The day after Gideon turned seven I found his underwear in the trash.
“Gideon,” I called him over and the two of us looked down at them, “why did you get rid of your superhero underwear?”
He shrugged. “They’re too small now.” He said. “I’m seven.”
“But those are your Flash Pants. I thought you liked your Flash Pants.”
He looked at me as if I were too young to understand. “Yeah,” he shook his head, “but I’m seven.”
And I understood him, even if I didn’t exactly want to.
Later that afternoon we were exploring the toy section of Target when the little man disappeared from beside me. I checked the Lego shelves and the action figures aisle. But he wasn’t there. I found his sister looking at dolls, but she hadn’t seen him either. I wasn’t too concerned, but I didn’t want him to be scared if he couldn’t find me, so I stayed in the same place where I had last seen him until he eventually appeared again. And sure enough, he did, a confident straight-line smile on his face and a small package stuffed under his arm.
“Hey, Buddy. You gotta tell me if you are going to wander off like that. I didn’t know where you were.”
“Oh, sorry.” He pointed at the bag under his arm. “I just needed to go get some new underwear.”
I knelt down and looked hard at the little boy. “You went all the way over to the clothing section on your own?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I found it alright. It’s not far.”
“And you picked out new underwear?”
He seemed puzzled, “Remember? I’m seven now. My old ones were too small. Is it okay if we get some new ones for my birthday?”
“Yeah. Yeah, of course, that’s okay,” I studied his little face, the thinning cheeks, the straightening hair, the long neck of a boy transforming too quickly into a man. “So, what did you get? Can I see them?”
“Yeah!” He held them up excitedly to show me. “They are Minecraft underpants. See? This one looks like Minecraft grass, and this one has Creepers on it!” He turned that package over and showed me the designs. “They are cool, right?”
“Yes, that’s fantastic,” I said. “These are perfect.”
“Thanks,” he said, still looking at them, glowing with pride. They were his new special thing, the thing that made him feel older, wiser, and more dignified. And I smiled down at him, watching him, placing my hand on his shoulder. “Gideon,” I said quietly, “I think I know exactly how you feel about your new underpants. It’s the same way I feel about you.”
He smiled up at me. “Dad, there’s something else I was hoping to go find, but you can come with me this time if you would like.”
“I would like that very much,” I said. And he led me through the store to the section with peanut butter sandwich crackers.