He is six years young. He is six years old.
He is both boy child and man child and on certain days when I have conversations with him I feel as if I’m speaking to a wise old man of eighty-six and not six and on other days when he’s making obnoxious sounds with his body and telling fart jokes for the millionth time, I’m reminded that, yeah, he’s only six years young.
He is my firstborn. We have history together. He was here first, even before the other three who now compose our family arrived, before I met my now-husband and before his brothers were born and he’ll always wear that like a badge. We share inside jokes and references his brothers might never know or understand, moments they weren’t around for and because of that, I think there will always be something special between us. We’ve experienced big transitions together, change, difficult times, memories of other places, other neighborhoods, which almost seem like other lifetimes now.
He is only six, yet he’s so capable and resilient and strong and mature, that at times I forget he has really only recently emerged from being a baby. Baby ends at age five in my book, abruptly in kindergarten, when they start losing their high-pitched baby voice, the soft “r”s and the lisps in their speech, when every last drop of baby fat begins to recede from their cheeks, giving way to square jaw lines and hollowed out cheek bones, when features start to become more angled and defined, when their lithe bodies start to stretch upward like taffy and they begin to hold conversations like opinionated adults. Yet, at the same time, they have trouble navigating their newfound autonomy and sense of responsibility. Tears are still shed for not getting their way, followed by embarrassment for crying about it.
Six is conflicted and in between. One foot forging ahead, one foot planted stubbornly behind, straddling the narrow tightrope of growing up.
In so many ways I don’t want him to grow up.
In so many ways I want him to grow up.
He does not share a father with his younger brothers. On certain days of the month he leaves us and takes on a different identity in a different house, one without his toddler brother knocking over his LEGO creations, or the raspy cries of his baby brother demanding even more attention. He has always handled this transition gracefully and maturely, much like I expect him to go off to college one day, stoic and unfazed. It’s just the way it is and has been for most of his young life.
His primary home is with us, this loud family of five, of which he has been the pioneer child, guiding us and his brothers with his firsts, a steady shepherd allowing us to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. When he’s at his father’s I assume it’s much more quiet, just the two of them, all the attention solely on him. We miss him on those days he’s gone — his essence, the missing slice of our homemade family pie, his boisterous voice and silliness just an echo, his toddler brother searching for him by checking his room over and over. I feel like all of this is preparing me for the day he officially leaves the nest; he’s been doing it in tiny doses since he was three years old.
He is loving and sweet, gentle and nurturing with his brothers, patient beyond his years and still maintains an innocence and unguarded nature I can only hope he retains as long as he can, although I know it will eventually lead to broken hearts and the need to build up sturdy retainer walls.
On a recent walk around our neighborhood, just the two of us, holding hands, the conversation was effortless, the usual interruptions of his brothers nowhere to be found. He was inquisitive as always, asking questions I could answer and some I could not. I know there will come a day when I’ll be the one asking him questions he can’t answer, or won’t want to answer, or simply won’t answer. We won’t hold hands and walk down the street side by side, he’ll walk two steps ahead or two steps behind and he won’t call me “mommy.” He will be too cool and I won’t be cool enough.
I squeeze his hand a little tighter on our walk, hold onto it longer, watch him stop abruptly on the sidewalk.
“Mommy! A dandelion! I need to make a wish!”
He breaks free from my grasp. I watch him bend down and pluck the dandelion from wet grass. I watch him pause for a moment to think of his wish, then blow until the weed is slowly dismantled down to a stem, his wish sent out into the ether. He’s still at the age where he blurts out what he wished for. I know one day he won’t.
My wish for him is that he waits as long as he can before building that wall around his heart, that he never becomes too old or too cool or too jaded to keep wishing on dandelions.