Sunday, May 19, 2013


The hat is old, at least thirty-five years old, because David wore it when he was little.  It’s blue and gold and says Fighting Irish.  There are a few holes where moths have feasted and there is a yellow pom-pom on top that seals the deal.  It’s the cutest thing Charlie has ever worn and he found it in the coat closet.  He picked it out.  He puts it on almost every day, when the mood strikes him.

It symbolizes him.  His style.  His mind.  He is an “I do it myself!” kind of guy.  He is a “Don’t help me!” kind of guy.  He is a “Go away, stand back, I got it” kind of guy.  And he loves accoutrements, especially hats.

He wears the Fighting Irish hat when he rides his bike, when we take Finny to school, when he’s sitting in the cart at Target, sometimes even when he naps.  The other day when he was struggling to go down for a nap, I walked in and found tiny gold threads from his pom-pom in clumps and piles all over his bed.  The pom-pom is still there, but looks a little anemic now.  David was sad.  “But I can’t take it away,” I said, “It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”  He agreed.

Lately, he’s also taken a liking to his Spiderman bike helmet.  It’s the first thing he wants to put on when he walks down the stairs in the morning.  He eats breakfast in it.  He dances to Michael Jackson in it, and two nights ago, he just sat on the couch and watched Mary Poppins in it.  I love it.  I wish he’d been wearing it a couple months ago when the back of his head slammed into the coffee table.  I think he should probably wear it all the time.

When he’s putting in song requests—“I wanna hear Beat It.  I wanna hear Jungle Boogie.  I wanna hear Freak Out, Come On, Don’t Stop, Lover of the Light, Satisfaction, I Will Wait, Viva Was Megas, Roll Away Your Stone, Hey Ya,”—when he’s singing, dancing, hanging from the monkey bars, going down the slide, looking for Sinny, asking for graham crackers, throwing his milk cup at me, telling me to go away, calling himself a “Stinky Baby,” making “Smoovies” in the kitchen, telling us he wants a “Family hug,” telling me he sees the “Number one hundred!”, telling me he sees a “W!”, an “E!”, a “Big, red truck!”, a “Blue button!”, when he’s doing all of these things while sporting some kind of head gear, I start to see who he is and who is becoming and I love turning the pages. 

I wonder:  He loves music—will he be a musician?  He loves pressing buttons—will he be an engineer?  He loves numbers—will he be a mathmetician?  I wonder, but I don’t want to skip ahead. 

Right now, I know my two-year-old Charlie loves hats and I want to linger here a while on this page.  I want to sit comfortably by and just watch him--watch him play, sleep, ride bikes, swing high, eat Cheerios.  I want to sit a while on this page and watch what he’s writing, always, always with blond curls poking out beneath his head gear, always, always adorned in some kind of fashionable thinking cap.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I took them to Panera after swim lessons.  Panera and the swim school are directly across from each other in the mall.  Unlike David, I rarely take them out to a restaurant by myself.  I find it stressful and thoroughly unfun.  But I decided we needed a little treat, a break from routine, and besides, Charlie has been better at sticking by my side, better at listening and cooperating.  So we went for it.

The restaurant was crowded with the noon rush, but I managed to find a booth right by the food counter, so that I could pick up the food when it was ready and still keep them in sight.

All three of us were delighted by our treat.  I, my chicken and wild rice soup, Charlie, his grilled cheese, and Finny, his shells and cheese.  Charlie was in the booth beside me, on the inside and he couldn’t help but stand up and look around, take it all in—the people, the noises, the hurry, the commotion.

Finny was across from me, blowing furiously on his mac and cheese, desperate for the steam to go away so he could dig in.  We were excited too because at this swim lesson, Finny was swimming, really swimming, moving himself back and forth across the water with no noodle, no barbell, no life jacket or flotation device of any sort.  He was kicking and scooping and propelling himself from one side to the other, a distance of about nine feet, with little to no assistance.  And I was thrilled too because even in the moments when he couldn’t quite make it to the other side, he found the wall, he found the teacher, he found a way to keep from sinking, drowning.  And he loved it.  Back and forth, back and forth, head under water every chance he got, even when he was waiting for the other boy to take his turn.  He didn’t want to get out.  “I’m gonna be a scuba diver someday, Mommy.”

