It is an hour and a half past a theoretical bedtime and I know I should smell his breath to make sure my youngest son has brushed his teeth. But, the day has been long and I’m just content to see him reading a TinTin book in bed. I’d reconciled to laid back brushing, once in a while flossing, and to that idea that I will record his hours reading comic books on his school’s mandatory reading chart.
In his last year of single-digits, I am weary of trying to sculpt his form – weary of his resistance. I am weary of me, of him, of all of us saying “no” before the question is asked or the request made. Fairy dust ceased working long ago to get him to rest.
His eyes fight sleep. I take his round glasses from his face and turn to place them on the dresser. He’s nine now, but the cardboard birthday crown from his 4 year old celebration still hangs on his mirror. Everything needs an update; the scratched dresser, a hand-me down from my husband’s own toddlerhood, the greying blue paint on the walls that’s now marred by crayons and the glue from long gone stickers, the baby-centric needlepoint teddy bears framed on the walls, even the plaster is pock marked by with little dents he made while shooting a dowel rod arrow in his room while imagining himself a “Ranger.”
How many times do I tell him to “Stop?” That command to cease motion always falls on his, on time’s, deaf ears.
The dresser top is strewn with Garfield books, a die-cast Thomas Train movie car, play money, real money – all of it teetering on the brink of a junk-o-lanch. It’s not that I don’t have time to address the pile of stuff. I do. I quit my job a year ago. It’s the will. If I don’t start, I don’t have to finish.
I sigh audibly when I notice an open baggie of water sitting there in the mess. It’s a Glad bag filled with clean water. It is open, right next to the ceramic white owl lamp that illuminated his crib late at night, and now his bed.
He can’t imagine sleeping without it. Or maybe he can, that’s why he keeps it there.
But, this open bag of water, precariously placed next to that little lamp is anything but safe. The fear of shock moves through me. I sigh again. Exhale “Why?” My eyes roll. Ugh. What is he thinking?
I guess it’s a forgotten bag of melted ice that he filled himself to nurse a small bump that none of us noticed. We don’t hover over him like we did the oldest or respond to all his cries. Or maybe it’s another science experiment he started and then neglected. It doesn’t matter. I don’t bother to ask. I know it will inevitably spill, just like every glass of milk he seems to pour at the table. It will be me who has to mop it up.
I pick up the baggie by the top edges, line up the blue and yellow stripes, start to close it and carry it away. I figure I’ll dump it on a plant in the family room.
“DON’T TOUCH THAT!” He sits up- blue eyes piercing and panicked.
“It’s going to spill. It could electrocute you.”
“DON’T THROW IT AWAY!”
“No,” he whispers, “it’s the last water from the refrigerator. ”
I look at the bag. Sometime before the appliance men hauled away our refrigerator with the faulty condenser last Saturday, his tiny hands collected these drops of purified water.
I’ve sealed the bag. It sinks warmly into my hand, conforms to the creases, to the lifelines of my palm. It is both soothsayer and sea of memory.
This has always been in him and always will be – this connection with the basic elements that we awe and fear – water, sun, time.
When he was two and a half and I was sulking on a front porch wicker chair, trapped in the circular thought of the “no”-ing brain, grousing about Asian tiger mosquitoes in the growing heat of a summertime day, he disappeared inside. He opened a china cabinet that was supposed to be too tall for his prying hands. He returned with a hand-painted black and red Russian tea cup. He scooped the cup in the muggy air, put his tiny hand over the top, then toddled over and handed it to me.
“It’s a cup of sunshine.”
That I covet.
It’s downstairs on the quiet of a shelf- empty to all but me.
He doesn’t remember that gentle flim-flam act of capturing light and warmth. Yet, it is part of his form. He is that person. He is the old soul who takes the basics and renders the profound, the one who fills the empty black cup, who pours magnifying clarity into a translucent bag. He is the one who pushes us away with fierce independence, experimentation, and an unnerving sense of knowing, while holding us close and revealing us to ourselves by seeing through us and our transparent, leaking world.
This bag filled with water conforms to my hand, yet holds its own ,illuminated by light of that owl, lit even brighter by the reflection in the mirror. It’s a crystal ball taunting me to look. It renders the fear of dying magic. I cannot toss this shifting portal.
How quick I am to throw things away- to call it trash before I know the meaning. How quick I am to hate the mess- to yell and scream about preventable spills.
We give them Tarot cards, churches, words of wisdom “from a place of experience,” Magic Eight Balls, Ouji boards, books to ponder, food for thought. They give us an open baggie of refrigerator water left by a night light. And for a moment, it all makes sense- this liquefied wisdom, pure tears, a reservoir of memory- it changes what’s to come. The water is holy. Perhaps. I’ll consume it in drops, use it sparingly, drink it in through my pores by a fingertip.
There is his young sense in this baggie of water that matter can be held- that holding matters. There is an open hope that stories won’t change. That Peter Pan will be a forever a boy. It is a reminder to me to appreciate the basics- the water, the light, the moments of magic, the hope of flying with polyester dollar store wings.
I forget, to my son, childhood is not a thought, a passing chain of worries, or stages of changing forms – it is Everything he has been, Everything he is. It is Who he will Be.
That last drop of water from “the only refrigerator he knew” – from that behemoth that hummed in the kitchen and lulled him to sleep in his high chair, that sleeping monster with an ice-making maw that groaned before dropping jaw-fulls of ice cubes that startled him awake, that gentle giant of a white insulated box with the heavy handled doors that yielded a world of yogurt and applesauce to comfort a sore tummy – that mundane depreciating machine was a constant that comforted him.
I set down the sealed baggie a little further from the light. I waited for these words to spill, for the water to take on its new life.