We’re nearly late, and I still don’t have my things together when he asks me to to put the finger lining right-side-in, inside his glove. “Fine,” I say, putting the bag I’m carrying down, and I crouch beside him, my too-big hands awkwardly cramming into his still-small gloves.
Inevitably, I am wearing wool and overheat immediately with the effort. It doesn’t help that I’m already feeling the panic of a day too filled with things: lists I’ll never make it to the bottom of, tasks unfinished from the day before. And as I am struggling beside him, asking him to try to push his hand inside his glove, his arm goes limp.
I look up and see that he’s caught sight of Sprout playing with a little red flashlight. The one I found deposited carelessly on the driveway, buried under snow. I’d told Sprout he could have it. But now Bean wants it in his customary way: “That’s mine!” he says, grabbing. Even though it isn’t.
No amount of nudging or barking at him would get him to refocus on the situation at hand: namely his hand inside his glove that still would not fit. And suddenly I am caught up in my own hormonal, over tired, overheating tide of frustration and stress and I yell at him with a ferocity I don’t expect.
Then I walk away, furious. Unable to stop, I keep yelling, caught in the sadness and shame of my own anger, and not one a bit demonstrating the the grace the self-discipline that I wish for my boy.
Eventually enough time has passed in the car on our long drive, and when we talk, his voice mostly so quiet, I can hardly hear as he replies “Yes mama” and the “No mama” and then “Yes mama,” again.
I’m not sure if any of what I am saying will make a difference to him. If he’ll remember my apology, or my outburst down the road. And I can feel the way we’re navigating something new now. An unfamiliar terrain where feelings matter more than words, and logic is sidelined by reckless hearts. “I love you,” I say to him as he climbs out of the car.
He looks at me, his face ethereal and serious and pale. “I love you too mama,” he nods. “Bye!” And then he turns and walks away.
Today I idle and watch him go. His backpack so heavy, it’s nearly as big as him. It’s his choice. He doesn’t have any books to bring. Instead, he brings extra clothes for worst case scenarios and because he likes to be the one to share with friends when they forget, and also because he’s like a bit like crow, always gathering a rookery of things.
Little scraps of fabric, pencils, tape dispensers, invisible in pens, and mailing inserts. Used-up gift cards, marbles, yarn, and costume jewelry. Pen knives and hole punchers, batteries, postcards and locks and keys. These he stows in a vintage lock box that he bought from a flea market with his own money; the kind hotels used once, to keep the room keys safe with little rows of hooks on the inside.
“They might come in handy,” he says. And often they do. More often though, I’m finding them in his pockets.
When he gets out of the car his backpack tilts sideways. And he has to lean awkwardly and throw his weight around to right it before he sticks one arm threw a strap and then the other.
I wave goodbye but he’s not watching. Instead, he’s turned to grin at another boy, walking with a blue puffy hood pulled tightly around his chubby face. He looks older than Bean, and they’re not in the same class, but they seem to know each other in that casual schoolyard way of boys. He shows Bean a pencil stub he’s got in his and as if it bears some importance. Both grin with big front teeth. Bean leans in with curiosity.
In their world, pencil stubs are still important.
I watch them walk into the school building together; a walk I no longer make with Bean, instead dropping him off at the circle, as he slips off into the secret world of school where he navigates everything on his own, becoming whomever he is becoming without me.
This is the crazy part of being a parent. The part when you realize that all along they weren’t really yours. Not even as a tiny baby when all you did was teach them how to sleep and how to smile and how to eat and how to dream, they weren’t yours. Not even then. But it’s easier to fool yourself then, smelling the top of their head and believing they’ll always fit just there, their small head tucked under your chin.
Now this colt-boy of mine will be 8 in a week. This wild, tender thing I’ve raised; long limbed with unruly hair that refuses to lie straight, even slicked under the tines of a wet comb. This boy. Becoming his own self.
He is skinny, he is lanky, he is a live wire full if electric energy and ideas. He is sentimental and nostalgic and terribly, remarkably bright. And he’s so stubborn sometimes my heart breaks.
This is my lesson today: I can’t really control him. Only he can truly control him. I can give him guidance and good habits, and do my best to hold my own tempestuous heart at bay, but he has to show up in his own way, finding the tenor of his own conscience, and the discipline of his own will.
And oh, how I hope we get this balance right before he’s 16 and muscled and full of testosterone causing wild tides to rush in to the uncharted caves of a young boys soul. Would that we get it right before I resent him and he resents me.
Later, after dark, when I come home from work he’s there at to greet me and when I put my things down he flies up into my arms. He is so light still, and lithe, his legs wrapping around my waist like some small koala bear. “Mommy!” He shouts. “I missed you! I’m so glad you’re home.”