So, as we sat there in the booth, beaming from what he had accomplished, I began to worry.  I was happy that he was gaining skill and confidence, but also worried that he was losing fear, something I want him to grip tight to and let go of all at the same time.

“Finny,” I said, “You did great today.  I am so proud of you.  You were swimming.  Swimming without a noodle, without a lot of help from Mr. Ike, you were doing it, kicking, scooping, swimming.  It’s wonderful.  But, I just want you to remember the most important rule of swimming.  You never, never ever ever go in the water without a grown-up.  Do you understand?”

“I know, Mommy.  I know I could sink and I’m scared to sink.”

Good.  He knows.  He’s four.  Old enough to get braver, young enough to be scared.

As we finished our lunch and the boys got squirrelier.  Finny sliding under the table and Charlie now jumping on the booth seat like a trampoline, I knew it was time to go. 

“Okay.  Let’s get going guys.”  I reached over to the end of the booth to grab Charlie’s jacket and put it on, one sleeve, then the other, then zip.

Then, I turned back to Finny.  His turn.  But he wasn’t there.

Not under the table.  Not next to the table.  Not a few tables away.  Not at the drink stand.  Not anywhere.  He was gone.  Without a sound, in less than a minute.  He was simply gone.

I picked up Charlie and began searching, asking everyone around me, “Did you see my son leave?  Black t-shirt.  Did you see him leave?  He was just here.”  No one saw him.  The restaurant was full.  Full of people having their own conversations.  No one saw him.  A man got up to help me look. 

“I hear a kid crying over here,” someone said.  I looked by the food line.  It wasn’t him.  The man checked the bathroom.  A lady was now helping me.  “Tell the manager,” she said. 

“Can you page my son?  I need you to page my son.  He’s gone.  His name is Finn.”

Another man got up to help.  He looked outside.  Another lady got up.  “Someone saw him!” she said.  But again it wasn’t him. 

The room was buzzing around me and for a split second I had a moment to imagine leaving without him.  Just the day before I had lost my phone.  I searched the car, looked everywhere and eventually had to just drive home, knowing that my phone was still lost.  I had a moment to imagine that.  Leaving without Finny, knowing he was still lost. 

“Someone saw him!  He’s in the mall!  By the entrance!”

I ran out and there he was coming around the corner.   Smiling.

I spanked him and then I hugged him and then I shook and cried and grabbed him tight, finding his eyes, piercing him with my eyes.

“Where did you go?!”

“I went outside.”

“I thought I lost you.  Forever.  I thought a bad guy took you and that I would never see you again.”

He started crying.  “I just went outside.  I’m not scared to go outside by myself.  I can do it.”

“No, you can’t.  Never.  When we are in public, you can never leave my side.  Do you understand?”

As I gathered my things from the booth, I thanked everyone who had left their lunch to help me look.  Everyone had a story for me of when it had happened to them.  Everyone  sympathized with my terror. 

I was exhausted.  Exhausted by the contradiction I was constantly trying to instill.  Be brave.  Be fearful.  Do it yourself.  Don’t do it yourself.  Go, have fun.  Stay.  Stay right here.  Hold my hand.  Don’t even think about leaving my sight.

He’s four.  Young enough to be scared, old enough to be braver. 

I’m thirty-three.  Mother of a two-year-old and four-year-old and some days, despite how hard I paddle and kick, I worry that I won’t make it to the other side, some days, I’m looking furiously for the wall, the noodle, the life jacket, terrified that I’m sinking under the constant, intense pressure to keep them both safe from the outside world and from themselves.