I like to call this "sticking it to the other soccer moms"

I like to call this "sticking it to the other soccer moms"

Rowan and I are making a cake. An “Easy Devil’s Food” cake, with a three-ingredient frosting (I told him to Google “easy frosting”). We will dye said frosting blue and red with the food colouring I ran to the store to get just now. And then we will spread the frosting on the cake (once it’s cool; I’ve been around the block too many times to consider putting frosting on even a slightly warm cake because that way lies tears) in the form of the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Obviously. Because my ten-year-old son came home from soccer camp today and said, “Will you do me a favour?”

I was smart enough to say, “Depends on what it is,” but a cake? Today, at least, I can swing a cake. We had all evening, and even most of the ingredients, and perhaps his team will win “Most Delicious Flag” or somesuch tomorrow.

This past week has been full of moments like this: on Tuesday, we held a feline funeral, where all four of us — two boys, and their two mothers — came together in my/our/our formerly collective back garden to bury the grey cat, with tears and best wishes and a Plaster of Paris headstone. I spend the early mornings cycling with one kid to one summer camp and then cycling home and driving the early carpool with the other kid to the other summer camp; I make lunches and snacks and arrange arrange carpools and play dates and squeeze in work and writing in between. I overhear other mothers say things to their children like, “Are you wearing underwear?” and I know it’s not just my house. There are bike rides to the park after dinner, frisbee in the backyard, eight-year-olds riding their bikes in the neighbourhood and stopping in for glasses of water and carrots. On Wednesday, I jumped off the five-metre platform at the pool because if Isaac can do it, then how scary (OMG so scary) can it be?

I watch it all. I mean, I’m doing it all, but I’m still watching it even as I revel in it, wondering if other parents wonder at the strangeness of all the things we do, the ways we make memories, the activities our children just assume are natural, given. I came home from the drop-offs yesterday morning and tried to explain it to Rob, this feeling of being at once removed and apart, not quite fully immersed in parenting because I’m too busy thinking, I am digging a grave for a cat or I am hiding clues for a treasure hunt around the neighbourhood. I had to stop thinking at all in order to jump from that five-metre platform (it’s so much higher from the top of the platform than when you look up at from the water; it really is). In those few seconds — in the rush of gravity and the force of impact, my hair elastic blown away, water up my nose, the momentary disorientation of being underwater — I was literally and metaphorically fully immersed. More often, I am treading water in this pool of parenting, mostly in but partly out, watching it all, wondering if this is as natural as it will ever feel and hoping that that’s okay.

And then I watch Rowan peek over and over again at the cake in the cooler on the way to soccer, see Isaac leap again and again into the deep, take comic books out of the hands of a sleeping boy and turn out his light,  say a few words in honour of a departed cat, and I think, Yeah, it probably is.


Eight year old (2)

Dear Isaac,

On the morning I began drafting this letter to you, I woke up early — earlier than you, at least, at 6 AM  — and snuck downstairs to my office in order to try to squeeze in some journalling before you and your brother woke up. (Or, really, before you woke up: Rowan will reliably sleep in well past seven these days, but you have never really varied from your preferred 6 AM-ish wake-up call, slipping in to my room to cuddle and ask questions and steal my covers and wonder about French toast. You know. I can barely fault you for it — I've always been terrible at sleeping in, and I'm not getting any better at it as I get older.) It's a crapshoot, my early-morning attempts at pre-kid activity: you wake up at the slightest noise and so I often forfeit tea, try not to put too much weight on the stairs, pee in the basement rather than risk using the bathroom upstairs, all in the name of having you sleep longer.

This particular morning, I made it! I got all the way into my office and even got through a paragraph before I heard the unmistakable sound of you, stumbling out of bed and across the hallway, peeking into my room and not finding me there. I heard you grab a pajama shirt, the fall of your feet down the stairs and then there you were, poking your head into my office and crawling into my lap. I admit that I thought, Damnit. We spent the next half-hour and three longhand pages like that. You pulled The House Book off my shelf and flipped through it, chattering to me about all the different buildings by famous architects as I attempted to write ("Is that a mansion?" "Do you think a house like that would cost 299 million dollars?” “I would really, really like to live in that house."), squirming in my lap, all elbows and sit-bones into my thighs and ribs and sides. We jockeyed for space on the desk — me with my notebook and you with your massive hardcover. We negotiated: you wanting breakfast and me wanting to finish, you wanting to sit on my lap exactly as you wanted to sit and me wanting you to sit so that I could feel my legs. Etc.

