I look for Henry. Although I don’t know exactly where in the house he is, I know that I’ll find him in one of three rooms. I walk from the kitchen into the first of his three hang-outs: the family room. The late afternoon sun streams in, warming the berber carpet beneath my bare feet. No Henry. I walk from the family room into the kids’ make-shift craft room.
This room is small and one of my favorite spaces in our home. It’s technically a sun room but we added a table and two chairs for Abby and Henry. The rustic hardwood floors are faded, unfinished and deeply grooved. The walls wear a very light silvery gray paint which reflect the sunlight that pours into the space. In this room, I find Henry. He sits on the floor with his bare legs bent. He leans over his knees to get closer to his white paper. Smelly Markers are strewn around him and broad, sure strokes of color cover his white paper.
Strands of his blond hair stick out in multiple directions and flop into his eyes. He wears a bright orange t-shirt with burnt orange shorts, each a bit too big for his now-lanky frame.
He sits in silence. He sits in peace. He sits submersed in his own thoughts, his own world, his own space.
He doesn’t hear me. So, before I say anything to him, I study him. I’m like a stealth spy, collecting data and memories. I absorb the newly-minted scratches and scabs on his knees and shins. One scab is pale pink and its newly formed skin stretches tight over his knee. It sits next to a fresh, angry, purple wound, acquired from one of many recent falls. I mentally trace the juncture where his curved eyelashes rest and his round, pink cheeks begin. I note the roundness and give thanks for its continued, albeit waning, presence. His intense concentration mirrors my own.
What a gift, to be able to observe a suspended moment, devoid of performance or awareness. I write these words here so later I can pull them out and read them, so I can remember.
He tilts his head down and finishes putting away the bread. This requires deep concentration. I sit perched on the kitchen stool and I see that same crazy blond hair flopping into in his eyes, and he begins again,
I’m not ready to be six.
Somewhere in my chest, between my lungs and my heart, I feel a constriction, as if an emotion is rushing up from my stomach and racing toward my throat. My heart cleaves as his words settle into a space where his words match my own, inner thoughts.
Why not, H?
He finishes making his peanut butter sandwich and heads toward the kitchen island to take a seat on a stool next to me.
I’m not shuwre. But I’m just not.
I, of course, know just how he feels. I’m not ready for him to be six yet, either. I am, however, quite surprised that he shares the same sentiment. Usually, I feel like there’s a subtle tug-of-war between us. Me pulling back, feeling nostalgic about the rapid clip of time. Henry, tugging forward, Come On, Mommy!, racing toward the next. Although he cannot articulate why he’s not ready to be six, I sure can.
Because he was just born.
Because I just held him for the first time.
Because I just nursed him and cleaned up spit-up off my shirt. And washed the binkies. And the onesies. And the blankets.
Because I just changed his diaper.
Because he just started preschool, wearing his orange backpack as big as his body.
Because where did six years go?
Well, I know where they went.They toddled by on chunky, sturdy legs. They got folded into warm baby blankets, hot from the dryer. They zoomed by on fast pedaling legs. The years sloughed off minute by minute, hour by hour delivering us to this new reality.
On the eve of my childrens’ birthdays, we stealthily sneak into their rooms and fill it with balloons. Then I adorn their doorway with streamers. The thought is that when they wake up, their birthday celebration has already begun. On the night before Henry’s 6th birthday, I sat on the fringes a long, exhausting day. All I wanted to do was climb into the sanctuary of my white sheets and sleep. Instead, I sat cross-legged on the hardwood floor in the kitchen. The only sounds were that of my lungs, inhaling the vast volume of air needed to blow up 18 black balloons. That, and the unique squeak of me tying each black balloon closed. Everyone slept.
I carried the balloons up the back stairs in three loads. As I tried to pick-up each subsequent load, the balloons mischievously scurried away to far corners of the kitchen. Once I’d wrangled them, they’d try to stick to my black yoga pants, refusing to come into my grasp. Maybe the balloons felt as I did; if they didn’t go into the birthday room, maybe the birthday wouldn’t happen? With each load, I entered Henry’s dark bedroom. His room held the stillness of heavy sleep, a day completely folded up, put away and archived. My heart heaved.
I watched him slumber. My baby. Still five. Just-barely still five. I glanced at my five-year-old one last time, then I, too, closed the door on Five.
This time of year is heavily saturated with endings. As I write this, I look out my office window. I can see my neighbor’s front yard. Attached to their mailbox is a single, helium mylar balloon nodding in the early June breeze. After squinting to read its words, they finally come into focus: The Sky’s The Limit. Then I remember: my neighbor’s three sons will graduate from high school this weekend. They are 18 and in the fall, they will leave.
Tuesday, Henry will attend his last day of his beloved preschool. In the fall, he will leave its comfort and complete familiarity start Kindergarten. Each time I drive H to school, I mentally count down the number of days that I will be able to do this. I love his preschool as much as (more than?!?) he. This morning, as I drove the familiar, curvy route to his school, I admired, once again, the deep, thick canopy of trees which arc overhead. As the dappled sun bursts reached in through our car windows, I reached back and took Henry’s silky hand into my own. We road in copacetic silence; the only audible sounds were those which filtered in through the sun roof:
a random jet engine
a distant lawn mower chugging through over-grown grass
the hypnotic swoosh of leaves dancing with leaves
Henry broke our reverie.
When I leave school next Tuesday, will I be in Kindergarten?
I watched him in the rear view mirror and took stock. His blond hair was freshly tamed and combed. His pink cheeks were shiny and clean. His gaze locked on the passing trees.
The words caught in my throat, perhaps intrinsically knowing that once uttered, they could never be retracted. Finally my answer came, Yes, baby. You will.
Good, he beamed. I’m ready.
I wish I could say the same.