Baby Caleb is six today. He still sleeps with four small bears and a tattered blankie, but his body is long and lean, the shape of the young man he will become. He is a pirate and a spy; collector of important rocks and sticks; he walks like an Egyptian when we’re out doing errands and then worries that people might be looking at him.
He dog-paddles with great confidence, and blows the occasional bubble, but actually swim? Not so much.
Fearless: he never really crawled but learned to walk at 9 months, which is a really bad idea: his brain was still the size of a walnut. I suspect, however, that even in that walnut-sized brain, he was trying to keep up with his older brother. His brother is about 3 1/2 years ahead, but Caleb works hard to hold his own: he will probably be an excellent soccer goalie, for instance, because of all the “practice” shots that Liam has taken at his round little head: it’s basically block or die.
Keeping up with Big Brother may have created a fearless six year old, but also one who is too quick to say “I can’t do it,” probably because he has Napoleon as an older brother. Unlike Napoleon, however, Caleb makes friends really easily, and has even caused a stir in the female population of his kindergarten: one little girl told her dad, while they were watching “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang,” that if she were Truly Scrumptious, she wouldn’t want to marry Mr. Potts–she would want to marry Caleb.
It seems to me that being the second child means always existing in relation: there was never a time where there wasn’t someone else there. That means when Caleb is in the apartment without Liam around, he revels in having the space all to himself: he spreads out his “guys” (his Lego mini-figures, of which he has about a gajillion) and tells infinitely complicated, infinitely explosive stories, complete with remarkable sound effects, happily parading his subconscious for all to hear: “You are not the boss! Come on King Guy you can do it! Here come the bad guys and phfew smash clang now you’re doing it you can make it, get those minions to attack the demon leader guy charge the castle!” He plays out these stories right here, behind my desk chair, and then when the battles have been resolved, he climbs up into my lap to regale me with the color commentary, detailing all that happened.
I worry about him, this six-year-old boy of mine.I worry that he’s overshadowed by his brother, that his parents are distracted and too busy, that in his rush to Keep Up he is perpetually exhausted. Embedded in those worries, of course, is simultaneous nostalgia for vanished babyhood and the stunned realization that ohmigod these babies are growing into…boys.
Boys. I’m raising boys, who as they get older become more and more emphatically not me. It’s as if my tomato plants suddenly sprouted beans, or strawberries. My round little Caleb now leaps around making gun finger, or karate chops trees, or quite literally bounces off the walls of the elevator in his effort to be SpiderMan. How did that happen? People tell me that “boys are easier” and that “boys are nice to their mothers,” which may all well be true. Maybe I won’t end up alone in a studio apartment eating cat food when I’m 87 while both boys assuage one another with the thought that they called me, you know, just last month and I seemed to be doing fine… Still, though, it’s strange to think of these babies of mine moving irrevocably towards a place I’ve never been: manhood.
What’s that sound, you say? Oh, that’s just Husband, snickering at my melodramatic spin on things: he points out that Caleb is turning SIX, for god’s sake, not SEVENTEEN.
Okay. True. I’ll save the melodramatic musings for a decade up the road and take comfort in the fact that my fearless six-year-old still reaches for my hand when we walk down the street, still climbs into bed for a morning snuggle, still insists on his bears and his blankie. I know he’s growing up…but just like all the books say, I didn’t know it would happen this fast.
Funny to look back at this post and remember that I thought six was all grown up. Now that little boy is about to be… NINE. My last year of a child in single digits. Seems impossible, given that I myself only
in the last century recently turned twenty-one.