For years he refused.
“Let’s get you a new rug.” I’d say, nodding toward the 8×10 baby blue Pottery Barn square lined with fire trucks that warmed his floor. “And maybe a new lamp?” I’d add hopefully, pointing at the matching old one by his bed.
Each time it was suggested, he’d scrunch up his face and shake his head adamantly, like a toddler who had just been offered broccoli.
“Come on,” I’d coo. “I’ll get you cooler new ones. You know you’re eight.” Then nine. Then ten. Now eleven.
“No. I like my stuff.” Was all he’d say on the matter, year after year.
I never even considered mentioning the piles of stuffed animals that adorned his bed. They were untouchable. Besides, I was really in no hurry for him to grow up either. Still, when the ‘baby’ stuff in his room outweighed the ‘kid’ stuff, I worried about the random friend of his who might come over and comment. Many are second or third born boys graced with a social maturity that my first born just doesn’t have. But while I prize his innocence, I certainly didn’t want him being singled out by a snarky 10 year-old.
My son’s attachment to his youth wasn’t just about his stuff. Easily, from his third birthday on, he would mourn the loss of the passing year. To never be three or four or five… Growing up was painful for him. He resisted hard, wanting to remain a baby forever.
I hurt physically watching him struggle, completely understanding his pain; wanting him to stay little and nestled in my arms and afraid of his growing up and away. I got it, probably more than he did.
But I also knew it was my job to help dissipate that fear, so while I continued nuzzling, I whispered warm tales of the fabulousness he would enjoy at each growing age to his covered up ears. We continued that way for years, holding on to each other, working up the strength to let go.
When he turned 11 and entered middle school, he naturally just took a step forward and I watched holding my breath. The boy who barely crossed the street on his own was now walking home with friends. And on Fridays, they all wandered en masse down our town’s main street invading local pizza and ice cream stores. It was an explosion of freedom, baby strides not steps, and my boy happily hopped to it.
But it still took me by surprise last night, when after the cat pooped on his rug, and we brought up once again, the idea of getting rid of it, he actually said, “Okay.”
My husband and I looked at each other momentarily startled, and it took us a beat before we burst into action. Immediately, my husband started clearing the rug of all the toys and crap, literally and figuratively, and rolled it up.
Then, all of sudden, my son looked around his room and said, “I don’t think I need all this stuff.”
Instantly, hoards of papers, trinkets and little toys that he had been compiling for years suddenly found itself in two separate bags – one to be tossed and one to go down into the basement.
My husband and my son worked hard and efficiently, but instead of being enthusiastic, I grew more and more melancholy. Still, I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop this locomotive. It was good, I told myself. Sudden, but good.
Then came the moment when my son looked over to his bed and asked, “Do you think I should put away my animals?”
Uh oh. I heard a tear and realized it was my heart ripping. “All of them?” I asked quietly but I was drowned out by my husband’s enthusiastic cries of “Yes!”
Ultimately we left his two favorite stuffed animals on his bed, bagged the rest and placed them in his closet. By 10pm, we were done and my son had an entirely new feeling room. One without the toddler rug and lamp. One without dinosaurs, matchbox cars and piles of drawings and games he spent endless nights creating. One with very little baby left in it.
Except of course mine. The baby who was now pushing 12.
For years he refused, but now it seems he’s ready to grow up a little. It’s a really good thing, which I’m sure I’ll realize once I stop crying.