On the first day of school my extroverted, fire craker of a boy, who's been attending daycare for three years now, since age 1, raised his eyes to me from underneath his wide-rimmed sun hat and I saw something unfamiliar in them. It was a question mark, but not of the inquisitive, curious kind. It was a flustered, "asking for" instead of just "asking" kind of a question mark. "Are you going to leave?" he said in a small voice, part incredulous and part outraged at the thought. His voice was shaking.
Had this been a Hollywood movie, this is the moment I would kneel in front of my son. Our eyes would then lock and we would have a heart-to-heart about first days in school. Instead, I was struggling to remain calm as I explained what was going to happen. I was raising my voice over the first day chaos surrounding us. I was raising it above the teacher's instructions. I was almost yelling my consolation at him and rushing it. I was doing it through the lump in my own throat. 4-Year-Old was urged to do a whole bunch of things that didn't come naturally. Wear your backpack. Line up. Walk away from your mommy and toward the building. I saw his shoulders tense up and rise to his ears. Then; his expression changed as his whole body and face were becoming engaged in the battle against tears. Then, from inside the building, he looked at me and melted into his shoulders as he pulled at his teacher's sleeve. "Excuse me," he said and broke down in tears, "I love my mommy."
This new heart-wrenching raised shoulders routine repeated itself every day since. He asks to be held and wraps himself around me. He tells me things that send my heart soaring and sinking at the same time like, "But mama, I talk about you all day!"
Yesterday, I was putting him to bed, lying there with him and listening as he pondered existential questions. "Mom, when I die will I be held by God?" he asks and his voice is shaky again.
"Does EVERYONE die?"
"Will I die?"
He doesn't want to die. He wants me to ask God not to let anything happen to him or anyone in his family. I talk to God right then and there. I'm not using my inner voice, either. But Four-Year-Old is still on the verge of tears. He doesn't accept my explanation that dying is only for very very VERY old people. He tells me:
"But if I die, everyone won't have any fun without me."
I tell him he is absolutely right. I'm stretching my brain at full capacity, but it feels like a severely untrained muscle as I attempt to take the edge off death and its cousin -- school goodbyes. I do a mental inventory check of my parental toolbox and finally pull out the "distraction" wrench.
"Hey, remember how we went to the cottage this summer?"
A feeble "Yeah?" ensues and it's of the curious, interested "Okay, I'll bite" kind.
"I remember feeding the ducks!" I tell him in my most cheerful voice. He is engaged. And I continue full force:
"Remember, how there were two of them, a boy and a girl duck and you would throw bread crumbs to them?"
"Yeah, but I also throwed them at the one who was trying to steal from the other one, renember? Renember that, mama? And then you said to him, no no no! And waved your finger, renember?"
Now I do. I wrap my arms around him and plant my face in his shoulder. We're both laughing.