I watch him from the far end of the couch. It's his birthday today and he's home sick. I picked him up from school early yesterday and when I went to sign him out, I looked past him at first. He's so tall all of a sudden. Tall like my dad and my brother. Tall like I was when I was little. Tall and lanky with delicate arms. He looked sad and when I asked him how he was feeling it had nothing to do with his fever and everything to do with his heart.
He had a bad dream the night before and came into bed with me. In his dreams, I keep dying. In his dreams I'm dying and I have to tell him, "Archer, I'm here! I'm here. I'm alive and I'm here." But I understand what's happening, I know where this comes from, my empathetic son with eyes that tell a thousand stories. It's been a rough few weeks for the kind of boy who takes his time deciphering his own puzzles, who doesn't want to talk about it, until one day he does. And then out it comes. In dreams and every conversation.
"But I don't want you to die," he says.
"But I don't want you to die," he says.
In the doctor's office, we are waiting. We take turns reading Hugo to each other and when the nurse calls his name we file inside. I realize, while we're there that it's the exact time he was born. And he's being weighed much like he was seven years ago except he's forty five pounds heavier now. And he has hair and all of these words and thoughts and faces. And I'm watching him step off the scale, slowly making his way to the little room where we sit and stare at the wall together.
And it feels so poetic, this. I don't remember the last time we were alone, just the two of us. I don't remember the last time he held my hand in an elevator, put his head on my shoulder closed his eyes and just sat.
And yet. Sometimes he wants to be my baby. Sometimes he becomes the only child he was those first three years, the boy who climbs into laps and asks for stories, lets me rock him, even with legs that hang over my arms, kicking the chair.
Sometimes he's still kind of my baby.
Even though he's big.
Even though he's humongous.
Last night before bed I lay down next to him, asked if he wanted to hear a story. He nodded, yes, so I told him the story of his birth. How Hal and I paced the house all day knowing that I was going to be induced that night. How we stopped for coffee at the Coffee Bean on Beverly and Robertson and I didn't drink anything and then we arrived and I had to take a wheelchair to the top floor... Where they hooked me up to a machine and we waited and eventually...
"Wait. Is this a true story?"
"I thought you were going to tell me a real story. A real fictional story."
Besides the Robertson/Beverly intersection part, he couldn't have cared less.
"I wanted to tell you a real TRUE story instead because tomorrow's your birthday and every birthday-eve I think about this stuff and I wanted to share it with you."
He closed his eyes.
Then opened them.
"Okay," he said. "You can share."
And then he hugged me.
I didn't want him to see that I was crying. I've been crying a lot lately. Alone. In the shower. The car... writing these posts in the dark of my office with the door closed. But last night he saw me, pulled my hand from his back, turned to face me.
"Mom?" he said pulling away. "Do you want me to scratch your back or your arm?"
I always hated that I love you Forever book. HATED. What manipulative drivel, I thought. (I still think.) Because CALM DOWN, Robert Munsch. Calm the fuck down!
Except, I kind of (a tiny little bit) get it now. I got it last night.
Only because there are moments as a parent when you stand back and realize that your child is as much your caregiver and you are his. And last night I was supposed to be icing his back, scratching his arm, telling him stories. I was supposed to make him feel better.
But in that moment, and for a while after, I was that little old lady with the top bun in her son's arms.
I don't often go back in the archives of this blog but I did tonight. I went back and read the six other posts about his six other birthdays. Here is what they said:
ONE: ...I spoke to you and wrote letters, not yet knowing your name. Secrets and stories and the way I felt carrying you around with me, everywhere I went. A road trip to San Francisco with you inside me, just the two of us.. We had just found out about you then so I quit smoking and chewed toothpicks with my hair out the window and the music up loud enough for you to dance. If I have not thanked you a trillion times, THANK YOU, once more. Thank you for sneaking in through my window and saying Boo! Here I am! Thank you for stirring and purring and screaming and crying and laughing and talking and standing and jumping. You are my exclamation point in a world of dot-dot-dots.
TWO: You still refuse to speak, but you have mastered the art of your own communication. Your little voice echoing through every room in the house, following the dogs, holding their tails in your dirty hands. And sometimes when you don't feel like singing you brush my hair, with a hairbrush or your hands or the TV remote... I wonder if this time next year I will have forgotten all this, you with your red blankie in your arms falling asleep on my chest in the swing, feeding me crackers and then laughing when I make the "yum!" face...You are my favorite thing (or in a language you might be more familiar with) Gooyolackalackaheehee maliolalafoolapooha laheehee. Happy Birthday, Archer Sagebrush; Pirate of the Snails.
THREE: ...And then you appear with scrapes on your knees and a half-eaten sandwich in your lunchbox and a Ziploc bag of homemade Play-Doh and yes, there you are. I remember now. You are growing up so fast I can't stand it. Needing haircuts often and demanding bandaids and kisses and growing more and more aware of your world. Like when you point to my belly and say, "Hi, baby" before turning away scowling, changing your mind: "No baby! I am baby?" "Yes. You are baby always." Because you always will be. Even when you grow so tall I have to stand on my toes to kiss your face
FOUR: According to Wikipedia, the term "fore" when called out during a game of golf means to "look ahead" but I don't know how to do that. I never have. Instead I look at you. I look at your sister, your father, our family and when I'm not doing that I look back upon milestones and moments and memories like one might a collection of porcelain figurines. I turn them all over in my hands, blow the dust off their tails, press my face against the windows of retrospection and exhale. Hard enough so I can trace along the lines of your face in an evaporating cloud of moisture.That is how this blog started. And when you walk away and into your own story, that is how this blog will someday end.
FIVE: A few months back Archer said to me, "everyone's going in a different direction but know what? Everyone's trying to get to the same place." He was referring to the cars at the four-way stop sign. But he was right. So completely and totally right and now? Whenever I find myself frustrated or angry at people, friends, strangers, even family - I remind myself that we're all going in different directions, trying to get to the same place. And then I feel better. Am able to empathize with people I used to misunderstand. Archer does that. He empathizes and understands and guides and says crazy perceptive things that change the way I see myself and the world.
SIX: We're having a party for him next weekend but he didn't want to invite anyone from school, not even his best friends. He wanted a bouncie in the backyard with a slide and family only, no friends allowed... I love him so much for that. For being himself, little man stuck in the body of a boy who doesn't want to grow up, yet in so many ways already has. The other day he called himself my sun, told me his three sisters were like moons, that without him, there would be only moonlight, which is so totally true. Without him, there would be no us. No Fable. No family. No house. No nothing.
Happy seventh birthday to the the child who made me a mother, the boy who made us a family, the one and only pirate of the snails. We love you with everything.