If I look back on those pages, which I'm doing right now, they are annotated with notes about you, ranging from annoyance to pleasure, fatigue to adoration.

Because you're eight, all skinny and snaggletoothed, long-limbed and flexible (you trim your toenails with your teeth; you can still do the splits all ways, although you don't drop suddenly into them and scare people now as often as you did, say, a year ago), legs covered in bruises and picked-at mosquito bites. You shaved your head about four months ago — your hair, your choice — but it's mostly grown in. Last week, I quietly snipped away the beginnings of the mullet at the nape of your neck, because we do still have some standards around here and hockey hair isn't one of them. Yet.

Because you're eight, and these kinds of cuddles, these extended, one-on-one moments of physical closeness, are fewer and further in between. Sure, you prefer to fall asleep in my bed and would stay there all night if I could sleep next to your squirminess and sheet-stealing, but I can't, and so each night that you're here I gather up your sleep-limp body and carry you to your own bed. You're still little enough, light enough, to do that, although it's starting to get awkward: those never-ending legs catching the sheets as I try to move you. One night a couple of weeks ago I heaved you gently onto your bed and your weight shifted so that I lost my balance ever so slightly and fell, gently, onto the mattress with you, your cheek coming to rest against my chest like you were a baby again. I stayed there for a few minutes, remembering.

That’s it, isn't it, what it means to be eight? Still small enough for so many things — laps, late-night bed shuffles — but not for much longer, with those long legs of yours. You're starting to be a real menace in those tickle fights you suggest almost daily. You still prefer to be read to out loud — and I love to read to you, so that's a great thing. (We just finished E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one of my absolute childhood favourites, and I thought about how much fun it would be to take you to New York one day, go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art together.) But still, lately I catch you with a book on the couch, and I hear you whispering the words under your breath, and I wonder just how much longer we’ll be reading together: will I notice first that you’re too big for my lap or that you’re too independent a reader to sit with me any longer? Either way, there are going to be some feelings about that. We’ll discuss those later.

First, I will tell you that if I had to take bets, I would predict that you will be an archaeologist or jeweler. Or a curator: you are fascinated with rocks, have turned your bedroom into a display case for the various fossils and specimens that you collect on your own and with your still-beloved former babysitter, Clair. You're convinced that they’re worth millions, which would be a good thing because of your above-mentioned mansion fantasies. We're having lots of talks about money these days, but I fear it your context for the numbers is still underdeveloped. Which is fine, given that I can barely wrap my head around the fact that you are eight. And nine and ten can't be far behind, can they?

So much for distractions.

Isaac, you are a goofball, a dancer, a ninja. You love Minecraft and your best friend. Your best meal is still breakfast, preferably copious quantities of French toast or oatmeal, covered with copious quantities of maple syrup. Many things in your life are copious — the more the better. You are equal parts sweet but wildly unsentimental; you don’t cry at goodbyes and would prefer not to say them at all; it's hard not to want to hug you anyway but I'm learning to give you your space. Which makes the morning cuddles, the bedtime reading, extra sweet. (It would be disingenuous not to note that now you are here for only half your bedtimes. I want you to know that I notice your absences, miss you when you are not here — even as I welcome sleeping in past seven, even when I can wake up and journal and drink a cup of tea uninterrupted. I want you to know that know that you're okay exactly where you are.)

You are eight, and I will watch you celebrate that eight-ness with a bunch of boys running wildly through the neighbourhood, and I will marvel. I will watch you catch hold of this new age, on the cusp of this new time, and run with it. And I will revel in those moments when you stop, even for a moment, and fall into my lap.

I love you,


PS: Seven-year-old

PPS: Six-year-old

PPPS: Five-year-old