Here in New York City, spring ventures forth with mild breezes and then runs from March’s chilly bluster. With the thermometer’s yo-yo, I have a cold, of course. But the days are stretching longer, crocuses blossoming, daffodils stretching through the thawing soil, and the fattening magnolia buds are preparing to release lush cream petals. Winter’s end feels near. And suddenly, it seems, I have a little boy.
I went away for a few days for a writing conference, and when I returned, a little boy hugged my legs; the toddler had disappeared. Just like that, it seems, a moment in Felix’s life is gone, a new one begun. He’s talking with greater confidence and fluency, parroting-back text as if he knows how to read, and pondering how things work. Always, Felix wants to know how things work – today he asked if he could disassemble his kaleidoscope and examine the pretty colored stones inside.
He thinks he might like to go to space someday. He imagines that when he’s an old man he’ll be covered in little white hairs. School intrigues him, but he’s nervous too, worried he won’t like doing what the teacher wants him to. He knows himself well.
This is both surprising and banal. Of course he’s a funny, interesting little guy. He’s always been. Just never before to this extent.
Yesterday, we lazed away a warm afternoon on our stoop, a preview of what we’ll be doing once summer comes. Our corner in Brooklyn sometimes feels a little like the urban idyllic, if you go for that. Imagine Sesame Street without the Muppets. Neighbors stop and talk on their way to work or run errands. We say hi to the kids coming and going from school or play dates. Felix tears up and down the sidewalk slate on his red hot wheels trike, coming a hairsbreadth from flattening people’s feet, careening to a stop just in time. He’s fast but in control.
I taught him how to outline shadows in chalk. He tried coloring in the shade my legs made, and sketched breezy lines around the silhouette of my head and torso. It didn’t look like much till I saw it again in the purple of evening, and realized he had done a pretty good job capturing me. Like, you wouldn’t know those lines added up to me unless I told you, and then you’d see. He’d gotten the essence of my shape pretty good.
After a couple of tries, he managed to hold himself still enough for me to nail his shadow to the ground. In a few weeks, a few days maybe, he won’t fit inside that outline anymore. His boundaries are in perpetual motion, he’s growing so fast. Just when you’re used to one phase, one set of problems, one batch of wonders, he’s off to the next one, leaving your head spinning. Has time always flown? Maybe. But not till you track it as a parent do you become aware of time’s speed, mapped as it is on your kid’s body and personality. It’s unstoppable, like the bleeding of season into season: one day is frigid and you wish for warmer weather, the other is sweltering and you pine for cool nights – those few perfect days in between are easy to forget.
We take photos to remember. Or maybe, just habitually. These days, a camera never seems far from hand. In a way, these are tracings on the sidewalk, lines in the sand. They do little to capture the sweetness of an afternoon whiled away, moments full of nothing, really, but stillness, a pause in the midst of motion.
A moment to see my son, a little boy, playing and joyful. To fully be his father, game for anything, gentle and kind. To appreciate life, and sunshine, fresh air. Later, let’s complain about the humidity or the icy winds, let’s worry whether our children will sleep through the night or make it into a good college. For now, let’s just enjoy.