Sometimes I see motherhood, or at least my own version of motherhood, with an objective clarity that is frightening. I think that I love my children too much, too fiercely, for anyone's own good. Is it healthy to love this much? To worry every second, to obsess over every tiny detail of their lives, from the moment they open their eyes in the morning and then even while they sleep at night? The answer, when it comes in my crystal moments, is easy: probably not. But then, what can I do about it? With a love so big, not very much.
One thing I do know is that the reciprocation of this is short-lived. I am a middle school teacher; I know what will happen in a few years. I will no longer know all the right answers. I will no longer be cool or the most fun and funny person in their lives. I will be a nag, a pest, and at times, and perhaps most heart-wrenching of all, an embarrassment. And so at least right now I am aware enough to appreciate what I have, though there are days I feel it's almost gone with my older son, Joey.
He is only six and half, but the moment he was born I finally understood that the term "old soul" is not always corny, misused, and a bunch of nonsense. Joey looked up at me from my arms with knowing eyes, a deep set frowned creasing his tiny newborn brow. He has also certainly been a child in many ways with his silliness and his weird affinity for bathroom humor. But I notice lately that he is more aware of his friends and peers, their parents, and is even affected by what he reads and sees on TV. Sometimes, his voice catches with an attitude I recognize immediately from my classroom, and my heart clenches as I realize, "It's coming."
Today, my growing boy finished reading a novel. It's not his first, but it is still a new phenomenon that he has become such a Reader. He could not put the book down, even once he'd finished. He sat, scanning and rescanning the front and back covers, even the About the Author page. There was also a page at the end of the book that listed other titles by the same author, and these he read over and over to me, saying which sounded like the next book he wanted to read.
"Would you like me to get one of those books for you on my Kindle?" I offered. He quickly declined at first.
"It would be the same book," I said. "The same as what you'd get at your school library, it just wouldn't have the cover."
"The very same?" he asked tentatively. I think he imagined that with a different cover, or no cover at all, the words inside swirled and morphed into something entirely new and somehow wrong.
"Haven't you ever heard, 'Don't judge a book by its cover'?" I asked.
"Well, what do you think it means?"
"I don't know. The cover is very important to me."
I tried not to laugh as I explained. "Well, you aren't supposed to judge a book by what it looks like on the outside. It's the words inside that make the story special. And sometimes, publishers change the cover of a book, the very same book, just to make it look more interesting. But the inside is still the same story. They don't change that."
Joey thought about this, and agreed to check out what Kindle had to offer. Unfortunately, his top picks were not available.
"Would you like to go to the bookstore with me and pick out a book?" I offered then. It was a big offer. I haven't been feeling well and am supposed to be resting. But he just looked so lost with that finished book in his hands.
"Really, Mom?" His whole face lit up. "Really? Can we?"
"Sure," I said, getting out of bed. "But you'll have to let me put makeup on first."
"Sure, Mom!" he said, his voice growing louder with each word. "Sure! DAD! DAD! MOM IS TAKING ME TO BUY A NEW BOOK!" I heard his footsteps thunder across the house.
In the car on the way to Barnes and Noble, Joey spoke up out of an unusual momentary silence. He said, "Mom? We haven't gone anywhere just us in a long time."
"I know, honey," I said, feeling a little sad. Everywhere I go, Noah insists on being with me. And if my husband ever offers to take both boys, it's like a vacation. Still, this means Joey and I haven't bonded in awhile.
"Dad always takes me to fun places," he went on thoughtfully."Which is really fun, I like going with Dad. But I don't like it when you're not with me."
I felt myself blink in surprise, still focusing on the road in front of me, but sneaking a peek at him in the rearview mirror. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "Just...I like it when you're with me."