He was running, his long legs carrying down the hill, blond hair a-blur, and for a second, I thought: Who is this kid? What’s he doing here? Then I realized it was you, my darling, once my only, my oldest, my dear one.
You have a wiggly tooth this week. You didn’t tell us for a few days because you wanted to keep it “a secret.” And I wonder what other secrets you hold, what mischiefs and dreams and plans for LEGO sculptures. You wiggle your tooth at me, right front, bottom incisor. I have to get a tooth fairy pouch and glitter to spray your special tooth fairy money with, like I always swore I would.
I thought I had more time … I thought I had more time.
You will flounce out of your room soon. You will say, offhand, “Morning, mama,” and go looking for the remote. You work the TV better than I do; so cliche, that the child knows the remotes better than the parent. Not a sign of old age or obsolescence, but of blooming, of growing, of knowing and wondering and learning.
At the tadpole pond last week, you caught more than anyone. You waited patiently, oh so patiently, for the small black wiggles to swim above your hand. Then snap! You showed them to the little kids, careful to keep them moist, careful to return them to the water quickly. Once, you caught a leopard frog spawn with back legs and an evil eye. We laughed and the whole pond crowded around, wanting to see this miracle. You held forth on the life cycle of frogs, on tadpoles growing legs.
My eyes prickle tears with you, and I’ll say it’s the sunlight, because no 6-year-old wants to see their mother cry.
You were once my only. You were a long time in coming, my precious one, a long labor and then pop! Into the world and onto my belly before I was ready, a slick surprise baby. “He looks like my dad,” was the first thing I said, but you didn’t, not really. You looked just like me, and I paraded you around, my mini-me, proud of something so beautiful and obviously mine.
You taught me how to be a mother. The first time your father left us alone on Christmas Day, I stared at you. What do we do now? you seemed to ask. I don’t know, I answered aloud. So I laid down in bed, put you on my chest, and read a novel. You liked that. Your tastes were simple then: me, me, and me. My warmth. My touch. My milk. I carried you everywhere in a wrap, your elf hat dangled down, and people joked that they didn’t see your face for months. “You were a baby hog,” my friends say, because I never put you down. I held you close all the time, my darling. You needed it.
I learned how to soothe you when you cried. The first diaper I ever changed was yours; the first time I wrangled baby socks was with you. I learned about umbilical stumps, and overactive letdown, and all those piddly baby things the non-parent world remains blissfully unaware of. You brought me into the tribe of motherhood. You, a tiny 8-pound bundle.
Now you need other things. Increasingly complex LEGO sets. Remote-control dinosaurs. A ukulele, which you used to play “Yellow Submarine” at your recital. You’re a ham. You got up on stage next to your teacher and loudly asked, “So this is it, huh?” Before you finish, the whole crowd is singing The Beatles and I am trying so hard not to cry. You are incandescent, my son, with your fluff of blond hair, in your Abbey Road shirt. You take a bow and the applause are louder than for any other child. Or maybe it’s just a mother’s ears.
You will run down other hills, catch more tadpoles. No longer are you my tiny, dependent bundle. You’ve become a boy, a real boy, with scraped knees and soon, a gap-toothed grin. I love to watch you grow — like the spring, you unfurled more quickly than the eyes can handle. First just a scrim of green on the treetops, then a bursting jungle of leaves and flowers. I miss the baby on my chest. But I love the boy who can’t quite carry his 2-year-old brother, but tries anyway, who jumps on my bed over, and over, and over.
You’re growing up, my son, my baby, my precious one. You’ll always be the baby on my chest. But you’ll also be the boy — running, running, running.More On