My son turned eight today. I’ve blogged before about what a miracle it was that he’s even here, and it’s no less miraculous for me today.
It was a pretty normal day. He went to school, I went to work. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts before school to get a box of Munchkins for the class. This is how it is when it’s your birthday and you’re a kid – you hand out stuff to other kids. It used to be that your Mom would come in with some homemade cupcakes, but a lot of moms work now, and homemade treats are off-limits in a lot of schools. For awhile, I tried to do non-food stuff. Little packs of crayons, baby sunglasses. But it’s really freaking expensive and, as the mom of a little kid myself, all that plastic junk is just more crap to step on, trip over, take up room in plastic bins and eventually throw away. Otherwise it takes over the whole apartment and there’s plastic crap strewn everywhere – army guys and stray, tiny Lego pieces and bendy worms and slide whistles and plastic bugs. They sang to him in class, and everyone signed a card for him. He showed me at dinner. He picked the Olive Garden, and I went with no complaints. I celebrated a lot of my own birthdays there, and it was a pretty big deal when I did. Our server was kind and attentive and it was free wine tasting night so all things considered, just fine.
When I dropped him off this morning, I talked briefly to one of the custodians about there only being a few days left in school. He’s a nice guy. They all are, the custodial staff, and I always try to talk to them because what they do is so important. I feel like they are caretakers of the school, making it safe and clean for our little ones and making sure everything works. It’s an old building and very large, and I’m sure it needs a lot of upkeep. They work all year, the guy said, and I said yeah but at least you don’t have little ones coming along behind you and messing things up after you just got them cleaned. He laughed. I thought, as I do several times a week, about Sandy Hook, and the parents who dropped their kids off, waving bye and going to work like it was a normal day. I thought about the custodian and all he’d do to try to protect my kid, all the kids, and the teachers and what they would do. These are fleeting thoughts. I don’t obsess, but they are always with me.
I got to work and read more about the attack at the pop concert in Manchester. An 8-year old (girl) was one of the first victims they confirmed died in the attack. As the mom of a now-8-year-old, it was particularly poignant. I have signed my son up for summer camp, which starts in two weeks. Next week, I have reservations at a hotel near the ocean, as we are going on our first big road trip to get there and finally see it, like I promised him. To think about having to cancel these things, make the calls and even incur cancellation charges because the child is no longer going to attend the things you signed them up for because they are gone…it’s so hard to think about. I am grateful to be a mom. I am sad for the type of world he is growing up in, where these things happen.
I went to Manchester once, briefly, more than 25 years ago now. I was dating a guy from England and he took me over there for a couple of weeks to spend the Christmas holiday and see the country. We saw a lot of it in the time we had available, and, as my first big trip, a lot of it is etched into my brain. I remember Manchester as a working class town with an industrial feel and people who seemed friendly and hard-working. It reminded me very much of my Cleveland. To think of the pain they are all in after this tragedy is difficult.
I told my son recently about when I went to England, and how I got into a terrible row with the much-older guy I was dating the day we went to Stratford. By the time we arrived, we were ready to kill each other. I had never been ANYWHERE and had no idea how to do anything, and I had fucked up the map reading and we were off schedule because of it, having to continually backtrack to get the roads we needed to get there. I told my son how, when we parked the car when we arrived in the city that morning, my then-boyfriend said to me, “You’re on your own. See you back here at 6” and turned on his heel and left. As with many things during the time we dated, the way he taught me to grow up was by throwing me into the pool as harshly as he could. It was shitty and mean but I was forced to change in a lot of ways that made me a better person. “What did you DO?” my son asked, wide-eyed at the thought of being left completely alone in an unfamiliar town in another country. I told him I sat down in the parking lot and cried a bit, and then when I realized that wasn’t doing much, decided to set off. The only things I knew about Stratford were that a famous playwright had lived there and so did his girlfriend, and the town was structured a lot around the houses where they lived, so I decided to walk around and try to figure it out. I said I was upset and lost and didn’t know where to go, so I picked up some brochures I saw lying about and then went into a tea shop, which is like a coffee shop, ordered a tea and a snack and bought a small, spiral bound notebook and a pen. Then I sat in the window of the tea shop, looked at the brochures, drank my tea, ate my snack, and started writing. After awhile, I felt comfortable and the people in the shop were nice and I talked to them and they told me how to get to Shakespeare’s house, and to Anne Hathaway’s, and I went along my day seeing those things. I went to a pub and had some grub and a pint of beer, and by the time we met back up in the parking lot, I was like a different person. I was angry, and I knew I couldn’t count on this guy to help me with anything, which was an important lesson.
