2012 tumbled in like salty, fidgety waves, knocking us off our haunches, ill prepared and dazed by the rushing of time. My husband and oldest son headed to Boise for a New Year’s weekend of hockey while Sean and I held down the fort, trying to fill the final three days with activities and movement while maintaining laundry and sanity at the same time.
Almost three weeks off of school and Sean had been itching for more of a schedule and I was near a fever for life to return to normal (kids back at school, caught up with work and chores). The pine needles from the Christmas tree shed like dust across the floors and the fireplace and I counted down the days of Christmas like a rocket ship readying for blast off.
On New Year’s Eve Sean and I went to Red Robin to burn up a gift card. Sean promptly mumbled his order to the hostess,
“How many for dinner?”
“Chicken strips and Sprite. And Ketchup.”
“I’m sorry?” she smiled, pressing the menus against her chest and bending down toward him to get a better listen.
“It’s okay. He’s just telling you what he wants. Sean, she’s the hostess. You have to get seated and then you can tell the waitress.”
We went at 3:30 in the afternoon. A nice lull in the day, the tvs set at a lower hush and the booths and tables barely full.
He proceeded to take off his hoody, his t-shirt peeling off too,
“Okay, Muscles, you gotta leave that on,” I said, grabbing the bottom of his shirt and pulling it back down, covering up the flash of frog belly white ribs and stomach that appeared.
He unwrapped the crayons from the cellophane and began to write letters. He spelled Edward. Then Evan. Next was Kangaroo. Followed by Lizard.
The waiter sidled up next to us asking if he could start us out with something to drink. Sean gave his spiel and I gave my order as well – our restaurant experiences hadn’t been stellar in the past so thought it best to move things along.
Sean did remarkably well. He didn’t try to wrestle the top of the ketchup and slam 16 ounces “down in one” chug. He used his napkin. He said thank you. He did announce that he had “to pee” pretty loudly but did a good job of using the washroom by himself and washing his hands.
I paid the bill and we headed over to the bookstore to let Sean pick out a book with a gift card. Sean headed towards the back shelves where the kids' books were and I let him explore a bit on his own. I looked at the new fiction and checked out some of the juvenile fiction. A few minutes later Sean came up to me with the book he selected – a large Winnie the Pooh book with buttons on the side that made cute, little kid noises. It was the type of book you would buy for a toddler, certainly not a boy who will be turning eleven in a few days.
A weight of deep sadness sank like a stone in my chest as I watched him cradle the book in his arms, holding it and pushing the buttons. I saw all the Harry Potter books and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the other, clearly more age appropriate books that surrounded him. And here he was, a boy of almost eleven, clinging to a child’s book, with no sense of awareness or any kind of embarrassment, his eyes wide with delight and a lovely smile.
I have been wrestling with how I have been feeling about this – I’m not sure why this moment held such sinking grief for me. I suppose if he is happy that should be enough. It shouldn’t matter. But it does, you know. It makes me afraid. I am worried at how vulnerable he is. How little he still remains. How small he really is. And how necessary it is to soldier on and protect him and be there for him.
Even trying to write about this has been a major roadblock in my mind and heart. I don’t know if I can really articulate it well at this point or if I have to just compartmentalize it for the time being, for the sake of it all, to be able to move forward, to avoid that sinking feeling.
I did do some searching and stumbled across something that gave me pause. In all places it was from the author of Winnie the Pooh himself, A. A. Milne. What he wrote rang so completely true to what I felt when I saw Sean with the toddler book that I felt sloppy tears hit the keyboard as I read it. It said,
“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.”
I hope that’s true. That those words are not only my words for Sean but also Sean’s words for me and that somehow we both can live up to that promise. For the time being, it softens the idea of Sean alone in the world, holding onto a child’s book. It gives me some sparkle of hope that we all have a reserve of strength and courage greater than what we know or understand.
6 months ago