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My five year-old is no longer five

“You’re the best mommy,” my still officially five year-old son for ten more hours and two minutes, says as I sit with him in his bed at night. Because of the L word that cannot be mentioned, he is hugging around my waist while I am bent up against his head board, my hair wrapped in a tight mint-sprayed bun.

We are clear, I think. I mean, I’m pretty sure. Once you get L, you might never feel confident or clean again. I have been officially cleared twice by professionals, have treated myself none-the-less and combed out my hair every night, pulling so much that soon, I will have no hair left to worry about. Still, I feel them crawling on me and scratch at my head like a crazy person, which obviously, I am.

I have spent the week torturing my entire family. Checking and combing, freaking out when one sib’s head interferes with another sib’s personal head space, yelling for head checks, denying play dates. A few days ago when my 8 year-old went to bed early, I pulled my fine tooth comb through his hair in the dark at least five times before he woke and yelled at me.The casual hug is a thing of the past. Now my head tilts awkwardly so as not to touch anyone else’s hair. Snuggling in bed is also off limits. Until tonight, I wouldn’t even have sat in his bed. But tonight is the last night he will be five, and after days of begging me to snuggle, I can deny him no longer.

It’s been a difficult week for many reasons and now thinking that I am holding on to the last moments of my baby being five, I am heavy with the thickness of my emotion. I could fall over right now and cry myself to sleep. But of course, I can’t, because then our heads might touch.

My five – for nine more hours and fifty seven minutes – year-old is my youngest, but he really is no longer a baby. He’s now strong and agile, joining his brothers in school and on the field; a mischievous charmer, filled with sass and silliness.

Yet, he still randomly misuses bigger words, saying things like, ‘Happy university’ instead of anniversary, or telling me to use the ‘constructions’ to put something together. He still tells me secrets from his ear to mine, basically making it impossible to hear his little whispers. And he insists on cuddling with me in bed. My 8 year-old and 11 year-old do as well, but not with the same need as my 5 year-old, who will not stop calling until he has his due.

At this moment, his little upturned nose and the full curve of his cheek make him look almost cherubic in profile, so close to a baby. His hair is still damp from his shower, the unstoppable waves pressed against me. If I move just a little, he will hug me tighter, afraid that it is time for me to go. But I’m in no hurry tonight, because there are only nine hours and fifty-two minutes left of my baby being five, and we’re going to hug till he snores.

“Tomorrow’s my birthday.” He announces, as if we haven’t been counting off the days for months.

“I know.” In nine hours and fifty minutes.

“I can’t wait.” He says and snuggles closer.

I can.

“You’re the best mommy,” He repeats softly, drifting off.

“You’re the best baby.” I whisper.

And then I can’t take it anymore. Imaginary lice be damned, I lean down and kiss him on the head, pulling him to me.

I love this boy. And that’s the only L word that matters.

Who's cooler than him?

Back when he was  just five.

Latke them up and don’t let them go

My kitchen reeked of potatoes and onions. The smell infiltrated my hair and clothes, and even after a shower and thorough shampooing, the scent would linger hours later, causing dogs to trail after me as well as one ever hungry husband.

I was frying up latkes for my 11 year-old son’s multi-cultural holiday fest at Middle school the next day, and had been at it all afternoon.

I tried to get out of it. I did not want to make latkes. I suggested bringing in jelly donuts from Dunkin Donuts. I suggested chocolate gelt. Nope, he shook his in-need-of-a-haircut head. He wanted latkas.

I huffed and puffed and blew a lot of hot air, but of course, there I was, splattered with oil, spatula in hand flipping one potato pancake after another when my son walked in from school with his friend.

“Oh, you’re making Latkes.” his friend casually commented.

I nodded, proud of myself. Look at me, I’m making latkas. “Would you like one?” I asked, ever the altruistic domestic fry goddess.

His friend and my son each took a pancake and munched happily. “Good.” His friend said, “My mom is making them too for the multi-cultural fest next week. “

My eye started to twitch.

Next week?

I turned to my son, “Honey? When did you say your thing was?

Sheepish, sweet, aw shucks oops. “Oh. I think I made a mistake.”

Gripping the spatula tightly, I flipped a potato pancake instead of flipping out. “Oh, ya think?”

“Sorry mama.” He said.

Hard to stay mad with that goofy smile combined with a sorry mama, so I turned my fire on the pan, finished up and froze the batch of them.

Freaking latkes.

***

The next week. 7am… Actual Multi-cultural fest day.

“Baby, I’m going to reheat the latkas and bring them to school around 1pm.”

Baby bear paws around my waist, his face buried in my stomach. “Thank you, mama.”

It’s all worth for these hugs. For these hugs, I will do anything he asks.

“Mama?”

“Yes?”

He is crouched over, still hugging, his eyes big and hopeful. “Will you not come to my multi-cultural fest?”

