In a couple of weeks, my baby will be starting kindergarten. As the day approaches, memories of him as an infant keep flooding back.
He was beautiful–and impossible. C-section, because he was breech. He was trying to be born mooning the world, and that beginning has proved apt in so many ways. Like me, he’s ferociously stubborn. He’s introverted, bemused, quietly delighted. He’s a thinker, a worrier, a complex and gorgeous little mind in a sunbrowned body under a shock of dirty blonde hair. He is one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys returned to his mother after a long sojourn in Neverland. His defiance is quiet but blazing. And his apprehensions are enormous.
He’s been dreading the onset of school. I don’t know why. It’s not as if we’ve told him that his teacher will be a one-handed pirate. Nobody ever suggested that the playground would be overrun by ravenous crocodiles. I wracked my brain for weeks trying to figure out why. Does he somehow know how much I hated school? I’ve been so careful not to tell him about the kindergarten teacher who separated me from my best friend, about crying every single day of second grade, about the third grade teacher who shook me. I’ve been so careful to be positive but not overdo it. I’ve thought about it ad nauseam. And then my husband, whose superhero name is Perspective Boy, reminded me that our golden, wild, sweet and slightly obsessive little one hates transitions.
He is, after all, my child, not only biologically but spiritually. If I had been a boy, I would have been him. He has Sullivan eyes from my mother’s side and a subtly devious streak. He does almost nothing with reckless abandon, but carefully observes those who do. I wonder if, like me, he envies them a little. The world inside his head is wider than the one outside it. Like him, I like the idea but not the reality of change. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it even hurts.
And I’ve realized that I’m not ready. All those nights in the rocking chair, singing “High Barbary” to an insomniac infant because for some reason only songs about pirates would put him to sleep. All those frantic calls to my mom–“He’s hit his head! Will he live?” “He won’t sleep! Will I live?” All the times I yelled at him. So often I just hoped he’d survive long enough to go to kindergarten, when someone else would have to answer “Why?” five million times, and someone else would have to entertain a mind on hyperdrive, and someone else would have to worry. Turns out I’m a mommy. I will always worry. And though I have absolutely no desire to relive the dark days of early parenthood, I will miss that difficult little baby.
But it’s time, whether I’m ready or not. My mom observed once that most parents tend to be good either at giving their children roots, or giving them wings. Maybe I can do both. I want my child to have strong, life-sustaining roots.
But I also want my boy to fly.
Time for some pixie dust. Time to leap from the window ledge into the fearsome beauty of a starry sky.
As a writer, I crave those moments when characters step off the page. I like to grumble about what wayward children they are, but I love it when they soar beyond my control, beyond my expectations, and test the limits of possibility. I’ve spent over five years now writing a boy. He’s like a smaller version of me, if I had a rabid interest in Star Wars and actually knew the names of all those weird pieces of construction equipment. His smile is not for everyone–he smiles when he really means it. He is interested in everything. He loves vanilla better than chocolate. He is a piece of my soul, wrapped in my DNA. But that’s not all he is. He is his father, too–generous and handsome, enthusiastic and smart. He is a philosopher, a comic book geek, and sometimes a stoic. And he is more than the sum of his parts. It’s time for him to fly, to step off the page, to leave behind the nursery walls for the endless wonder of the universe.
I will miss my baby. And I will worry. But this boy is a prince of pirates and an Adventurer. His eyes are wide and his heart is enormous. He can handle it. And I will marvel at the beauty of his flight.