Everything stopped because of his laughter.
My eight-year-old son was lying on the floor, curving away from my wiggling fingers and the twinkle in my eye as I pretended I wasn’t about to tickle him. He knows me all too well, and the laughter bubbled from his throat as he slithered out of my reach.
In his attempt to escape, his t-shirt slid up, exposing a wash of pale flesh—and it stopped my hand mid-air.
Instead of the soft belly I was aiming for, there were striations of muscle reaching from his flat stomach, hugging his ribs, pulling around to connect with the long lines of flexed lats.
The body before me was no longer the bird-like baby I protected under my wing for so long. The one who I fretted over, the one I put myself in front of time and again so nothing could hit him too hard.
His limbs are now long and strong. He has abs instead of a tummy. His shoulders are knotted like a young man’s. When he’s shirtless and stretching, the muscles in his back flutter like sturdy feathers on wings ready to take flight.
At an age when I am making sure he has the tools to handle himself on his own at school, at the playground, on the soccer field, I worry as I see the sensitivity of his big sky-blue eyes. I witness him deep in thought, mulling over the hurtful things flung at him by unfair people, knowing how difficult it is for a child to process that not everyone is as kind as one’s own parents.
So that moment when I saw the strength of the tissues in his body, the ones that hold him tall and make him fast, it was a gift.
As much as I remind him that he needs to eat his veggies and drink his milk to get bigger and stronger, I still saw him as my baby.
As much as I hear him read to me and do his chores and take on more responsibilities, I still thought of him as “little.”
The sight of those muscles that are a precursor to puberty and manhood and all things big and strong gave me comfort. Yes, he’ll always be my baby, but he is no longer a baby. He’s a boy who is getting stronger on the inside and outside every day, who can handle what Life throws at him.
Soon he’ll be the one putting himself in front of me so nothing can hit his mom too hard.
Soon he’ll be the one with bigger hands, a longer reach, able to protect me.
I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet, so I’ll stay in the present, savor this time when I can see the physical strength of the man he will become, as the air around me fills with his giggles in reaction to the smile I feel spread across my face when I feel The Tickle Monster taking control of my outstretched arm.