The last couple of weeks have been rough. With camp long since over and another three weeks before the preschool year begins, there’s been no consistent social diversion for my son. The adults of the household are grouchy, mostly because we have some work, but not enough, and projects that we thought were sure to pan out for us are currently stuck in the mud. I’ve been mired in that overwhelming, ultimate incompetent parent feeling. I’m so worried over providing both emotionally and materially that neither effort seems to be going all that well.
At this time last year, it became clear that Declan is as deeply social as he is intensely curious – or, at least that when he gets the opportunity to be social, it seems to offset some of his intensity. By the time we got him into his first classroom, I was desperate for him to have that new place to explore, new people to ask questions of, new things to become curious about. I spent entire days answering esoteric questions about space and anatomy. And I had to look up most of those answers because I don’t know what’s inside of a brain cell or what a neutron star is off the top of my head. I am one of two primary decoders for his universe, and while that’s mostly a thing of beauty and honor, it can also be exhausting, especially since I can’t afford not to work for a living as well as my work as a mom. When I was distracted or unable to answer those questions, it often made him mad. The opening of his social world made his demands on me less intense.
Last Saturday, we took him to COSI, where they had a special space day in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy. We lucked out and got a personal tour of an exhibit of deep space images taken by various telescopes from an OSU astronomy professor. Declan didn’t hold back a thought about any image, 99 percent of which he could identify on sight, prefacing nearly every sentence with “scientists think” or “scientists believe…” His dad and I reminded him that our tour guide was, in fact, a scientist a couple of times, to which the patient and amiable scholar said “it’s okay, your son is really quite a scientist himself.” One of the young women who ran the day’s demonstrations talked to him about eclipses and the life cycle of a star at length, asked to shake his hand and told him that she hoped he gets to do whatever he wants to in life and science.
On the same morning, he spent several minutes afraid of the live, fuzzy costumed character from Zula Patrol that he had especially hoped to see. He orbited him at a distance, worked up his courage, then suddenly ran to hug him and have his picture taken. He played happily in a litter box full of flour and cocoa, throwing rocks to get the idea of a meteor strike. (We now have a bin full of flour, cocoa and fling-worthy marbles at home.) Because above all else, he is four.
He hit me the other day because he was angry that I wouldn’t let him have a third popsicle. Then we talked about things, made up and he told me about feelings he’s had about classmates and new situations that he’s never shared before. He loves to watch Calliou. He’s obsessed over which stars are big enough to become black holes and whether they would impact our solar system. He does pratfalls around the house and asks me to film them so we can submit them to America’s Funniest Videos.
This morning he snuggled me and bounced around the bed while his dad talked about letting me sleep a little while longer. Then Declan pressed the top of his forehead to mine, stroked my hair and face and sang all of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in his sweetest and quietest voice before letting me be for a while.
I hug him tight. He kisses me on the side of my nose.
“Thanks, mom,” he says, rolling over and heaving a sigh. “Good night.”
This is how he falls asleep lately. I’m not sure why I’m getting thanked, but I’m not complaining.
Tonight he paused a beat. Then took a breath.
“Sidewalks can just take you everywhere… right mom?”
A few weeks ago, he met a little girl named Lucy on the playground. He looked at her wide-eyed, then leaned over to me and asked:
“Mommy… she’s not the one in the sky with diamonds, is she?”
(He loves Sgt. Pepper. He used to ask me to sit and cuddle him while he listened to “She’s Leaving Home.” He’d hang his head sadly and say “Mommy, the baby is gone!”)
Declan has a friend – a little girl who he’s friends with largely because we are friends with her parents. She was born about three months after he was, and they played side-by-side before they played together. Now that he’s been able to make new friends of his own choosing, I’ve wondered how they’ll continue to get along.
We haven’t seen as much of their family in recent months, we’ve been busy, and they’ve been getting acclimated to life with a three-year-old and a new baby boy. But they came over on Sunday for a visit, and it was the first time Declan and his friend played mostly without supervision.
They were frantically making things up in the kitchen and periodically emerging to present odd toys and bits in bowls to us as “cupcakes.” At one point, Dec shrieked “MOMMY!” from the playroom and I ran to see what damage control I needed to do. The infraction was this:
“S___ made me some coffee and it’s TOO HOT!”
“Maybe you should blow on it to cool it down,” I offered.
He also got a little sad when she didn’t want to sit down and hold his hand and watch a documentary about the 95+ moons in our solar system. Then there was a brief skirmish over the toy vacuum cleaner, but the visit was mostly sweet and easy.
S__ currently has the “Why?” affliction in spades. I don’t think she responded to me once during the entire visit with anything other than that question, which I answered nearly every time, although I’m not sure she cared to hear the answer. Last night, Declan was telling his daddy about her visit.
