There I sat, on the floor in front of him with tears in my eyes and a box full of GI Joes between us. Around us I had scattered all the accessories and assortment of GI Joe tanks, planes, helicopters, hovercrafts and every toy related to them.

“When I grew into a man, I put away my childish things.” was on a loop in my thoughts.

Just the day before, I had received my 7th grade course schedule. It had come in a big orange envelope and when I had looked at the contents, it was the most important and grown up looking document I had ever seen with my name on it. It had classes listed on it like: Industrial Arts; Algebra; Health and Literature.

In my over-dramatic mind, I had seen this as a sign. Most boys that age recognize a bit of hair under the arms or their strong attraction to girls as good indications of changing from boyhood.

Most rational minds know that leaving boyhood and entering manhood is a gradual transition taking many years. Me? I somehow found the postman’s delivery of a school schedule to be the very moment my childhood ended.

My entire life, I have been guilty of a ridiculous trait combination of being a bit melodramatic and also taking things far too literally. There I sat with a box of my absolute favorite things struggling with the idea of growing up. There was nothing in me that actually wanted to part with those action figures, but at the same time I had no choice.

My cousin, 9 or 10 at the time, was sitting there unaware of what I was about to do. To him, this was just another routine day of summer where we sorted out action figures and began to play.  He began to look at me with a concerned expression as he noticed tears welling up in my eyes.

He loved GI Joe every bit as much as I did. I don’t know if all boys did back then, but my cousins and I all shared that passion. Besides the two of us, we had two other cousins around our age who were also fanatics about the “little men dolls” as my dad always called them. The four of us cousins lived in the same town and often got together and played with these things for hours.

When we weren’t playing the action figures, we would sometimes role play as if we were actually the characters themselves. We had watched every episode of the cartoon, saw every movie and had read or seen most of the comic books. I told you, we were fanatics.

I even had a bit of a crush on Scarlet, the first female character. Yes, I knew it was silly and, no, it wasn’t part of how I knew I wasn’t a child anymore.

I began to explain to my cousin in a 40-minute monologue (ask any former student…or my wife…what I’m capable of) that I was handing these toys down to him.

He sat there for a moment with a stunned look on his face. He had many of his own. In fact, we had most of the same exact ones. But no less, you could see the look of pleasant surprise and, to me, that was a very rewarding 10 seconds of time. That 11th second, the regret hit.

I loved him and was glad to do something good; that part made me feel really good. The rest of me was filled with anger and sadness at what I had just done. I didn’t know the word for it back then, but today I would use the word “overreacted” to describe my actions that day.

He gave me a tight hug and said “Thank you.”

He repeated that throughout that day and most of the next. Each time he did, part of me wanted to ask him if I could have them back. I refrained.

Within a few weeks, school began and as junior high began to play out, I didn’t miss the GI Joes anymore.

At Christmas, there were some cool new GI Joes on the scene and it was hard to watch my cousins open theirs, while I was opening up Wrangler Jeans where old video games and action figures used to be.

For most boys, becoming a man might have something to do with the first time dad shared a beer with them. It might be more serious, like having to help mom around the house while dad is away or not even there at all.

Some boys, it’s the first real kiss and real love they feel for a girl. Others still, it could be the first time they repair something around the house, work on a car or lawn mower, or experience their first shave.

I grew up, not really, but thought I grew up, when that 7th grade schedule was mailed to my house.

I did keep my favorite GI Joe just as a keepsake and he stays crammed into a plastic storage bin in the basement along with many of my other childhood memories. Occasionally I go through that stuff and when I come across that toy, I remember that day and laugh.

When I see what collectors will pay for some of those old toys, I don’t laugh. I suppose you can’t put a price tag on becoming a “man” though.

I honestly thought the bible instructed me to “put away childish things”. I didn’t know back then the scripture (1 Corinthians 13:11) was referring to attitudes, behaviors and mindsets.

I just didn’t know. And knowing is half the battle.

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