J asks, “Do you know everything about everything?” And when I say no, he says in a frustrated voice, “Yes you do!” He wants to know, “How do you make a person?” and asks whether or not he can be a robot someday or a volcano. He’s learning to get his own shoes on and thinks it’s hilarious that shoes have tongues. He says in a serious voice, “Rolly pollies put fourteen shoes on their fourteen legs.”
He walks around the hardware store with his super-hero sneakers on the wrong feet. He weaves in and out of the aisles, with bed-head hair, a stained Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and pants that are too big at the waist and too short at the legs. I offer to help fix his shoes but he insists there is no problem here. In fact, he makes it clear that the only problem we will have is if I continue to offer my assistance. So I let go.
He divides his Battle Beasts into three piles, explaining, “That’s the good guys, that’s the bad guys, and that’s the book club.” I laugh out loud, and think about how beautiful it is to have this third category—the book club—where people are just people, not good or bad, just curious souls getting together to talk everything about everything. He laughs too and my love for him overtakes all other emotions, making me feel light and silly, like I’m walking on balloons.
He is getting ready for a bath and stands shirtless on his Thomas the Train step, leaning forward into the mirror. He quietly studies his reflection with a subtle expression of wonder and approval. Watching this, I am struck by the space between us—him at the very beginning of life with so many choices and experiences ahead of him that will be uniquely his—me looking on from a distance, imagining but never really knowing.
He cries because he doesn’t want to go to bed and screams, “You’re not my friend! I don’t like you!” I’m not supposed to be your friend, I’m your parent, I remind him and myself. Although when he cries like this, I just want to cry too. It terrifies me—all this emotion he exudes sometimes—screams that blast through my brain, rattling my insides. I try not to feel so much, suppressing my tears, growing scales on my skin. Because I am the parent now, I remind myself again. I do not know everything about everything, but I do know that when we’re tired we need to sleep, when we’re hungry, we need to eat. That we are not robots. And perhaps that’s enough.