Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Best Story I Never Told

I like to tell stories, but this isn't my story. This is my son's story. And my son is suddenly 2. As in years.

There's no plot, no story arc. There may be a conflict, but really, when isn't there a conflict? There will be time enough to suss out the theme later.

Today, we went to a party. Not his party, just a get together at someone else's house. Twelve toddlers. Nine mothers. While the kids snapped crayons and jammed fistfuls of berries into their mouths, the grownups hunkered protectively over mugs of coffee and chatted about preschool admissions.

Kindergarten begins at age 5. Preschool at 2? That's pre-pre-preschool, which is at least one "pre-" too many for him. Or maybe for me.

My son came barreling at me, his brow furrowed with concern.

"Another muffin, Mama?"

I may dub this time period in my son's life as "The Great Baked Goods Angst of 2015." The crisis of his short life is a lack of endless carbs.

"How do we ask?"

"Please?" he shouted, before adding a preemptive, "Thank you!"

I handed him a mini muffin. He ran back to the herd. I scooped up a handful of candy for myself, slowly unwrapping a chocolate heart as I spied on my kid, who was dancing with a friend.

That's his word: "friend." As in, "I see friends today?" or "I played with my friend." I've heard him use the term "quotation marks," (he is, after all, an editor's son). I've heard him yell, "Oh, God bless it!" out of frustration. But "friend" strikes me as something particularly grown, a concept to be grasped a few years from now.

Does my son already have friends? I thought there might be a little more time for just me.

After the party, we drove home in the muscular cold of early February. The wind was mercifully calm, and, for the first time in weeks, the sun beamed unabashedly. February can be a real tease.

"Let's take the dog for a walk, buddy," I suggested, as I pulled into home.

"I wanna walk!" he responded.

He always wants to go. He always wants to be outside, whether it's sunny or rainy, warm or cold, the crack of dawn or 5 minutes until bedtime.

When the kid was just shy of 3 months old, a wise woman and trusted friend took one look at his fat legs, furiously peddling the air, his wide brown eyes, scanning the room, and said, "This one will need room. He's gonna be rough and tumble. Give him space."

The three floors of our house cannot contain him. Somedays, our neighborhood doesn't feel big enough. He's a runner.

I barely had time to slip a leash on our English Shepherd before the boy was off.

Two years ago, he was alien to me. Sometimes terrifying. As I watched him stomp-sprint ahead of the dog, making a beeline for the muck hemming the woods, I wondered, "When did he become so human?"

I let the dog off of her leash. High on freedom, she ran in wild circles around us. My son laughed until his eyes pinched shut.

"Come here, doggy!" he commanded, suddenly stern.

The dog, though, will no more come when called than will my son.

The dog panted and slowed to a playful trot. I plucked Pork Chop up under the armpits just as he turned with curiosity toward a thorny bush. Plunking him back down in a safer direction, we made our way to the playground — seat of toddler joy.

Here is where I should admit that I hate to be outside. The wind. The cold. The space. I'm always at a loss for what to do. But not my son. Every time we crest the hill that leads to the playground, he reminds me that being outside is a chance to run or to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to the sunny sky or to pick up a seed pod and marvel at its existence. He reminds me that amazement is an option.

Low wooden beams sunk into the earth form an octagonal border around the jungle gym. Eventually, he'd scramble up the stairs of the gym and push himself down the slide, but first, always first, he took my hand and hoisted his little spark plug body onto the wooden beams. Like a gymnast, he planted one foot carefully in front of the other, balancing. Nothing makes me happier than when he wants to hold my hand, except for when he looks up at me, then down at his own two brave feet, and lets go.

He was wearing brand-new clothes. A gift from Grandma. I remember thinking that I should have swapped out his stone-washed skinny jeans (which is a real thing for toddlers) for a pair of sweatpants. Unfortunately, I had that thought one second before he lost his balance and toppled into a mud puddle. Cold mud, however, is simply the price he's willing to pay for adventure. I get mud on my boot, and I spend 15 minutes scrubbing and polishing. He gets mud in his mouth, and he spits it out while running toward the next puddle or soggy pile of mulch or piece of garbage swirling in the breeze like an exotic bird.

I had forgotten how exciting it is to be curious.

After almost an hour of scampering and sliding and caking himself in dirt, I told him that we should probably go back inside. His belly was audibly rumbling. As his mother, I take an interest in those kinds of things. As a little boy, he takes an interest in a yellow leaf or discarded soda can. Abstract concepts like hunger or sleepiness or bleeding don't concern him in the least.

I tried my best to steer him toward home. He could have fish sticks and ketchup, I promised. So much ketchup.

"No, Mama! Wanna walk!" Then he paused before adding, "Please? Thank you!"

With that, he was off again, stomp-sprinting back toward the playground to reacquaint himself with wonder.

Just for a second, I stopped to watch him, to take in my son, pumping his legs and fists with determination. "Damn, he's fast," I thought to myself, before sprinting after him.

"How can something so small be getting away from me?"

Happy birthday, my love. Your story is aimless and mysterious and riveting.


  1. "Two years ago, he was alien to me. Sometimes terrifying. As I watched him stomp-sprint ahead of the dog, making a beeline for the muck hemming the woods, I wondered, "When did he become so human?"

    Oh my goodness, yes. My son is 19 months and I feel the same way. He has so many new words and feelings every day. And he loves seed pods too - that was the first "toy" he ever got upset about it getting taken away.

  2. My little nephew is getting so big, and he gets cuter every second. Love the post. Can't wait to party with Sam! Two year old style. -Your favorite sister

  3. I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face, nodding my head in understanding. My son is about to turn 1 and I see him in the way your son moves, his curiosity, his complete and singular focus on a tiny piece of lint on the floor when his diaper is soaking wet and his little feet are turning blue because he won't wear socks. It reminds me of my mother in law's description of my husband, an engineer now, who was the very same way--no time for eating, potty training, bathing...just for going all the time. Some days it's so utterly exhausting to keep up with that reckless abandon. But thank you for reminding me of all I have to look forward to as my son gets older. Happy birthday to your little man.

  4. "He reminds me that amazement is an option." It's so awesome, the way these little ones open back up parts of ourselves that we'd packed away and closed off. A lovely look at 2, and a good reminder of the awe-inspiring parts of this age that can be so easily overlooked while we're cleaning up intentionally spilled milk. Happy birthday, Pork Chop! May the year ahead be filled with dirt and parks and running. And maybe a nap for your mama.

  5. This is a gorgeous post, seriously, breathtaking. I love looking at the world as HE sees it through YOUR words. Does that make sense?

  6. Wonderful. Thank you for sharing these special moments.