Growing up, we are all plagued with awkward pubescent changes. We grow taller, we start growing hair in peculiar places and we morph into walking candy apples as our heads are suddenly too large for our clumsy bodies. Luckily, most families are there for us as we endure these trying rites of passage. Mine is not most families.
I grew up in an ever-procreating family that consists of more aunts, uncles and cousins than I am able to count in my now, normal-sized head. My parents visited their siblings on a weekly basis, which meant that my brothers and I spent a comparable time with our multitude of cousins. I felt fortunate to have so many best friends already built into my life. While other families waited for Christmas or Thanksgiving to get together, we needed no excuse to spend time with one another. Our parents took us to each others’ homes, parks, the beach, theme parks, the zoo and anywhere else we wanted to go. Summers were always one big party. But there’s one ominous party that I will never forget.
I was 12-years old and my once orderly and symmetric body was abruptly turning into this gangly, jumbled pile of limbs. My voice was cracking and my older brother was quick to point out that I sounded like Alfalfa. Perfect. There goes my seamless, alto singing voice. I can handle this. I just won’t talk too much. Nobody seems to notice the other menacing changes that are going on with me. I changed into my obligatory summer outfit: shorts and a tank top, or as we then insensitively called them, dago-tees. I never wore sleeves. My mom, brothers and I then drove out to meet the rest of our extended family at a new park that had a rocket slide. “I can’t wait to slide down that rocket,” I prophetically and innocently exclaimed at the time.
Slide down that rocket, we did. We also went swimming, played Frisbee, keep-away, tag and we ate the deliciously soggy lunches that our doting moms packed for us. It was an absolutely perfect day -- until I heard the sinister laughter erupting from the gaggle of women that were my mother and her sisters. My cousin and I instantly ran over to see what was so funny when my Aunt Missy yelled, “ARMPIT CHECK,” and hastily grabbed me by the wrist, lifting it into the air to reveal a single sprouted hair under my arm. She then paraded me around like a best-in-show contender, arm still horrifyingly hoisted, for all to see. I was mortified as family and strangers alike turned towards my aunt’s deafening, macaw-like calls of degradation: “Armpit check, armpit check. We’ve got a sprouter!” The entire horrendous experience played 4-hours long in my 12-year old head. I tried to fight the tears that were welling in my awkwardly-sized eyes, but a few escaped and I wiped them on my free, bare arm. I wish I had a sleeve right now. I couldn’t wait to get home to hide under my comforting Superman covers until I was a wrinkled old man of 20-years old.
My torment didn’t end there. Aunt Missy unknowingly gave my older brother Chris even more fuel to add to the flame that was my fragile ego. Puberty doesn’t suit the bashful. Growing up shy was difficult enough, but throw in a little puberty and pepper that situation with a popular brother and you’ve just landed in Hell. In addition to publicly making fun of my voice and the size of my head, Chris announced to his friends that I had a newfound hair and he would replicate Aunt Missy’s discomforting arm-raising ritual. I need to start wearing sleeves, I thought to myself.
As the summer went on, so did the annoying pit-budding. With each new bothersome, overactive follicle came shouts of, “He’s got another one! Come see!” If my brother ran into me on the streets, he and his friends would have a good laugh over the armpit check. Passing strangers would struggle to restrain their laughter and I swear even a few dogs chuckled in my direction. I really need to start wearing sleeves.
Summer soon came to a close. I had too many sprouts to count and my brother and his friends quickly lost interest in my pubescent progress. Though life eventually normalized, my deep adolescent scars remain. But I’ll be checking those scars at the door at this summer’s family reunion. After all, I have tens of nephews and cousins that are finally coming-of-age. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll wear sleeves.