Sunday, February 15, 2009

Becoming big

It’s been a busy week, and as I tuck Josh into bed tonight, I feel like I haven’t spent much one-on-one time with him. So I linger over our bedtime story, sing an extra song, and snuggle in next to him for a nightlight chat. We talk about his day. We talk about my day. We talk about tomorrow: where we’ll go, what we’ll do, what we have to look forward to.

Josh loves to look forward. He loves to know our schedule in advance so he can anticipate what’s next. He gets that from me. Now that he can tell time, he often wants to know not just what’s next but at what time. Then he glides into the kitchen in his sock feet every few minutes to check the green numbers on the oven, announcing them gleefully as they get closer and closer to his desired hour. He even counts down to bedtime because he can, having finally grasped the heartbeat of our days, the rhythm that guides our itinerary.

When it’s time for lights out, I roll over and squeeze him tight. I breathe in his little boy scent of grass and salt and dirt. And as I hold him, I am suddenly overcome by a sense of dread. Dread that he is growing up too fast. Dread that my days of slipping into bed with him and snuggling and talking and planning are numbered. Dread that all too soon he will simply call out, “Night, Mom!” from behind his closed door. And then one day, when I open that door, he will no longer be there at all.

I squeeze him tighter and rock him back and forth. “Will you stay my little four year old forever?” I sigh through my reverie.

“Nnnno,” he replies through giggles. It’s the same “No” I get when I ask if he lost any fingers or toes when the bomb exploded in his once-clean room.

“Please?” I cajole while rubbing his back and making exaggerated kissing noises on his neck.

“No,” he cries louder, in a gleeful, high-pitched voice.

“Pretty please?” I plead. “Don’t get any older. Just stay my snuggly little boy forever and ever.”

He is quiet for a moment. Then I hear it.

“No,” he says again, but this time it’s not playful or joyful or silly. It’s urgent. It’s panicked. It’s tearful.

I immediately look up and see his amusement has turned to anguish. His mouth is open wide. His eyes are full. And the harder he tries to hold back the tears, the more forceful his emotions. It’s the same cry I’ve seen on the rare occasion when I’ve startled him. The same cry I’ve seen when he nearly touches the hot burner and I scream, “Stop!” at the top of my lungs. It’s the same cry I’ve seen when I’ve scared him.

I am suddenly aware that I have just broken the cardinal rule of motherhood. I have put my needs ahead of his. I have weighed him down with my burdens instead of relieving him of his. I have asked him to do the impossible — for me — and in so doing, set him up for miserable failure.

Even at four, he knows he cannot stop growing. He knows he will turn five and then six and then twelve and then twenty, and there’s nothing either one of us can do about it. And now he knows that when he does what he has no choice but to do, he will be somehow disappointing me.

“Oh sweetie,” I say, trying to channel my calmest maternal voice. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I was just being silly with you.”

He nods and wipes his nose with the back of his hand, but his distress is still palpable.

“I know you can’t stop growing. You’re going to be five and six and seven and eight someday. And you’re going to learn how to do so many things. And that’s good.”

He sniffles and then dissolves into the ugly cry again. “But someday, I’ll be big!”

He says “big” the same way I say “old” when I occasionally spot the translucent bags under my eyes, the slight puffening of my neck, and the lines of varying depths on my face and hands.

I gently brush his hair out of his eyes. “Yes. Someday you will be big. But thankfully, you will only get big a little bit at a time. It takes years and years. But when you finally are big, you’ll be ready. And I’ll be ready, too.”

He nods, and a hint of peace creeps back into his eyes.

“Really?” he asks.

“Really,” I quickly reply, hoping I have somehow wrestled my baggage off his small shoulders. Hoping I have replaced his fears with staunch reassurance and given him something to look forward to. And hoping against hope that what I told him is actually true.


Sus said...

Robyn. This is wonderful. Don't I say that about every post you write? It's because they all are! Sweet Josh, crying over getting bigger, on behalf of his mommy. Makes me want to crawl into bed and squeeze you both til you fall asleep. :)

Laurie Rodak said...

This is a beautiful post. When I finished reading it I scrolled right back to the top to read it again, great post!

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