Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thank you

I am so moved by all your support, practical and otherwise. Thank you. Thank you.

Big Boy/ Little Boy

A couple of months ago, very shortly after he began speaking in sentences, Turtle became interested in the idea of privacy. Where he learned the term I'm not sure, as his Dad and I seldom if ever use the word. It may be that his babysitter is more modest than we are. In any event, his conception of privacy delightfully betrayed the two-year old's basic belief that there is no division between mommy and me. "Go away, daddy," he'd order, "I need privacy with Mommy."

Tonight, for the first time, he asked for privacy for himself. I was giving him a bath and he began to splash. "Stop that," I said, firmly but calmly. "Sorry, Mommy!" he yelped almost before I could get the words out. We had just made it through a block-throwing incident, and he knew, I thought, that he'd better not push things. But we'd hardly resumed our boat race when he began to splash again. "I know it's fun to splash," I said, "but it's only fun for the one in the tub, the one who's already wet. Mommy's wearing clothes and she wants to stay dry." "Sorry, Mommy," he said. Then he thought for a moment.

"Mommy, I want privacy," he said. "Really?" I asked, shocked at this new development. "Mommy go away," he clarified. "OK," I said, looking for a compromise that would not involve leaving him unattended in a good 6 or 8 inches of water, "I'll turn around and I won't look again until you say I can." The boat race resumed along with the splashing.

And in that instant, I saw all the other separations he'll demand over the years, the privacy he'll want for illicit pleasures so much more dangerous than a simple splash in the bath. How will I protect him from himself, and from me, from my demands for perfection? "I can hear you splashing," I told him.

Later, on the way to bed, in his uncanny two-year-old way, he began to take stock of his own maturation. "Mommy, I no have a crib," he announced. "That's right I said. Can you tell me who has it now?" Not to be distracted, he repeated, "Daddy took da crib." We'd given it away as a hand-me-down fully four months ago and I was surprised to have him bring it up. "That's right," I said, "and now a new little baby sleeps in it, right? It was too small for you." I felt good about teaching him empathy, the importance of giving to others. "I climb out and Daddy took it away," he insisted with unflinching accuracy. In fact, Daddy did confiscate the crib for good one day about a month after the big-boy-bed had been introduced, a day when the nap-time stall tactic of requesting transfer from bed to crib devolved into the nap-strike tactic of climbing out of the crib.

"Well," I said, opting for perfect honesty with this small exacting boy, "it is true that Daddy took the crib away when you climbed out of it. That was a dangerous thing to do and you could have gotten hurt. But it was time to give the crib away anyway. We didn't give it away because you climbed out. We gave it away because it was too small for you. You were so big you had to scrunch your legs up inside it. You didn't need it any more and until we gave it to the new little baby, he had no place at all to sleep." I nattered on about all the space for playing we'd opened up in his room. He launched into a scientific catalog of all the changes in his room since his infancy. "No changing table, Mommy. That's a dresser." "Man brought the bed." "Daddy took my shelf." Wow, such loss, such longing, such nostalgia and such clear memories at two.

I wanted to comfort him in the face of all this change. I said, "let's get Freddie." You've had Freddie since you were a tiny little baby," I said as he nuzzled his favorite stuffed dog. "You've always loved Freddie." But he was on to me. "Mommy, Freddie no bark," he said. "Freddie no make a noise," he said pressing futilely at the electronic insert that used to making a barking sound when pressed. "Wow," I said, "Freddie did used to bark, and you have a really good memory. You remember what he sounded like when he barked, right?" "Yes," he said, sounding miserable, already learning the lesson that you can't go home again, not even when you're two and rocking in your mother's arms.

"Well, and you have blankie, right?" I asked, suddenly grateful for the continued presence of the disgraceful unraveling rag I used to swaddle him in. "Do you remember how I used to wrap you up in blankie?" I asked him. By the end I had taken to wrapping him loosely toga-style around his chest, just to give him the suggestion of a swaddle. He tensed and didn't answer me. "Should we wrap you up in blankie, tonight?" I asked him. "No!" he declared. "OK," I said, and we finished our book. Then I lay him down on his big-boy bed and wrapped him toga-style in his blankie. The silly phrases I used to repeat like a mantra and haven't used in a year came back to me: "I'm gonna wrap you up in blankie, in blankie, blankie, blankie. Blankie makes you feel totally safe, totally, secure. I love you son, oh yes I do, I love you to bitsy bitsy bits." He greeted the old game with gales of giggles. And then, with more rocking and singing, he slowly drifted into sleep.