Yesterday, Jack went to a Cub Scout meeting with his dad. Craig was asleep, and so it was just Liam and me. Middle child that he is, my Liam flourishes under individual attention – and he so rarely gets it. I took the stolen moment. First we got out paints and paper, and he painted some pictures while I wrote some notes. Heads bowed together at the kitchen table, both of us studious and focused. He bored of this rather quickly, though – again, a very Liam-like behavior – and started asking for tv. “Let’s have a snack on the porch instead” I suggested. I had him at “snack,” and so he went to the pantry and got himself a small bowl of Goldfish, and I got a small glass of white wine, and we went to sit ourselves down on the rockers on the front porch.
First, we checked the underside of both for wasps’ nests. Liam has learned his lesson, having been stung on the leg by a bastard wasp who had made a nest underneath the seat of the chair, and never fails to do a survey of the immediate area before relaxing out there. I sat myself in my own chair and pulled his close, and then he came over without really thinking about it walked right past his designated chair and sat on my lap instead. I’ve mentioned before that this child is a string bean, all bony elbows and hip joints, and I gathered his lean frame up in my arms and rested my chin on his shoulder while he munched and talked.
When Liam is alone with me and not competing for my attention, some always-active parts of him settle down. I can see the tumblers line up, like a key in a lock – something changes in the way he holds his body and face. His demeanor is smoothed – his vocabulary grows. It’s like the immature kid part of him holds sway when other kids are around and he reverts to some sort of primal sibling rivalry, but when he is with adults only, that primal competitive part fades out and cedes the stage to the more considered and deliberate parts of him. His considerable – formidable, I’d go so far as to say – intelligence reveals itself. With each conversational exchange, he takes a moment to ponder, and the places his mind goes are so unique and so genius. I’m sounding like a mom here but I don’t care – Liam really is one of the sharpest, quickest, most brilliant minds I know. His intellect is currently trapped in a 5 year old physique with 5 year old emotional control and 5 year old immature nervous system, but when conditions are right and it comes out – hoo boy. It’s cool.
I unlocked it briefly on Sunday, holding him there in my lap. I asked him all the questions I could think of and drank up the answers. His tiny hands and dirty fingernails gathering up one cheddar goldfish for him, one for me, one for him, one for me, and he would munch thoughtfully between questions and then answer when he was ready, his dark brown eyes working behind those glasses as his mind groped for the right words. Nothing profound – we weren’t solving impossible math problems or learning physics – just stuff.
I sat enraptured for almost twenty minutes. Eventually the snack bowl was depleted, and he asked to watch Word World until Jack came home. He sweetly offered me the last goldfish, and wrapped his long skinny arms around my neck for a hug before bounding in the house to put on the tv. I followed, in awe, as I always am in the face of these gorgeous creatures I made out of thin air.
Jack returned from Cub Scouts and continued talking about the topic that had occupied his mind the whole livelong day – setting up a lemonade stand outside. He wanted to raise money to pay for the glasses that his baby brother had broken the day before, darn those chubby little grabby toddler hands. While at Cub Scouts my genius husband talked him out of lemonade and into orange juice, since we had a bonus bottle of OJ in the fridge (buy one get one free, dontcha know). Jack quickly drew up a sign offering “oreng juice for 50 cents,” which he wrote in pencil on a brown piece of construction paper. While we weren’t 100% paying attention, he hoisted the back-porch side table up on our front lawn, taped his sign to it, and grabbed a bunch of sippy cups.
Every little endeavor like this is a fun opportunity to learn, and so I agreed to help out our budding entrepreneur. I collected the glasses-smashing baby brother in a stroller, grabbed some change and traded the sippy cups for disposable plastic ones, and then walked with him out to a busy corner near some guys working on a roof. Jack was wearing his Cub Scout uniform, which turned out to be somewhat false advertising as most people thought he was raising money for Scouts. We explained to each customer what he was actually doing, but the uniform definitely hooked a few more passersby than a plainclothes Jack would have done.
Everyone was charmed. Jack is so charming. He is guileless, open and friendly. He would give a chipper wave to each driver going by, and then point straight at the bottle of OJ on the table and wiggle his eyebrows suggestively. Anyone who stopped was treated to a loooooong story about Baby Brother and the glasses fiasco, and most of them donated a dollar to the cause without even taking any juice. The donations puzzled Jack deeply – like, why are they just giving it to us, mom? – but he accepted them with cheer. We raised about ten bucks, which we will put towards the glasses since Liam needed a new prescription recently and he broke a pair not long before that and therefore our 2015 Glasses for Little Boys Fund is pretty much down to zero at this point.
After about forty minutes, it was dinner time, and we packed up our small, unassuming oreng juice stand with is hard-to-read sign and its toddler mascot and carried it all home in the stroller, where the Professor had grilled steaks for dinner. Jack changed out of his uniform, hung up the shirt and yellow Scout kerchief, counted out his money earned. Then we gathered, we five, around the kitchen table to eat (and complain) about our meal and talk about our adventures and chase that pesky baby who does not like to sit still.
Before all this happened on Sunday, it was Saturday, and I went to a funeral. A friend’s father had died suddenly, a heart attack while at work. He was only 60 and it was a surprise, so a handful of us made the 4 hour drive over to his hometown to attend the funeral, and then made the 4 hour drive back home. The dad was a postal worker, and I got a little teary at the sight of a dozen mail trucks lined up outside the church. They’d received special dispensation from the postmaster to come off their Saturday mail routes and attend, and every one of them was there to pay his or her respects.
On Saturday morning I got up early, as I had to be dressed and gone by 7am to meet my carpool. (The Professor wrangled the kids at home alone.) The baby started fussing at 5:30 am, as he does, and I heard his cries and paused my morning routine to tend to him. I collected a bottle of whole milk, then trudged up the stairs to hoist him out of the crib and lay with him on the double bed in his room. He drank the bottle, clutching my thumb (he has to be holding something with one hand while the other holds the bottle – he’s sort of annoyingly insistent on this, and will rip things out of your hands if he doesn’t have access to some part of you to clutch). I nuzzled his neck and breathed him in.
If all goes as it should, he will bury me one day. It’s a thought I try to hold at just the right distance – close enough that I give him all I’ve got, at every minute, so that if it’s a heart attack that takes me suddenly without warning, he will have no doubts or regrets about what we are to each other. But I also keep it far enough out of emotional reach that I don’t start to panic about Eternity, and the Passage of Time, and How Quickly Time Is Flying, etc. I would be pretty useless if I actually lived life as if any one of us could die any minute – what a paralyzing thought.
So he does this 5:30 am wake up most days, and some days I give him that bottle and leave him there in the crib on his own – he’ll take it, drink it, throw it out of the crib and roll over and go back to sleep for another hour. He’s self sufficient that way. But on this day, the day of my friend’s father’s funeral, I humbly accepted the opportunity for perspective, to pay Death my respects and hold mortality a little closer. Although just the thought of lifting Craig out of that crib hurts my back, I hefted him out, held him close while he drank, and gently lowered him back in to sleep a bit more once the bottle was sucked dry and he’d rolled over and curled back up, a little pill bug in his pink hand-me-down sleep sack. I smoothed his hair, blew him a kiss, and then walked down the stairs, in my black dress and heels, the empty bottle still warm in my hands.