Being 10 in 2010: Bobby Whalen

Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:26 PM

Think of your life as a popsicle. The years are layered, flavor upon flavor. At the center, hidden by time, is the popsicle stick. You can add 50 more flavors, or lick them all off, and there it will be: the quintessential you -- ever-present, unchanged.

That stick is you at age 10.

You were stubborn or reflective or effervescent or introverted. You were full of certainty, confidence, bluster. So what if you didn't know what you didn't know? There was no Who Am I yet. You could still locate the thinnest ray of light in the dark and skip in it. Blue moods didn't last so long; a hand at the back pushed you forward. Maybe it was a Darwinian survival skill; maybe it was God's way of protecting you; maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was just the magic of being 10.

But what about 10-year-olds growing up now? Wars rage, terrorism lurks, the planet is warming, jobs are vanishing, poverty is growing, there are more children diagnosed with disabilities. There are the influences of the big M Media (Miley Cyrus pole dancing?) and the little m media -- video games rated M, for Mature; XXX Web sites; Explicit music; texting and sexting and sexual innuendo permeating even the bubble of childhood.

What does it feel like to be 10 in 2010? We decided to take a stab at it.

We won't pretend that the three profiles of Washington-area children we publish here reflect every 10-year-old, or even most of them. Nothing that grand. But we'd still venture to say that, despite all the bad influences and grown-up-world worries that surround kids today, there remains something timeless and magical about being 10.



By Dan Zak (

The train barrels under a rocky overpass. It hugs a bend, crosses a bridge and passes over a flat body of water. Then it stops. The hand that propelled it lets go. The hand rises into the air, past knobby knees, past royal-blue shorts, past the rib cage of Bobby Whalen, who stretches his 10-year-old frame into a full-body yawn over the train set. Dawn dapples the third-floor playroom through a bough of leaves brushing against the window screen.

Bobby looks at the leaves, which hold him for several seconds. In stillness, he is elfin. His left incisor is gone. His ears taper outward. His buzzed hair is tawny. His eyebrows shimmer, as if dusted with snow.

Then, motion. He bounces to the computer. His nose touches the computer screen as he clicks through a painting program, conjuring a forest scene, layer by layer: green grass, then far-away trees, then near trees, then butterflies, then a black road that narrows as it moves to the horizon, then a red car on top of it, then a round-headed boy behind the wheel.

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