Even the nights

25 08 2011

As we’re walking into the store today, on a just-the-two-of-us run to stock up on important things, like groceries for dinner with our friends tonight, a wall-shelf for storing toilet paper and other necessities in our new (entirely unfinished, but functional!) half-bath, and larger-sized toddler socks, because his feet are too big now for most of the ones in his drawer, he’s got me going through the litany:

“Sweetie-pie, cutie-patootie, baby-doll, wumpus, goober-dinky!”

“Don’t forget: you can call me Pooh-bear.” “Pooh-bear,” I agree. “And sometimes just Boo.”

Sometimes it’s a roll-call for all of the different personalities he seems to wear, each of which has its own special way of driving me–and his father, and presumably his mother as well–completely batshit. The fibbing lately, about what would otherwise be wholly innocuous things, like “did you wash your hands yet?” The fake smile he uses to wreck pictures when he’s not in the mood to play nice; the mean smile that flashes across his face right before he takes some frustration or another (he has plenty) out on a sleeping cat; the elaborately exaggerated pouting slump he’ll fall into when chastised for menacing the cat; the out-of-the-blue and wholly unwarranted dramatic shock-and-awe escalations he’s prone to lately, where you say “not right now” in answer to some small request, and suddenly you’re faced with “I can never have apples EVER AGAIN!?!” or you say “it’s not nice to tease the dog like that if you don’t actually have a treat for her,” and he comes back with “I’m a MEAN, MEAN BOY?!! Why you say I’m a bad mean boy?!?” (“Uhhh… I didn’t. What are you talking about?”)

But it’s also a roll-call for all of the ridiculous precious-and-precious hats he’ll wear in a day: he’s a kitten, he’s my snuggle-puppy, he’s the postman bringing me letters (written by his own struggling new writing-hand) that say “i love you,” he’s the envelope with the letters inside that only tickling can open, he’s going to marry me like his dad, he’s going to be a carpenter like his grandpa and build a house where we all can live together forever, he’s the student on my knee, walking through pre-k math workbooks, he’s a curious, asking-about-everything companion on a morning walk when the post-rain sun sets the dazzling day alight, he’s the trusting tongue that reaches out to taste the salad dressing to see if it’s too spicy for him this week or if he’s gotten old enough yet to like more spice, he’s the shopping helper who remembers he’s going to want olives on pizza if we make it tomorrow, and we ran out a month ago, he’s the doctor come to check on every cough and sniffle, he’s the guard-dog waiting to bark if any monsters come around, he’s the pirate who’ll save the house from sea-serpents, he’s the little prince in a borrowed cape who tells me that in long, purple dresses I look like a princess, he’s the scientist running the forest-paths sideways because each hill he might be able to make it up is a new hypothesis, & he’s the earnest little fellow telling me wistfully from the backseat of the car that he wants to be a brother, and he wishes he had a brother or sister so he could be a big brother to them (although so far this idea seems mostly based in his fantasies about having small people around that he can scare and chase). “I’ll see what I can do about that, Boo; if I can, I’ll get you one, and make you a brother.” Most of the time, he hears “no” from me–no matchbox car just because it’s in the checkout aisle, no hunk of cheese while I’m trying to grate it into your dinner, no jumping on the bed that’s right beside the 2nd-story window, no riding the dog like a horse if she growls, because that means she doesn’t like it. But when it’s a real request, about something important, I do my very best to say yes.

We’ve been learning, this year: he’s been learning a lot about the worlds of grown-ups, and what they have to offer, how they differ, how they’re safe and how they’re not; I’ve been learning how to parent, because he’s here half the time, he’s in my thoughts and concerns and plan-making and time-and-money budgeting all of the time, and every time he climbs out of the car and into my arms, the fact that “parent” as a noun doesn’t apply to me matters a little less, because the verb has soaked into my very bones. The other day, over at a friend’s house helping her move, I found myself digging through a pile of children’s books she was planning to donate to the library. “Take any you want,” she said, knowing I have a soft spot for the things and always have. “I don’t know if I’ll make it over anyway; I’d love to know they had a home.” When I started making “yes,” “no,” “maybe” piles on the empty mattress in her upstairs bedroom, I was thinking about things I’d want to read or have. Not six books later, as I was putting Stuart Little, about which I’ve never cared even the tiniest whit, into the “yes” pile, I realized I was thinking of what Caleb would like to have read to him, at least until he masters the art of doing it for himself. I’ve stashed them in our room to dole out slowly, but the books are his, and so’s a large, large percentage of my brain.

Even at night, he’s started becoming my child too. Since the household patterns solidified–since he’s been sleeping over at Daddy’s half the time, since Daddy’s is my home too–I’ve intermittently been the first one who heard the little voice calling in the night, and although he usually said “Daddy?” (sometimes it’s just “hello?” or, lately, “guys?”) he was never picky about who showed up to fix the covers, bring a sip of water, re-start the bedtime music, find the lost stuffed animal, take him for a bathroom visit, etc. Lately, though, there have been nights where the request from the other room is deliberate and clear, and it’s my name he’s calling out, down the hall and around the corner. Sometimes it’s for something as simple as to tell me he heard something and then forget to finish the sentence about what it was, because he’s already falling asleep again, once it registers that someone’s here to answer if he calls. Other times it’s more complicated: there are monsters that live inside his head, the first incarnations of the self-doubt and insecurity that most kids don’t have to know too well until they’re teenagers, and these monsters like to tell him he’s bad, and they laugh at him when he’s naked, so we’ve practiced telling the monsters: “You don’t know me. I’m beautiful and good, and my people love me for who I am. You’re wrong about me. Go bother somebody else.”

Asleep, in his best Lord of the Dance pose (his Daddy falls asleep in the same shape sometimes too), snug in his new, green room

So when it’s the monsters who wake him in the night, it’s me he calls for. “Bad monsters were in my dream,” he’ll say, blurry, when I ask him what the matter is. “What we say them again?” And we’ll practice the litany, there in the dark, at three in the morning: “You don’t know me. My people love me for who I am. Go bother some-bee else.” and then I’ll hug him and kiss him and bid him goodnight again and leave him safe and snug. “Goodnight, my precious wumpus.” “Goodnight, my Tyra.” And thus am I possessed.

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One response

2 09 2011
Angie

Isn’t it a beautiful possession–this owning of our hearts by our dear ones? I love that he has you, that you have each other. 🙂

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