on the last day of school, he told me he wanted to tell me something when no one was around to hear and somehow, impossibly, i forgot. forgot to pull him into my room alone. forgot to ask later as he slipped into his bed. simply forgot. maybe i was making dinner or keeping his brother in line or … who the hell knows? but he never told me the thing that night and i didn’t remember until he was gone again the next morning. that day felt excruciating waiting for him to get home so i could ask him about this thing, this so-important-only-his-mom-could-hear thing. but instinctually, i knew it was about a girl.
that afternoon when i picked him up, i asked him in the car. what was that thing you were going to tell me? but he motioned that i’d have to wait again. until we were alone. what is it? what does he want to tell me? did i ruin everything not taking the time to stop and listen from the get? is the moment gone forever? did i blow it?
but not long after, he stood in the living room and told me. yes, it was about a girl. he looked at me so earnestly and said simply, “she likes me.”
i didn’t start weeping then, but hell, if i didn’t want to. it’s one of those moments you wait for when you’re a parent. don’t get me wrong, i’m in no hurry for my kid to be considering girls too seriously, but i also knew we weren’t there yet. this kid of mine is never in any hurry, unlike me as a kid/teen/young adult/yesterday/today. it’s like he was born with the gift of doing life on life’s terms and being okay with that. where the hell did he learn that and oh, thank god he did.
the lump in my throat had nothing to do with my feeling like he’s growing up too fast. in fact, tears filled my eyes because everything seemed right on time. the minute your kids start growing out of your arms, all you want is for them to be liked. or more so, you want them to be seen for the person they are. and here it was happening. he had been seen, and he was feeling that goodness right there in front of me. the words. the satisfied look in his eyes. and the most incredible part was that i got no sense that he wanted any more than that. it was like he had everything he needed right there on the cusp of the summer before fifth grade.
been fretting all day about doing just one. there’s simply so much to say and no way to say it. or is it the opposite? i’m not sure.
i could talk about my day. how it started with goodbye kisses to my boys followed by my thyroid pill, some coffee, and a half a cold bagel with cream cheese left uneaten on the counter and how it’s now slowly coming to an end now, darkening room, bright computer, my cat purring and pressed against my thigh, my mind on her last days before she succumbs to the kidney disease.
what happened in between was a mish mash of things: work, happy and sad news stories, a lengthy backyard chase between two orange dragonflies, exercise, frustration, boredom, being so-so about a striped shirt i used to love, swimming lessons, overcooked steak, undercooked artichokes, and a sleeping husband on the couch.
but back to the swimming lessons. let’s go over that again. in more detail. how the tiniest girl in a pink swimsuit, criss cross in the back, kept sinking so far below the surface. until i thought sure she was drowning. and then she’d pop back up. this is swimming? i thought. (no, this is a nervous breakdown.) is her teacher even worried? i wondered. and up she popped again. tiny breath (not enough breath!) and down under again.
back in this dark room, right here, right now, the cat is gone now. she doesn’t stay long these days. there is now a six-year-old standing before me. glowing, battery-powered eyeballs atop his head. and we are laughing.
this just one … is hard.
i believe myself to be incredibly compassionate and mostly kind … except (gulp!) when it comes to the people i love most — my sweet little, tight-knit family unit. intensely ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. and it makes no sense, i know. i mean, if these are the people i love and cherish and trust more than anyone on the planet, then shouldn’t the opposite come more naturally. shouldn’t i want to shower them always, save for a few bad moments, with compassion and kindness? shouldn’t i? why don’t i?
my greatest fear is that the pissy, cranky, less-than-charming woman i sometimes become around here is the real me. the authentic me. and that’s why she rears her ugly head so often in the place i feel safest and most loved. god no! and i know it’s not true. that it’s something more complicated. that the makings of family relationships do the damnedest things to us, often bringing out the best and worst. this is one of those horrifying and ingrained behavior changes i feel like i’ll be working on for a lifetime.
of course, the urge to make this change has amped up considerably now that one of my kids has a similar, shall we call it, emotional defense mechanism. so often, he will react unkindly, inconsiderately, and downright mean rather than let his guard down and be vulnerable and free with us. as far as i can tell, this isn’t a problem outside the house, but here it’s a problem. just like it is for me.
i just keep thinking — maybe if i walked the walk of kindness more often, then it would help us both, you know? i’m so sick about it that i’m actually considering hanging sticky notes all over the house that just say “be kind.” like in every room. reminders! is that insane? i’m not sure if it’s more insane that i need reminders to be kind in my own house or that i think sticky notes may solve my problem. shit.
this is the first summer i have been able to let them go. oh, they’ve been swimming, in lessons and otherwise, for years, but letting them go has always sent me into an almost anxiety attack. the paranoia started after clyde, then about three and a half, had “the incident” while i was pregnant with leo. he jumped in the pool right after his older cousin, and i had NO IDEA he would even think to do something like that. always a cautious kid, one we joke could not even open a door until he was at least four years old, it hadn’t even occurred to me to worry about him jumping right in when we headed out back to swim. of course, we were all right there, but it took several long seconds for my brain to register that it was clyde sinking beneath the water. i bloodied both my knees getting down to pull him out.
now they both seem so free in the water. or maybe it’s me who’s finally free. to let them. always cautious but letting them go and learn and be. and it feels so good. like summer should.
dug up this poem i wrote when the boys were small; makes me wistful and weepy for my babies:
I use the end of my pen to push
Your brother’s baby hair to the side
In his stroller, he wriggles, turns left,
then right, hates sitting still
So much older now, you are swimming
in a big, big soft blue pool
Long torso, hair covering your brown eyes
That still rise to mine across the water
Bare, wet feet pitter past
Like the moments of your youth
Running away from me
Your brother can suddenly
Hold and tip his bottle
“Dada!” he belts and you plunge
once again into the water.
having the best summer. some shots from camp.
the days were shorts and tshirts and ice cream and hikes and swings and friends and freedom. the nights were campfires and s’mores and singing. bedtime (my favorite) was cozy all tucked in our tiny cabin together. our uneven breathing, the open windows, the closeness in the middle of the forest until the birds woke us up again at dawn.