I then talked to my son about the movie Lion, which I was unable to get through completely as it was too painful to watch a little four-year-old boy lost and with limited language skills, becoming homeless and bewildered. We were out and in a group of people, so I grilled him: “If we got separated right now, and you couldn’t find me anywhere, who would you look for to get help?” “A lady with a stroller.” If you can’t find a lady with a stroller, who do you look for? “Someone who works here, wearing a uniform.” “What city do we live in, and what’s the name of our apartment complex?” He told me. This is basically enough information to already spare him from the fate that befell the child in the movie, and it made me feel a little better. He’s getting older, and this is one of the benefits. If he is separated from me, if there is an evacuation when they are on a field trip and he loses his group, he will be able to approach someone, find help; they will reach me. He needs me a tiny bit less. And that’s as it should be.
He can do the laundry now. He can’t fold it and is lousy about putting it away, but he knows how to run the washer and dryer. He brushes his own teeth. He knows how to read analog and digital clocks and what time different things should happen during th eday. He knows how to look things up on the internet and ask Siri questions. He can get himself a snack from the fridge. This year he mastered tying his shoes, tried sushi for the first time, tried Indian food (loves it), ate a raw jalapeno (no problem), and is really close to passing his swim test; he can float and tread water. He ran the kids’ racing series again and took 3rd in the series for his age class’ (half-mile run). He went to his first Cavs game (loved it), and pretty accurately names the Eagles, Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor and Led Zeppelin when they come on the radio. He’s a great dancer and pretty good singer. He notices nature, which I take some credit in. He sees sunsets, birds on the patio, notices deer in the woods and sees the moon first more often than I do. He can play with just about anyone’s kids who come over, whether they are toddlers or pre-teens. He lost a tooth, he went to his first funeral (a relative he didn’t know), and is starting to learn cursive.
He reads to me more now than I read to him. His eyes are better, so it’s just as well.
He is exactly as fast as I am, depending on the day and the distance. If it’s an early weekend morning and I’m tired and not in great shoes, he easily beats me in a sprint. If we’re both in our gear and fairly well-fed and well-rested and on good terrain, we are pretty even at a dead sprint for the first 50-75 yards. Then I overtake him, as he doesn’t have stamina. In terms of long distance, I still have him way beat. This will change. It’s all changing. He was never running evenly with me until this year; I always had a little in reserve I could pull out in a short sprint and beat him if I wanted. This year, giving it all I have, he’s faster. And I’m slower. This is 48.
I know I am slower, and that’s ok. A 12-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile, and I’ve learned to accept that. I am still plodding along, but the brief days of my sub-30 5Ks are gone. My son is gradually helping me more because I need it and make him vs. me trying to just teach him how to help. I can’t handle the laundry sometimes because of the arthritis in my hands and back. I can’t sit on the floor to play board games. He helps water the plants because I forgot the week before when he was at his Dad’s. He sweeps under the table and sweeps the bathroom because I can’t get down on my hands and knees that easily with the hand broom to do it. This is the journey.
I am raising my kid to be the best kid he can be. He isn’t perfect. He isn’t a humanitarian. He’s hotheaded and he laughs way too loud, like me. He is a huge presence in the room and a beautiful child that will probably break a lot of hearts when he grows up, though I know those looks will start changing this year as he grows more into the young man and less into the little boy.
I cannot do anything about how the world is; how cruel it is, how unexpected and horrible the tragedies are that befall people, especially children. I cannot do anything about those parents who still grieve their children who did not come home from elementary school that day, and forever will. Or those who sent their kids to a fun pop concert all about love and acceptance and innocence, and who did not come home, or came home damaged and broken, mentally or physically or both. The only thing I can do is raise this boy to be good, to have a pure heart, to spread joy and laughter, to love unabashedly and feel without embarrassment, to not judge others and have an open mind.
I’m working on it, so hard, every day. I swear I am. I promise.