Better Than Ice Cream

“John! John!” my kid yelled from atop the short brick wall that runs along the sidewalk in front of his school. John looked and my kid waved, and the other kid waved back, then proceeded to the car with his parents. My son jumped confidently off the wall. “See you tomorrow!” he yelled, and John yelled back, “Ok!”

He had his first evening school concert last night, a performance of all the school’s second graders, where they sang songs all about spring, read poems, including original haiku, and there were a couple of songs with dancers in the front as well, waving umbrellas and wearing little birdie costumes. Yeah, it was fucking adorable. They did the same thing during the day for the rest of the school, and had a second performance in the evening for families.

It was also sweltering. The instructions home said to send the kids in an all-black outfit, including shoes if possible. I quit buying dressy clothes and shoes for the kid awhile ago because I was wasting money on clothes that never seemed to get worn, then were donated with the tags still on them or having only been worn once. If you’ve priced children’s clothing lately, you’ll know this is a big waste of money. So I sprung for a new outfit for the concert, and his dad agreed to pay half. Black cotton pants – not quite “dress” pants but good enough, a long-sleeved black front-button shirt with a clip-on tie, and a compromise pair of new shoes, all-black Converse low-top tennies. The tennis shoes, we learned yesterday morning, the first time I took everything out of its packaging to iron it before school, had almost “decorative” laces; they were slip-on shoes with elastic over the arch and the laces were purposely too short to tie. Which is great if you’re standing around looking cool or something, but impractical for a very active 7-year-old who runs around like a maniac at his two recess periods each day. I managed to find a pair of black shoelaces with small white piping on them and re-laced the shoes. Turns out now he looked awesome, since the tie is black/white/gray, so it was kind of a pulled together but still cool look.

Of course, while he’s my first kid, it’s not completely my first rodeo, so I sent the shirt and tie on a hanger, and he wore a t-shirt to school. Silly me though, to think that was sufficient to protect things, as the shirt had some kind of stains on one shoulder when I picked him up, even though it was back on the hanger. The pants were practically worthless, as if he crawled out to the playground on his knees across the concrete sidewalk path. Shiny and shitty looking. Oh well. Who cares. We came home, rushed through an extremely fancy dinner of organic hot dogs and baked beans, I scrubbed out most of whatever was on the shoulder and then back to school.

It was about a thousand degrees in there, as the school has no A/C and it was in the 80s yesterday. And all the kids on risers under stage lights. Wearing all black. My mom, who came with me, and I tried to guess which would happen first, one of the kids puking or one of them passing out. Instead, one of my son’s friends had to leave the stage as his muscles in his hands cramped up from dehydration and were all weirdly bent and he was crying and scared. I am not only a runner, but someone who basically lives in a state of constant dehydration because of my abbreviated GI system, so I knew what was wrong with him and was able to reassure my son later on about what was probably wrong with his friend, that he was probably fine and would be back at school tomorrow (I was right, thankfully).

Mine was the only kid in long sleeves, or a dress shirt for that matter. I guess all those years of participating in orchestra concerts growing up had me thinking, “concert = dress up.” All the other kids had black t-shirts on, and a lot of them wore black shorts. Oh well. Better to be overdressed than underdressed, I tried to explain to him, but he wasn’t buying it.

He’s like Michigan J. Frog, my kid. He was so reserved on stage, I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t one of the kids picked to read a poem or do a dance to the music they were singing. He’s GREAT at being loud and reading shit in a loud voice at home, dances like a maniac and has great rhythm, but in front of a group of people, he almost disappears. He barely moves.

As soon as we were outside though, he was yelling at his friend, carrying his giant paper flower each child made to wear around their necks for the concert. “Who is this self-confident boy that acts like he owns the school?” I thought to myself. I stopped and marveled at him, easily navigating his way along the bricks in the few rays of dim light that remained as the sun set. Two years ago, he cried every day when I dropped him off, and had to be led everywhere by a teacher or PTA member, lining up on tape in the hallway so everyone could stay together and not get lost. I could see him in a flash ten years from now, hair a bit longer maybe, way taller, further away from me to be sure, probably trying to pretend I wasn’t there while he showed off for some girl or chatted next to a friend’s car about his awesome ride. He’d probably want to get a ride home with the friend, and I’ll say yes even though I want to say, “No, come with me, little boy, for you will be little for only a tiny bit longer.”

After we dropped my Mom home, we stopped at a convenience store for ice cream. The floors were filthy and the clerk wasn’t very friendly, but they had TWO big cases of ready-to-eat frozen treats to choose from. “Mom, if we lived here, we could come here ALL THE TIME and this would be one of our favorite stores to walk to,” he said. And he was right.

In ten years, they don’t go out for ice cream. He won’t fall asleep in his car seat on the way home, or beg to come in the big bed with me, where his little bones toss and turn, at some point laying a small, thin arm across mine and saying, “I love you, Mom.”

I can’t bear how quickly it’s passing. It’s terrifying and beautiful and bewildering and wonderful and horrible and amazing.

My breath catches in my throat.


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