neverland: part 1: still a popsicle, lovely puddle

Neverland is a new series of posts about growing up. 

Still a Popsicle, Lovely Puddle

Chicken is three years old. Up until recently, the three things he worried about the most were:

1. Can I have a popsicle?
2. If I eat this french fry, then can I have a popsicle?
3. If I put the carrot in my mouth but then spit it out onto the plate, then can I have a popsicle?

He was a baby, a simple creature with ever-changing, yet singular focus.

Sure, he had a vocabulary and was prone to insights that brought me to tears THAT I WILL NEVER ADMIT TO SHEDDING because I'm a tough broad and sweet baby boy revelations don't ever make a tough broad cry while she smells her son's hair.

But he was still so childish (and by childish I mean goldfishish.) His ideas and exclamations, transcendent as they were, lived in the span of a single breath: inspiration, followed immediately by expiration.

But lately, I don't know if it's his breaths that have gotten deeper or his thoughts. 

Yesterday he sat at his little table, an orange crayon buried in his fist as he drew careful circles in reverse-ripples, each one smaller than the last.

this is no way reminded me
of
the ring
until
just now
and i have to say
thank god we don't have a vhs

I sat on the couch, drinking a cup of coffee and scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone with the slack-jawed, vacant desperation of a person who has boarded a plane that will never, ever take off reading a presidential biography and having, you know, thoughts.

I heard Chicken speak.

"Mommy, I don't want my voice to change."

"Hm?" 

"I don't want my voice to change." I looked up from the Buzzfeed list of child stars who have aged super badly a lyrical yet detail-packed description of John Adams' childhood home. There sat my boy. His head tilted so low it hung barely a breath from the table. His eyes never shifted from the orange circles.

"Why do you think your voice will change?"

"Because it just will. And I don't want it to. I don't want my voice to change and I don't want scratchy stuff on my face."

Then, quietly:

"I don't want to be a grown-up."

I did the mental shuffle of response options that I always do when Chicken says something alarming or asks a question that demands both honesty and tenderness.

Option 1: Relentless Cheer

But being a grown-up is AWESOME! You can buy cookies any time you want! Plus, you can reach high cabinets, and tie your shoes, and play flip cup, and you get to pick what you're having for dinner EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, and nobody tries to tell you when it's time to brush your teeth or get out of the bath or go to sleep. Dude, when you're a grown-up, you can stay up so late that it's LEGITIMATELY DARK when you go to sleep. Is your mind blown? Seriously. It's amazeballs, being a grown-up. You're gonna have so much fun.

Option 2: Relentless Gloom

Son, I understand why you feel that way. Being a grown-up is really hard. Right now you get to play all day long, and food just appears in front of you, and people beg you to spend an hour in your room every afternoon resting quietly with books in a soft bed surrounded by pillows and friendly stuffed dinosaurs. 

But grown-ups... Grown-ups have a long list of things they have to do, like make dentist appointments and get the oil changed in the car, and write a will, and worry about global warming. And once grown-ups are done with the have-to stuff, they don't have any time for fun stuff like playing or reading or watching a movie. Plus, our backs hurt. 

Plus, someday, when you're a grown-up, your brown-eyed precocious child will open his mouth and break your heart when he tells you that he's afraid of something that it is not in your power to prevent. My darling, I know I'm supposed to want you to grow up and change and be your own person, but if I could keep you just exactly the way you are, right now, forever and ever, so full of joy, so spirited and only just a little broken yet, I totally would.

Yeah, I understand why you don't want to be a grown-up, baby. I don't want it either. 


I hereby validate your feeling of existential dread.

Option 3: WTF?!?

Holy crap, what book have you been reading? 
Hey, can you count how many circles you have there? 
Hey, did you want hot dogs for dinner? 
Hey, let's talk about literally anything other than growing up. 
WORMS. 
CHEESE. 
I'll even turn on, yes, I'll say it... Caillou. If I have to.

I wanted to Option 1, but I didn't want to lie.

I wanted to Option 2, but I didn't want to cry.

So I led with Option 3, and he answered, "dinosaur books, twenty, yeah with ketchup only, worms have eyes, cheese is too yucky for me," and "I don't like Caillou." Oh, thank Christ.

Eventually, I remembered and executed Secret Option 4, The Correct Way To Handle This:

I understand why you feel that way. But baby, you've got a long, long, long time before you grow up, and I think as time passes you'll find some things to be excited about getting older. Right now, though, I'm proud that you want to just be exactly what you are. Your face isn't scratchy, and your voice is just what it's supposed to be. You're a magnificent, kind, funny, curious, 3-year-old Tiger, and there's nothing else you could possibly be right now. 

And dude, let me just say, I nailed it. But it was like 15 minutes after he said his thing, and by then his internal narrative had migrated from "icy pang of existential fear" back to "can I have a popsicle?"

I've never been so happy to unwrap a popsicle at 10:30 in the morning.

He held his popsicle until sweet tangerine-flavored water dripped from his fingers onto his paper. The fat drop landed perfectly at the center of his nest of concentric orange crayon circles.

"Wow!" I said, "look at that!"

We hunched over the picture together. He lay his head down on the table, studying the drop with sparkling eyes from only inches away.

I couldn't help it - the sweet, accidentally perfect drop at the center of his drawing, the not-on-purpose punctuation of an otherwise carefully constructed creation... It was as if I'd looked up at the night sky expecting to feel empty, only to look exactly at the spot where a shooting star blazed, unpredictable, unrepeatable, just for a second, just for me.

I couldn't help it - I couldn't help but feel like... yeah... good call on the popsicle, kid.

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