“What?”

But I made latkas… But you always want me to go…. But…

“Please.” He says and hugs my waist tighter, squeezing any defiance from me.

Oh…

“Sure,” I say, deflated.

He squeezes me one more time, and I run my fingers through his moppy shag before a car beeps outside and he runs out the door for his ride to school. My baby is growing up. I hate this day.

I stand there for a second, watching and waving from the screen door when I feel a presence sidle up next to me. It is my youngest. His small, strong body is naked but for his Skylander underwear. He rubs the dreams from his eyes, but some still linger and he raises his sleepy arms to me. He is five for another two weeks and I will suck every drop of five left in him. I lift him up and cuddle him as I watch the car with my oldest disappear.

Sighing, I stare at the empty street. It was only a blink ago that my 11 year-old was in my arms, never wanting me to leave him, asking where his wife would live when he married, and worrying we’d send him away to college.

“I’m hungry.” My five year old says, dragging me from my wistful melancholy into the kitchen.

I wish I could keep them more innocent than knowing, more mamma boys than young men, more needing me than their friends. But time marches on, and the only thing that seems to linger is the smell of latkes.

latka

My children are perfect, and always will be.

My children are perfect.

Right now, one is stomping up the stairs in a fit of temper. I asked him to go to his room to cool off, but mid-way, he has decided not to give me that satisfaction.

“You want me to go to my room?” He huffs. “Then I think I’ll stay right here!”

So now he’s back, fuming. His big, green eyes bright with insult.

“So, stay right here.” I say agreeably, refusing to be drawn into his tantrum.

“Oh, you want me to stay here? Then I’m going to my room!” He yells and stomps back up the stairs.

I keep my smile on the inside, but little bits of it come out in the upturn of my mouth.

The minute he is gone from the room, my little one, five now, not really so little, jumps in front of me, pulling on my arm, dancing around me annoyingly. “Mama! I want you to play legos with me. Now! Can we play now?”

He’s biting the neckline of his shirt, exactly like I’ve asked him not to do a thousand times. I don’t want to play legos, but his little face is insistent. He is desperate to play, clenching the shirt tightly between his teeth, squinting his eyes real hard, hoping his wish will be answered, that I will not say, “wait” for the third time, that I will just play, which I do, but not without a heavy sigh. Did I mention I really don’t want to play?

My oldest son bounds in like a puppy. “Mommy? Can you get me a snack?” I should tell him to get it himself.

He’s eleven, but I’m all too happy to be released from lego prison. Besides, he may be my oldest but he’s my least responsible; more likely than my five year-old to spill his cup of water or rip open a bag of pretzels to drop right to the floor like pick-up sticks. Right now, I’m trying not to notice that his tee shirt is both inside out and backwards.

I come back to find him happily engaged with my youngest. They are soaring their creations around each other, complete with battle sound effects. I place the pretzels and drink down, and hear my middle son storming down the stairs. He pauses when we make eye contact, just long enough to growl at me.

These three boys, so different, physically, emotionally, developmentally; each with their strengths and weakness, yet, there are moments I am blown away by their absolute perfection; their eyes full of hope, their growing psyches, their innocence and their honesty, their flawless youth.

They are not tainted by the world, have not suffered crushing rejections and disappointment. They have not been stripped of their pride, had to learn real life lessons, had their dreams shattered around them. Their lives are open, their paths, a journey and an adventure. They are beautiful in their possibility and their promise.

They are as children should be. Perfect. Untainted. And I try not to get emotional, when I realize the inevitable; that they will grow, and become people. People with baggage. It breaks my heart a little, but then I remember, they will always be perfect, because they will always be my babies.

Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.  Poo. Poo. Poo.

Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.
Poo. Poo. Poo.

I’ll be right here waiting

“Tyler. Come on, it’s time to get up.”

I gently shake my ten year-old. His strong, tan body is twisted in blankets, little stuffed animals cradled around his head.

“Wait,” comes his sleepy, muffled response, and I may or may not drop shorts and a tee-shirt on his head before giving up and walking, in a weird side step around his massive maze of cars, army men and dragons, from his room.

“Tyler,” I yell from downstairs. “Breakfast is on the table.”

“Wait.” He calls back. “I’m finishing my set-up.”

“Camp doesn’t care if you’re finishing a set-up. We’ve got to go.”

A small, distant, “wait” floats down to me. It is almost lost in the morning noise; a 5 year-old bouncing at my legs begging me to color for him, a Facetime conversation that my 8 year-old is having with a girl friend he’s had since he was two, the ding of the toaster, the beloved pour and sputter of the Keurig.

At the table, spooning in some, uh, organic Reese’s Puffs, I again encourage him to hurry, but he is busy with the comics and ignores me. “Read this!” He says, pointing to Zits. “It’s funny.”

