The summer Josh was a year and a half, I would pack him into our enormous stroller and push him up the hill to watch the dump trucks and earth movers flattening the site of our future neighborhood elementary school. He would hold onto the stroller tray with both hands and bounce back and forth when he saw the huge wheels churning dirt or heard the loud engines roar. "Truck! Vroom!" he would shout as he pointed and squealed with glee. It was the best show in town for a toddler with a truck fetish.
As summer turned to fall, we started to see more hammers and wood than trucks. Then concrete mixers and metal frames. And eventually drywall and roofing materials. One day we arrived just in time to see the construction team raise the giant metal beams that would support the peaked roof of the biggest building with a giant crane. Josh sat at the edge of his stroller seat mesmerized as the crane carefully guided the girders into place.
Some days we'd arrive just ahead of the roach coach, who would glide over the sidewalk and into the dirt while playing the car horn version of "La Cucaracha." These were always disappointing days because everyone would stop what they were doing for a fifteen minute snack break. So I'd take Josh for a walk while we waited for the action to resume. And I'd tell him about how one day that would be his school. As we walked, I would often mentally calculate just how long it would be until he finally started school. Each time, I was sure I'd counted wrong. How could it be so many years away? As the tired mother of a very active toddler, kindergarten seemed like the perfect panacea for the days when I fell into bed aching and exhausted after a long day of outrunning, outwitting, and outlasting my clever moppet. And three whole hours of free time — in a row — every day — seemed too extravagant to even wish for.
But then something strange happened. One night, Josh went to bed a chubby-faced munchkin who seemed to endlessly scheme new ways to wear me out, and he woke up a thin, lanky kid who can't ask enough questions, do enough science projects, or play enough Wii. And this morning, he slipped on his new dinosaur backpack and went to kindergarten. Just like that.
Why is it that so many of my most poignant (and funny) conversations with Josh happen at bedtime?
One night last week, I read a Little Bear book before tucking him into bed. At the end of the book, two skunks got married. When I closed the book, I asked Josh if skunks really get married. “No,” he said and laughed.
“But some animals do partner for life,” I said. “Like Canadian geese. They find a mate and stay with that one goose for their whole life."
“I would be your partner,” Josh said smiling.
“That would be nice,” I said. “But I already have a partner. Who’s my partner?”
He thought for a moment. “Daddy,” he said. “Why did you pick Daddy as your partner?”
I told him a few of the millions of reasons I love his dad and decided to make him my partner.
Josh was quiet for a moment, clearly taking mental notes about how I made my choice. Then with all the innocence of a five year old, he asked, “Who else did you try out first?”
Josh races up the bleachers at Eric’s hockey game to the large open area at the top with nothing but concrete floors and white walls. It’s clearly just an unfinished space, but to a five-year-old boy, it looks like the best place on earth to chase a rubber orange ball around with a plastic hockey stick.
Josh moves from side to side and whacks the ball into the wall, trying to anticipate which direction it will come back. He races from one end to the other as friends and family of the local men’s league cheer on their loved ones and ooo and ah at near misses and acrobatic saves. I turn to watch the game for a moment, and when I look back, I see a small boy who can’t be more than eighteen months old running toward Josh’s ball, gesturing and grunting like the urgent toddler Josh was not so long ago. He is not choosing to go get the ball. He must get it. Nothing else in his world exists except that rolling orange object that seems to suddenly change direction every time he gets close enough to grab it.
“Show him your ball,” I suggest as the toddler’s desperate mother tries to distract him.
Bedtime for Josh involves a series of small but significant tasks we do every night in the same way and in the same order. When Josh was about six months old and I realized I was spending more than an hour trying to get him to sleep at night, I quickly adopted a bedtime routine to try to make the process much more efficient (and hopefully more fruitful). And being the kind of kid who always likes to know what to expect, Josh has really benefitted from the predictability of the routine.
Most of our bedtime routine is the usual stuff: going potty, brushing teeth, feeding his fish, reading a story, and hugging and kissing goodnight. But one of our traditions is perhaps a little unusual. After story time as Josh is getting comfortable in bed and I am tucking him in, I lean over him and let my hair tickle his face at various speeds. I usually start with “fast,” where I shake my head back and forth as quickly as I can without throwing up. Then I downshift to medium and eventually land on slow, which calms Josh and helps him get ready to sleep.
We hop in the car after picking up playoff pizza, and Josh stops to take in that telltale cheesy smell.
"MMMmmmmmm. I love pizza," he croons as he climbs into his booster seat. "Pizza is my second favorite, and macaroni and cheese is my third favorite."
As I back the car out its parking space, I realize I have missed something. "What's your first favorite?"
"Mommy." Josh replies.
"Wow! You love me more than pizza AND macaroni and cheese?"
"Yeah!" Josh says, with a hint of "duh!" in his voice. "Mommy is my first favorite. Pizza is my second favorite. Macaroni and cheese is my third favorite. Pancakes are my fourth favorite...and...after that, it gets complicated."