He struts alongside me – on the alert for airplanes, insects… or sticks. You can never have enough sticks. I’m struck by how tall and lean he has become. A young boy. Not an ounce of baby chub remains. Every week he stretches a little closer to the sky. He wanders along with a running commentary on random things – jumping from one topic to another as stray thoughts collide. After a sleepless night it’s tempting to let his chatter fade away into the background, occasionally making sounds of agreement.
It’s exhausting, this constant documenting of our lives. The repetition of information that he’s memorising as he recites it back to me. The very person who imparted the knowledge to him in the first place. Incessant questions on subjects that are of little interest to a grown adult but are of huge import to a child. His enthusiasm is sometimes catching, at other times draining. My mind is always churning full of administrative tasks that must be done. His is free to roam where it pleases. I can’t always keep up with the “Why?”s and “How?”s of his world. I’m too bogged down in the details of our daily life.
I’ve learnt to check every few steps to make sure that he’s still nearby. When he’s in the humour there’s no such thing as an uneventful walk. Anything might catch his interest and ensnare him. He gets lost in his own world and is so absorbed that when he comes back to this one he may find himself left behind. Panic sets in as he spins about searching for us. I retrace our steps until he sees me and then herd him on towards our destination.
Other times each minute of the day will be an unending battle of wills as he whines and complains about how he’s too tired to possibly do anything. He’s hungry. He’s thirsty. His legs don’t work anymore. Everything is “not interesting”. He has magically lost the ability to entertain himself at all. Especially if his little brother is content and asleep. It wouldn’t do for me to take a break from childish demands after all.
This parenting of two is a wholly different game to the one-on-one attention of mother and son that we had before. I feel sorry for us both that those days are over. The connection between us has changed and we have struggled to redefine the parameters of our new relationship. Yet the two brothers have their own special bond now that he wouldn’t trade away (not for me, anyway).
Regardless of his mood he is generally willing to make an excursion to meet other kids. When he sees his friends he abandons us – running and jumping with his own gang. The rules of their games and the social complexities they follow are understood only by them. I back off and leave him to run wild and free. For the first time in his life he is confident to step away from my protective orbit and fend for himself. I want to nurture that independence, I know he needs it to grow.
“You’ll be back for me at five?”
“Actually camp ends at five thirty”
And he’s gone.
Just for a few hours. This time.