“I told her I loved her,” he offered. Then, not surprisingly: “She asked me why.”
“I told her it was because I love her heart.”
Early this morning, Declan woke up with a giant smile on his face.
“I had the most wonderful dream” he said, with enough wonder in his voice that you’d think he’d just emerged from the rabbit hole. His eyes were still half-closed.
I leaned over him and stroked his hair.
“Really? What did you dream about, sweetie?” I asked.
“I dreamed that daddy was a little kid too.”
Pick your cliche about a mother’s heart, and what I felt in that moment would apply. His dream was so pure, so dear.
After he fell back asleep, his tiny snores erupted into sporadic giggles. Kid daddy must have been a lot of fun.
For the past several days, Dec has been playing with a bathtub basketball hoop my mother gave him, replete with a ball from every major sport in the U.S. It is currently stuck to the side of the television armoire in our living room. (Thankfully, the net is sealed at the bottom, so we aren’t swimming in balls.)
He watched some of a slam dunk competition with his dad over the weekend, a prelude to the NBA All-Star game. It included one player who put a cupcake with a lit candle between the backboard and the hoop, then extinguished the flame with the force of his dunk. Since then, Dec’s been “taking it to the cupcake” (a.k.a. sinking balls into the armoire net), yelling “YES!” in his biggest he-man voice.
If you were to ask Declan how he is doing in the past few weeks, he would have answered instead with his full name, followed by the daddy-induced tag line, “the boy who is the man.” He’s declared this to strangers in elevators, check-out clerks and anyone he’s talked to on the phone.
Since Sunday, he’s been referring to himself as his full name, followed by “the boy who is the man, LeBron Declan.”
1) Upon listening to “She’s Leaving Home” with his dad, he comes looking for mom, a crushed expression on his face. “It’s so sad!” He says, shaking his head. “The baby is gone. She’s just gone!”
2) When you’re sitting together and “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” comes on, he looks at you and says “Oh, this is a really good psychedelic one.”
3) It’s indescribably awesome to hear him sing “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” at the top of his lungs while doing a full-body toddler dance.
4) Every song he hears that he likes on the radio, television, elevator, grocery store speakers, he asks “Is this the Beatles?”
My son has been busting out with mad sweetness for the past 24 hours. Although he asserted his masculinity by roaring along with some despairing OSU football fans last night for the first half of the game, when we came home, he sweetly decided he should brush my hair before bedtime. Then he kissed me on the forehead and said “Good night, mommy.”
This morning, he noticed the tiniest cut on my finger.
“Is this a boo-boo, mommy?”
“Yes. Just a little one. It doesn’t hurt,” I said.
“I’ll go and get you a bandage.”
And off he went to the bathroom, foraging for the band-aids, which were stored in a high cabinet that he had no prayer of reaching on his own. I tried to tell him that I didn’t need one, but he insisted until I brought down the box, pulled one out and helped him curl it around my pinky.
“There you go. Is that better now?” He asked.
Seeing his desire to be a caretaker, to be useful and kind, my heart lurched a little.
“It’s so much better now, thank you Declan,” I said, hugging him tightly, kissing his forehead.
“You’re welcome,” he answered.
Do I really have to subject him to (or share him with) the rest of the world?
Declan and I have been spending time outside of the house this weekend in order to give Dan some time and space to finish a paper for school (he’s taking some classes at OSU).
Yesterday, we took my mom (Declan calls her Giga), who is still recovering from painful shoulder surgery and cannot drive, out to do some errands. It wasn’t without it’s rewards for him. He got a wooden train and a “tangerine” Fiestaware place setting out of the deal – every two-year-old’s dream! (He is actually tremendously excited about having his own orange mug.)
Afterwards, we camped out at Giga’s house for a while and watched a movie. When we finally left, he obediently thanked her for the train and the orange cup. She walked us out to the car, where he blew her kisses from the car seat and suddenly said “thanks for all your help today, Giga” followed by additional thanks for the train and cup.
Today we went to the bookstore, where he made me sit on the floor and read an entire children’s book about human anatomy to him. He’s very excited to learn that we have “tunnels” in our necks and chests that help us breathe and talk. He’s also obsessed with the ways that pupils respond to light. When he asked about a picture of a cat scan, I told him what that it was a picture of the brain, inside of the head. He thought about it for a minute.
“The pupil gets smaller with the light and bigger with the dark so you can see the nebea in there,” he said, pointing at my eye.
“Nebea” = “nebula.”
If you’re feeling spacey, there’s a diagnosis you won’t find anywhere else.