Then he points to The Lockhorns. “I don’t get it.”

Amusing. He’s already identifying with the teenager comic and totally doesn’t get Loretta thinking her husband is more of a meatball than her meatball.

“Tyler, get your sneakers on. I told you twice already.”

“Wait.” He says off-handedly, heading toward his laptop. “I just need two minutes on this game.”

“Tyler…” I warn thru gritted teeth.

“Wait.” He says again, almost pleadingly. His eyes dart from me to the screen. “One more minute.”

Seconds from me slamming the screen shut, he triumphantly does a last tick on the keyboard and closes it down. “Done!” He beams.

It’s hard not to beam back at that face, but somehow I manage a small growl.

Finally, everyone has what they need, and has done what they have to. “Okay, ready.” I shout to the air, because no way anyone is listening. Miraculously, my two younger boys head for the door and walk directly into the screen that they are asked not to run into, every day.

My oldest has disappeared. I find him back at the computer.

“You’re kidding me, right?”

He opens his mouth, but before he can say anything I beat him to it. “If you tell me to wait, I might lose it.”

He smiles, nods mischievously, and says in his playful, patronizing voice, “Oh don’t worry, little mommy. I won’t say that bad word. It’s all good. See?” With exaggerated slowness, he shuts the laptop screen. “All ready.”

“Uh, baby, your sneakers aren’t on.”

Again, that sweet, goofy smile.

In a few days, my beautiful 10 year-old will be 11. Soon, he will be running out of the house, instead of me pushing him.

Suddenly, I’m not in such a rush.

“Wait!” I want to cry. “Wait.”

Hey mama, i'm waiting for you.

Hey mama, what’s taking you so long?

Moving up. And moving on.

This week, I attended end of year ceremonies for two of my boys. One from nursery and one from elementary school. Now I know these don’t really count as graduations, more like transitions, or changes of address, but they are momentous in their own right. Especially for me.

After eight years, my time in nursery school has finally come to a close. On one hand, I am so happy to be out of those halls where I was constantly tripping over people who came up to my knees, and ‘ohhing’ and ‘ahhing’ over artwork that looked like a two year-old did it. Oh, right.

But on the other hand, I’m miserable. My youngest baby is growing up. We’ll no longer have our days off together. He’ll become part of the larger system, one not as accessible to me.

I look back at pictures of him when he first entered. A baby, really. I mean he still is a baby now, but not really. Even though he still adorably whispers his secrets from his ear to mine, I can’t ignore his maturity, his humor, his knowing, third kid savvy.

Even though it’s time for the next step, I want to pick him up, hug him to me and not put his feet back on the ground. If he can’t walk, he can’t step. Right?

My 10 year-old is moving on as well – to middle school. I vividly remember putting him on the bus for Kindergarten. It was traumatic for both of us. Even now, I could cry thinking about it. Okay, I am crying. But that child who struggled to get on the bus, now rides in the back with his posse and loves it.

The baby who wouldn’t get up to sing at his Kindergarten moving up ceremony, the only child in the grade, took the stage as a third grader and performed a lead role in the school play. It is up there with the best moments of my life.

The child who sat shyly, never even asserting himself to go to the bathroom, holding it all day, now sometimes needs reminding to sit in his seat and stop talking to his friends.

The child who never asked for play dates, so happy to just be home, now has a great group of buddies and hangs out with them regularly.

He has grown so much, but he also is still so much that baby. If he weren’t so heavy, I’d pick him up along with my five year-old and eight year-old, to keep us all from taking those next steps. I want to bubble all my boys up and keep them tied to me like balloons around my wrist. If I’m honest, I don’t really want to let them fly. I’ll give them some string, but I feel much better with them tied to me.

But of course, that’s not realistic. I can’t stop time, any more than I can’t stop progress. They march on, just like my babies proudly making their way up to the podium. We’re moving on up, and it’s time for me to get with the program. Hand me the tissues.

leo grad jack grad

okay, so he didn't technically graduate, but he did finish 2nd grade. And come on, look how cute he is.

Okay, so he didn’t technically graduate, but he did finish 2nd grade. And come on, look how cute he is.

Like the fingers on my hand, each one is different

“Mommy, look, my hand is almost as big as yours!” Julius exclaimed, placing his little hand against mine.

I studied the smooth, five year-0ld fingers, stretching themselves out, trying desperately to seem bigger. I folded my fingers over, covering his. “You are so big!” I say, looking into his earnest, brown eyes. “How did that happen?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugs, and breaks free from my hold to bounce up and down. A jumble of dark curls bounce with him. “I just growed.”

“You certainly did.” I want to cry, but it’s breakfast time, not crying time. I place a bowl of mixed cereals by his place at the table, but he is still bouncing around me. I actually think the only time he stops moving is when he’s sleeping.

