Slight of Hand

Have you seen my 11-year-old son? He’s about 4 foot, ten inches. Lanky. Spindly even. Kind of cute but not in a catalog kind of way, his face on the long side and his teeth in desperate need of braces, but a sweet look that has been described as handsome by many who are not related to him. You may not have noticed his mahogany brown eyes hooded by thick, black lashes you’d mistake for false. It’s highly likely that you were not paying attention to his playful smirk that precedes a riddle or obscure fun fact.

You may not have focused on his most identifiable features because you may have been distracted by what you thought was the sad result of some sort of accident or birth defect. You may have assumed that he had met with a tragic fate of some kind because you cannot see the hand that is supposed to be at the end of his right arm.

It is highly possible that you assumed all sorts of maladies or accidents, and I wouldn’t put it past you to have quietly blamed his own mother for putting him in harm’s way. It’s all right. I absolve you of the guilt you felt when you judged me, a sister in parenthood, for neglecting my son, for not protecting him from what may have been a preventable casualty.

But if you look a little closer, you’ll actually see that his right hand is, in fact, still attached to his arm. I know, I know. You had averted your eyes. You didn’t want to gawk and call attention to what you thought was a handless arm. You didn’t want this child to feel your burning stare as your face fell and immediately exposed your horror and pity. But if you look, really look, you’ll see that he does have a right hand, after all. It just so happens that his hand is just out of view because since he turned 11, his hand is always and forever down his pants.

Before you continue to make misguided assumptions, he is not actually doing anything down there. Apparently, his pockets are insufficient, and he requires a bigger space for his tween-aged hands. That’s what I’ve told myself, anyway.

The first time I noticed, I asked “Are your hands cold? Are your trousers are too tight?” He looked at me wide-eyed, unable to figure out why I asked him the question. “What’s with the hand in your pants?” I clarified. His 8-year-old brother burst out laughing because he had not yet come of age – the age at which all young men start burying their hands in their pants. He laughed because it looked just as odd to him as it did to me.

As soon as I said it, my 11-year-old immediately jerked his hand free of his waistband, and I instantly felt bad for calling attention to something innocent. He clearly had no idea that he was doing it. It was as if his hand had a mind of its own. “I dunno,” he mumbled, head down in his homework, both hands in clear view…for the next ten minutes, anyway, until the call of the pants was too great.

I know he’s not the only boy to tuck his hand in his pants. I wanted to understand why. I looked it up on the Internet – the digital encyclopedia of all things mysterious and inexplicable like crop circles and skorts. Information is limited.


There are, however, historical references to hands tucked in coats. Napoleon, for one, was often painted with his hand in his vest or coat. Apparently, ‘hand-held-in’ meant that you were a man of breeding, displaying “many boldness tempered with modesty,” according to Francois Nivelon, author of A Book of Genteel Behavior. My son, however, as well bred as he is, was definitely not advertising his gentility.

Image credit: Napoleon in his Study, Jaques Louis-David
Image credit: Napoleon in his Study, Jaques Louis-David

I did manage to find an exchange online where a man fielded the very same question with the simple answer, “It’s just comfortable.” So, I tried it. I put my hands down my pants – not far enough for it to be interesting of course. I didn’t like it. Then again, I might have liked it better if my hand wasn’t suffocated between my didn’t-used-to-be-so tight pants and my gelatinous stomach. I wondered if I might find a happier resting place on my chest, my fingers locked under an armpit. I found that position to be pleasant, cozy even. But once my hand was in place, I wasn’t sure what to do. My son could do homework, eat, and discuss world events while one hand was in his pants. I couldn’t leave my hand on my chest for more than 20 seconds. How could I possibly send countless hours researching hands-in-pants with one hand?!?

I concluded that hand-down-pants is a harmless habit that I am willing to accept…for the most part. But every now and then, I may toss an apple his way just to keep him on his toes and out of his pants.














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