my boy.

we spent your last day of four home sick together yesterday. this morning you are five and the cupcakes for the preschool party are iced in blue chocolate-milk icing, a jujube dinosaur parked garishly in each.

you have a cough that will not quit, but we will go to preschool with the cupcakes no matter what. what are germs amongst cupcake kindred?

all is ready.

five, Oscar. by your next birthday, you’ll probably be reading.

you can sound out words, already, and when you print your name your “s” is more and more frequently right-side-up. you love to make things, grow things, imagine things. you hoard my empty tin cans for building robots and dinosaur pod-cars and pirate ships. you lust after Bakugan, but i am not sure you know why, not yet.

in the last few weeks all the people you draw have eyes of a matched size, two perfect circles in their face. it disconcerts me in its suddenness, that fearful symmetry. but there it is: it seems to have come to stay. your cock-eyed days are behind you, my son. welcome to the tyranny of aesthetics. don’t ever let it win, entirely.

i still don’t quite know if you are right- or left-handed, at five. your teacher is baffled. i am amused. i tell her maybe you are neither. or both, like your uncle Stephen before you.

five. the year most kids start reliably remembering things.

SCREECH. dammit. i think i missed my window.
***

there i am, meandering my way through a mother’s love letter when my legs begin to spin in thin air like Wile E. Coyote in that split second before gravity triumphs and the freefall begins.

before my fingers can even telegraph it all to the keyboard i clamp down. i am aghast.

it’s not that he will not remember, these castles and kingdoms and Jurassic days and too-early mornings. i know it and i knew it every day of these past five years even if i waited until today to acknowledge it to myself, aloud.

it’s that i waited anyway. suddenly i realize that the time is not coming back: that he will remember. that his own narratives will take over, soon…that they already are. that he will read soon. that all those last gasps of truth and nuttiness i always wanted to somehow convey to my children when they were small and helpless and believed everything i said?

i waited too long.

one day he wakes up and the dinosaurs start shooting at each other and i say, “dude, that’s violent. that’s not okay in our house.” and he says “Mom. you’re dead. bang.” and just like that, the window closes.
***

Oscar, my heart.

when you are reading, i suppose i’ll need to make some adjustments to the wishes i write down for you.

(not that someday these words won’t be all yours – yours and your sister’s. but what is here is for the someday you. not the five-year-old who makes dinosaurs into wild and ravaging pirates on a paper boat.)

this morning i told you five was magic, because five-year-olds can listen extra good. and it worked and you zipped up your coat when asked just like a little Prussian and i was shocked and grateful and terribly impressed with my own genius but here’s the secret.

i want you to be a little Prussian and i don’t want you to be a little Prussian. for the moment, in the right now, i fuss with all these manners, this making your bed, this silliness. it is my job.

but it is my job, too, to teach you that the world is heartache and beauty and worth living in. what life does, little one, is rips by you until last week and twenty years ago seem equidistant and you do. not. believe it but there it is. a fact. you won’t believe me, now. you can’t, i know.

but take pictures, Oscar, so you remember.

and here’s my advice, on life. for five-year-old pirates and fifty-year-old pirates, because i secretly hope you’ll keep a little of your swashbuckle.

the world requires more than politeness and tidy beds to be a decent place.

(ssshhh. don’t tell.)

sure, be on time. and look people in the eye, always. and say thankyou and i’m sorry. especially i’m sorry.

but don’t stop being fierce. don’t stop throwing yourself into the arms of those who love you. don’t stop being able to say, i’m scared. keep working on doing stuff even when you are scared. keep making up naughty rhymes to songs. try not to sing them in front of your Nannie.

you told me yesterday you weren’t really turning five; that you were already eighteen. and i looked at you and realized i will blink and it will be true.

but you will shine, then, like now. i know it. just don’t let them steal your shine, kid; the real pirates, the ones who try to make us all conform.

because you are amazing the way you are, and you have been from the moment five years ago when they first laid you in my arms.

i write this for the someday you, so you will know what it was i meant to tell you, all these busy, distracted, beautiful days. soon the window will close, and you will not hear me much, for years. but if you ever wonder about the sounds my mouth is making? it’s just this stuff.

it says i love you. happy birthday, Oscar boy.

love Mama