My seven year-old enters. Fair skinned, fair-haired and light-eyed, Michael’s expression is the only dark thing about him. He does not greet the day with a smile. “Hey, baby.” I tip-toe around his moods, but it’s hard with Julius hopping like a bunny at my feet. “Want pancakes?”

“I don’t want anything.”  He scowls at me, but his eyes are so green and his face is so delicate and small, that I have a hard time not just grabbing that face and kissing him, which he would hate. “Okay, let me know when you change your mind.” I sing like Snow White, which is annoying to me, so I’m not surprised when his response is a growl.

I check the clock. Crap. My 10 year-old still isn’t down.  I woke him twice already. Or, at least I thought I woke him. I race the stairs.

“Tyler. Come on, baby! Get up.” He is such a good, deep sleeper that I always just want to leave him be. Of course I don’t, but looking at his relaxed, boyish face snuggled under covers, reminds me of the baby he is, I mean, was. I hug him awake, and he responds with a sleepy grin.

“Mornin’, sunshine.” He really is sunshine. His eyes are gold. His hair is gold. He has always been a golden boy. I try to extract myself gently, but he pouts for more hugging. Finally, against my inner needy mommy, I push him off. “Let’s get moving.” I toss his clothes on top of him. “Don’t forget your socks.” I call as I head back down to the kitchen.

I am greeted by Michael demanding pancakes and Julius circling me like a puppy begging me to play Legos. Tyler slumps in, still sleepy, reaching for another hug.  I give him one, along with a granola bar.

I marvel at each of my sweet babies at the table and my late grandma’s words echo in my ears, “Like the fingers on your hand, each of them different, special, yet part of the same.” These are my children. Whoever they are. Whoever they grow to be. And I will hold their hands until I have to let go.

Different in every way...except in how much I love them.

Different in every way, except in how much I love them.

 


OMG – Feels Like Teen Spirit!

The phone rings. I immediately recognized the number of one of Tyler’s friends. Not really wanting to, I pick up.

An extremely bored but familiar voice says, “Hey.”

“Hey,” I respond back and wait, but that was all I was getting.

“Do you want to speak with Tyler?” I prompt.

“Uh, yeah.”

Uh, fabulous.

Rolling my eyes (I am years away from them getting stuck there), I yell, “Phone! Tyler!” but there is no response.

Tyler is a very focused boy and I happen to know that he is watching an extremely important episode of Sponge Bob.  “Tyleeeeer!!! PHONE!”

That did it. Something penetrated. My shaggy haired boy slides in. “What?” He asks, clueless.

“Here.” I hand him the phone. Instantly, my son becomes animated. I listen in fascination to him planning some complicated play date. Uh, I mean, hang out. At 10, it’s a hang out. My bad.

Tyler finishes his conversation which consists of a bunch of “yeahs” and “okays” then reports to me.

“Okay, I’m waiting for Jack and then I’m going to Rick’s. We’re going…” The phone interrupts and Tyler immediately answers.

“Oh hi, Luc.”

He instinctively walks into the other room for privacy, where some heavy negotiations are in play.

After a few minutes, he returns. “Okay, Jack is going to Luc’s, so I’m going…”

The phone rings again. I’m guessing there has been a breakdown in the talks.

“Hold on.” He grabs for it and then runs into the other room.

In one minute, he’s back. “Okay, this is what’s going to happen. Because Jack talked to Luc first, now we’re both going to Luc.”

This is what’s going to happen? Who is this kid?

Unbelievably, the phone rings again. I don’t even look it. “For you?” Tyler smiles sheepishly and disappears.  The negotiations resume.

When he returns, it appears there has been a settlement. “Okay, so Jack is coming here and we’re walking to Luc.  Rick’s out of the picture because Jay called him, but didn’t call Luc and they don’t want to hang out with so many people because Brian was already going there. It’s okay, because when Rick and Brian are together sometimes it gets, you know, anyway, so we’re just going to Luc’s.”

I’m speechless and exhausted, but have enough strength to raise a brow.

He gets it immediately. “Is that okay?”

“That’s fine.”

He smiles his goofy, boyish smile. I am wildly in love. He is still so much my baby and so solidly boy, and the next stage stands knocking at the door.

“Mom! Jack’s here! Can we go?”

I follow to where his friend waits. They exchange a very cool and manly, “Hey.”

I stand at the screen, watching them go. They start off walking. By the second house away, they are arm in arm, skipping for the half block to Luc’s. Then, there’s some pushing.  Tyler’s friend is on the ground. Wait. He’s up. They’re arm in arm again, a skipping to Luc’s house they go.

My heart skips with them. My first real pre-teen moment. Sigh. I was on the verge of serious sappiness, when the phone interrupts my thoughts. It has begun.

Part of the posse, just hanging around.

Part of the posse, just hanging around.