“Be a good friend,” I tell him as I stoop to kiss that sweet cheek of his before he walks into his TK classroom.
Right now, he still lets me kiss his cheek in front of his friends and hold his hand when we cross the road. I know those days are numbered and so I relish the feel of his cool cheek on my lips, the feel of his weighty fingers in my palm. I cherish the imprint of his body pulled against mine as we wait for traffic to clear so we can cross the road on our walk to school. I memorize the long, circuitous stories he tells me, stories that I cannot quite figure out but that I know are brimming with meaning to him.
I answer his rat-a-tat questions with as much precision and gravity and accuracy as I can, and I chastise myself for not looking up that bird he asked about yesterday because there it is, alighting in front of us again this morning. And when he runs off from me, when we separate and he heads into his world- a world that I barely know- I pray that we’ve done enough to prepare him to be kind in a world that won’t always be kind back; that we have done enough to show him how to weather disappointments with grace; that what people will note about him is his good heart and that that good heart will serve him well in life, whatever direction it takes him.
The other day, we had to take the back way home from the store because the interstate was backed up. He has always hated the back way, and I have never understood why. I tried again to ask him about it. This time, he had finally found his words.
“When we go the back way, we have to pass by the hospital,” he started. And I flashed to a couple years back when our amazing neighbor, who is like a grandmother to him, landed there after she broke her foot in a bike accident and we picked her up. I remembered how worried he had been about her.
“And passing by the hospital reminds me that people are sick and hurt and that makes me so sad. I don’t want people to be sick or hurt. I don’t want them to have blood (his phrase for when someone is bleeding).”
We all have dreams for our kids. Mine is simple in theory, but I am worried about its execution. I just don’t want my kid to be a punk. He can love whoever he loves (or not), he can do whatever his passion and purpose are professionally and personally, but, please, please, please, let him be a good person who fights for justice and equity and looks after the people in his life with a deep swath of compassion. Let him think independently and be a voice of reason and compassion for himself and for others. And with more of his time spent away from us, I don’t always know how we’re doing with raising the kind of person who is good to others. Couple that with the days where he is stormy and mad about something that feels insignificant, when bedtime cannot come fast enough for all of us, and it’s easy to think we might actually have a fast pass on the road to Punkville. And so this reason for not wanting to pass the hospital took my breath. I looked at my boy, his curls askew and sweaty from running during every minute of recess that day, and my heart struck against the cage of my chest. That day, it felt like Punkville wasn’t so close.
“Well, honey,” I told him. “Let’s blow them a kiss when we drive by to wish them well.”
And we did. I got lost in thought about it until he saw there was traffic the back way, too, and started ceaselessly registering his complaints.
A day passes. We take the back way by that hospital again. I watch him in the rear view as we drive by. He blows a kiss and then says, “I don’t want any of our neighbors to ever get sick or hurt again.” I know we cannot protect him from that. All we can do is try our best to emulate to him how to show up when hard things happen. And so we will.
But before I can get too sentimental or nostalgic, his eyes flicker onto something on the back of the seat in front of him.
“Ewww!” He says.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“There’s a booger on the back of that seat.”
“Well, we know who put it there,” I answer because, seriously, boys.
He looks at me indignant. I will not blame this on him, his look says.
“You know it was not me!” He insists.
“Oh, yeah,” I ask. “How is that?”
“Because you know me, mama, I eat my boogers.”
And there you have it.
Not a punk, maybe, at least not yet. But we totally have a fast pass to Grossville.
A final note: I was relieved to learn that it was actually some chocolate.