box of his third-grade artwork and next to his Super Mario Halloween costume of a few years ago, a set of fake padded muscles from another Halloween, and a pair of slippers emblazoned with WWE wrestlers — all things John has outgrown. But we hang onto them anyway, even though we suspect that John is embarrassed by them now. It’s easier for us to imagine our son dwelling in that less complicated world than trolling YouTube for edgy videos or wondering how to ask a girl to dance at a dressy party.
This is our last child and every day he leaves childhood farther behind. The blazer is a reminder of the grownup years that await. This weekend, when our young man wears it for the first time, we’ll feel proud but a part of us will miss our little boy.