It took a few months for his newborn face to un-squish enough for me to know for sure, but then there was no doubt--my son has my eyes. Same shape, same color (maybe a little darker), same old soul depth to them--it's like looking in a mirror. His little sister has them, too, but he had them first, and I have stared into them with wonder pretty much his entire life.
I can look at him from across a room and know what he is feeling, even though I don't always want to acknowledge everything I see. He's braver than me about refusing to play along with everyone's expectations (including mine), and I appreciate his unflinching honesty about who he is. I call him the "emotional barometer" of the family because he's the first one to show it if something is off, sometimes long before any of the rest of us are ready to admit whatever storm is brewing.
He is pure motion (except when he's putting together intricate Lego structures), and I don't even try to keep up most of the time. Instead we have worked out a system in which he's free to race ahead as long as he remembers to double back for me every so often. Special outings with him must involve some kind of activity--renting bikes for an afternoon, going to a quarry-turned-water park, trampoline and bouncy house warehouses, so many trips to the playground--though he can demonstrate surprising restraint when he's interested in something. When he was five, we took him on a tour of one of the Vanderbilt mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, and he not only resisted the urge to swing from the chandeliers or slide down the banister of the grand staircase, he also listened carefully to the audio tour and can still recall many of the details. He likes antique shops and thrift stores and flea markets, and one of his favorite shows for awhile was American Pickers.
We both like pop music and dancing, and though he's outgrowing it a bit now, we used to have dance parties in the kitchen most nights. He stops me for hugs as I walk through the room, calling "Mama!" and holding out his arms. We get cross with each other a fair bit, especially these days when we are all worn so thin by adjustments and transitions and the demands of life in general, but I try to always stop for those hugs with some measure of grace and gratitude.
He is both foreign and familiar, challenge and comfort, and I thank God every day that I get to be his mother.
Still, the days are often long, and during the last half hour before we all go to bed, it can feel like something from the "Currahee" episode of Band of Brothers: three miles up and three miles down with a full pack before we can all rest. Life is good, and I'm not complaining. It's just reality that any unexpected variable thrown into that part of the evening tends to have exaggerated impact.
When my oldest was home for Christmas break, something happened with the latch on my doorknob. I got stuck in my room two separate times and had to pound on the door, yell loud enough to wake her up (no small feat), and get her to open the door from the other side. I had no idea what to do about it. When confronted with things I don't know how to fix, I tend to devise a workaround rather than address the issue head on. In this case, I stopped shutting the door. Easy peasy, problem solved. For months my bedroom door stayed open.
Until one night not long ago when my son, without even thinking about it, closed the door and trapped all of us in my room. We were in full Currahee mode: already late going to bed, there had been some drama earlier in the day that wasn't quite resolved, and as the door swung closed with me too far away to stop it, I had one of those slow-motion movie moments, yelling, "Nooooo!!!!" even as I heard it click shut.
Technically, we weren't stuck since we could still get to the back door, but the deadbolts were all locked in the rest of the house and my keys were sitting in their designated spot by the front door. To gain access to anywhere we needed to go would require breaking a window or calling the fire department, and neither option seemed appealing.
For a few moments, we stood mute, staring at the door and willing it to pop open of its own accord. In my mind, I scrolled through a range of options and landed on the only question that seemed to hold out some hope: "What would MacGyver do?"
I confess I never watched MacGyver, but I know the pop culture reference to the main character's ability to get himself out of a jam. He used random objects and improvised solutions to save the day, over and over again. If we had to pull something out of thin air, MacGyver seemed like an appropriate guide.
I examined the hinges to see if we could take the door down that way, but we couldn't get anything to budge. I dug around in my bedside table until I found a metal bookmark vaguely resembling a screwdriver on one end, and we went to work on the door knob. I got the handle off and looked at the exposed guts of the mechanism. I tried turning a piece, but it fell on the floor on the other side of the door. I sat down, flummoxed and defeated.
That was when my son took over with an authority I didn't expect. He found something long and skinny enough to slip underneath the door, snagged the piece that fell, and pulled it back in our direction until we could reach it. He fitted it back into place in the door knob, and together we got it to turn . . . ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . until the door finally popped open. I'm pretty sure we both let out a whoop followed by a huge sigh of relief. I hadn't wanted to call the fire department; he hadn't wanted to be the reason I needed to call (though he could have made a strong argument that it was really my fault for not fixing the door as soon as I realized it was broken).
One thing that has felt overwhelming about being a single mom is the fear that it would always be this hard, that I would have to constantly pull something out of a hat (or my ass) over and over again to clear all the hurdles stretching out in front of us.
But that night as I watched my son take charge and contribute to a solution--a small but critical solution--I caught a glimpse of a day when I no longer have to play MacGyver. Sure, there will be plenty of occasions when we have to work with random variables, and "improvising" is kind of my middle name. But it will get easier and more natural to share responsibilities; everyone can and will contribute to the common good. Knowing that makes me want to let out a whoop and a sigh of relief, even if we still have a ways to go.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.