My son is at an age where he couldn’t care less about personal grooming, his un-selfconsciousness both admirable and aggravating to me. “Let’s clip your fingernails,” I say. No. “Clean your ears.” No. “Cut your hair.” No, Mom, come on, I like it long. But a month or so before his birthday, if he was going to remain a boy and not a lion, he needed a haircut. So, we made some kind of deal, probably a bribe, and finally. Fine. “It’ll be long again before you know it,” I told him, as we walked together into the salon, “you know how fast it grows.”
This cycle has circled before, so I should have seen it coming. But maybe haircut places should post warning signs for mothers, alerting them in advance to how much more a cut will reveal a teen than a boy. Because the lady spun him around in the chair, and I caught an actual gasp in my throat. No! His leaner temples, his sharper jaw, that lengthened lion neck.
Boy who I knew and grew, who are you? With this long body, this voracious appetite, these complicated questions, this secret school-day daydream life? There keep being reasons for him to stay out later and later in the evenings, and I have to talk myself back from all the impulses inside me that contract, say no, say not yet, say you’re not ready.
Because the truth is, he has already taken off: reading more books than I can keep track of, writing his name in cursive, playing video games I don’t understand, memorizing states and capitals with a laugh, talking about visiting everywhere. Every scrap of paper he uses for doodles. Every song he finds he wants to share. He runs so fast. He is a bolt of light. From where I sit on the sideline, I watch him fly past and feel I might burst—from pride, from recognition, from fear, from amazement, from instinct. I will stare into the blaze he makes even if the sparks burn. What a thing to say! But it’s true.
We are made of the same spirit, he and I. We will have fairness. We will fight for truth. Sometimes, our emotions—whatever they are—are the truest truth, regardless of any inconvenient fact. I have visions of us a few years into the future, so certain about opposite things, and I know there will be times he will drive me so crazy in his (our) stubbornness that I will have to tap in his father and go for a walk.
But what I want to remember now, in these last days before he turns 10, is what happens at the end of the day when I come to his bed. “Time for sleep, love.” To which he sleepily argues for more pages. “Last page, love.” To which his eyes get so big as he begs, no!
But after one final flip, I grab his book, practically wrestling it out of his hands while he laughs, his eyes crinkling up in a way that reminds me of when he was so so small. I tuck the blankets around him. Turn out the light. We say all the sweet things. And how can I explain the gift it is? The smile on his face as he falls asleep—that assurance.
Over these next 10 years, I will ask him to clean up after himself, and he won’t. I’ll request that he texts me when he gets somewhere, and he’ll forget. The nights will get later and later. Who knows how I’ll sleep? I won’t. Not yet. But tonight, he grabs my hand and says, “Stay, rub my back?” So, okay. Okay, boy—my lion heart. In the dark, I feel the rise and fall of his breathing. Brush his hair away from his forehead. Remember how I used to caress his cheek, how I’d stare at him, astonished at his life.