Andrew’s nap stretches into the afternoon because his room is darkened—it’s the coolest, most insulated room in the apartment. He lies there in his crib surrounded by decals of stars and planets, pictures of Chewbacca, and Sandra Boynton books; his thumb falls out of his mouth as he slips into deep midday sleep.
Andrew’s nap is nonexistent because all he wants to do is talk, and when I put him in his crib he talks to himself. Sometimes he cries half heartedly, sometimes he just bangs his gigantic foot against the wall. The little-kid voice contrasts weirdly with the loud THUD of his already-bulky ankles, feet and heels.
He’s obsessed with Star Wars, with everything to do with that universe of lightsabers and robots that talk, of heroes and “bad guys”, of dramatic entrance music and flights through asteroid fields at light speed. Everything he picks up is “my lightsaber”, and gets brandished and banged against surfaces. In the mornings he watches the opening sequence from A New Hope with his uncle, and he grins at the yellow scrolling letters and breathlessly anticipates “Vader”. In the evenings, he and his daddy spread old LEGO Star Wars toys out on the “big bed” and take them apart, then put them back together, all while talking in that quiet language of boys intent on tasks, barely looking up at each other, speaking in code.
He’s spending a lot of time coloring. He watches Bob Ross, and as the gentle man with the perm paints “happy little skies”, Andrew experiments with different angles on his Magnadoodle, repeating things like “absolutely no pressure” and identifying orange crayons as “yellow ochre”.
Sometimes he lies there on the carpet and says “kiss?” I lean over and he presses his lips against my cheek, then stops to point out various parts of my face: “Chin? Cheeks? Nose? Eyes?” Today he put his hand on the crown of my head and said something I didn’t understand. “You mean ‘hair’?” I corrected him. He patted my head for a minute with a sweet little grin, those big front teeth exposed.
Sometimes he pulls my hair. Sometimes he swats at me to get my attention, or to prove who the boss is. Sometimes he raises his hand to hit me, and I say “Think about it.” He always stops, and you can see the wheels turning as he ‘thinks about it’—but it’s his choice either way. Sometimes the resulting time-out is worth it to him. Sometimes he pulls his hand away and arrests the anger in mid-slap. I always say, “What do we do when we’re mad?” He doesn’t always play along, but he always knows the answer.
Some days he fusses from dawn to dusk—nothing is good enough. Lunch doesn’t include cookies, his hair has to be washed and that’s unacceptable, as is the outfit he’s forced into.
Some days he’s nothing but sweet, and on those days the apartment is full of his laugh—all his different laughs in all those cadences, from the giggles that come from being tickled to the deep belly laugh that rings down the hall when he runs so he can be chased.
At night he lies down after prayers and a book, after sipping his glass of water and brushing his teeth with the dinosaur brush that he mostly just chomps on like the T-Rex depicted on the handle.
At night he cries and screams because he doesn’t want to be done playing, and the water gets thrown across the room and the toothbrush is wrenched out of Daddy’s hand, and the only thing that stops the tantrum is the moment he lies down in his crib and sticks the thumb in his mouth.
When I was young I thought I’d never have children—I wasn’t responsible enough and I had too many time-consuming things I wanted to do.
When I was young I longed for children, and promised God I’d be a good, organized, playful mother who patiently imparted nothing but wisdom.
When I had Andrew I was so excited to spend my days with him.
When I had Andrew I was terrified to spend my days with him.
These are the longest days of the year. They start with sunshine pouring through the blinds like gold, and they end with the blinds closed against the summer sun that’s turned the place into a stifling closet. They all run together after a while until it’s just one hot, sunshine-filled morning in the stuffy apartment, one long playtime, one messy lunch, one reluctant but much-needed nap, one hug, one snack, one call to the grandmother or the aunt or uncle, one sticky dinner and one twilight bedtime. Weeks are broken up by “outings” to my school or trips to the zoo to spy on the giraffes. Every now and then, the odd day of rain and coolness and puddle-jumping. And in between is Andrew’s childhood, the little minutes and seconds of his training for life outside. He’s a person with his own views and his own emotions, his own unanswered questions and limitations. He has his own goofy jokes and catchphrases, his own favorite and least-favorite movies, his own particular expressions.
Already I’ve forgotten so much of each of his 3 summers on this planet. The first blends into one dark night of feeding and rocking, then one long stretch of sleep on the couch with a baby on my chest, then bottle after bottle and song after song and diaper after diaper, praying all the while that tonight he’d sleep through the night. The second is watching him toddle all day, crawling and falling and scooting and babbling and laughing. And the third happens now, every day since school ended and my son got me all to himself again.
Many, many moms do this all year long. I’m not one of them. For 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months out of the year, Andrew spends his days at “school” while Mommy is at “Mommy’s school”. I’ll just say this—one of the reasons I became a teacher was so I could spend these summer days just being a mom and nothing else. So I could snuggle and kiss with Andrew in the mornings and fuss and scold in the afternoons and cook him dinner at night. And when I go back to work in the fall, to classrooms full of Andrews, I remember why I do what I do and why it’s so important to do it really well.