No matter where I go, I always receive the same advice from total strangers:
“Squeeze those boys tight!” says the cashier at the grocery store.
“They’ll be grown before you know it,” says the lady down the street.
“I remember when my kids were that small,” says the grey-haired man in line behind us.
Their eyes glistening, I immediately know one of two things. Either a.) their own children are grown and have moved away or b.) their own children are teenagers, have not moved away and are driving them completely bananas. Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about how I would capture my five year old and two year old in words right now. Here are some memories that I’d like to bottle up and save for later, if I could.
Noah is starting kindergarten in just a few days. Even though I’m secretly freaking out, he seems to be taking it all in stride. He’s eager to meet new friends, take the bus, and learn French at his new immersion school. He tries so hard to be a good son and big brother, wanting to please his parents and do the “right thing.” But I know it’s sometimes a struggle for him to be a big, brave boy. At times, he longs to be the baby.
He has two loose teeth and nothing could be more thrilling or terrifying for him. He wonders, when will they fall out? What will the Tooth Fairy do with them? And what would happen if he keeps them instead of handing them over? Perched on the footstool and stretching his neck just so, he can finally see his face in the bathroom mirror as he wiggles those teeth.
He gets frustrated trying to tie his own shoes, unable to solve the riddle of twisting “bunny ears” into knots. Yet, he’s a whiz at legos — concentrating for hours while building a new plane, car or robot. He loves cooking and has a surprising passion for the Food Network series, “Chopped.” When he talks about growing up, he imagines multiple simultaneous career paths. He’ll be a race car driver, a lego engineer, a chef in his own restaurant and a soccer player for the U.S. national team.
Most nights, he carefully pastes stickers into his World Cup Panini soccer book alongside his dad and little brother, even though the matches are long over now. He can identify every player’s country of origin, with a simple glance at the flag that decorates each Panini card. Beyond soccer, his world is all about superheros, water balloons and icees. At night, he dozes off while listening to the “Curious George, the movie” soundtrack. He has a blessed obliviousness to the greater problems of the world which I hope will last for some time still.
His little brother has just turned two. What a beautiful age. It’s all about unbridled enthusiasm for EVERYTHING. It’s pizza night and Mateo run-skips through the house shouting “PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! YAAAY!” He bobbles, not quite able to balance his oversized head on his pint-sized body. He surprises us all the time with new words and phrases.
He’s a little ray of sunshine who thinks his big brother is THE greatest person in the entire world. He wants to be just like him and imitates almost everything he sees him do. (As if to punctuate this thought, he starts singing “Let it go!” at full voice, for no other reason than he’s heard his brother do it too.) Eager to nap on most days, he waves and says “night night” to anyone nearby. Like his older brother, Mateo’s a polite little guy — often uttering a “please” or “thank you, Mama” without any prodding.
He’s picked up the delicious habit of sprinkling French words in his spirited chatter: “non, merci;” “Time for dodo;” “Bisous, Mama!” He thinks the best joke in the world is adding the word “heiny” after any name. It’s sure to be a hit with his new preschool friends, whom he’s just days away from meeting.
At night, he sucks his thumb and cries for a “tag.” Unlike other kids who nestle with a stuffed animal or blanket, he has a mania for the labels on t-shirts and other articles of clothing. Snug in his PJs, he loves starting books together and then declaring we’re “all done” a few pages in. He grabs another book and insists “not yet!” when we tell him it’s time for bed. He finally lies down, thumb in mouth, rubbing the tag between his fingers, when I sing a lullaby.
Most of all, both boys crave attention, recognition, stability and warm hugs. “Mama, Look!” they shout, as they do their own version of breakdancing in the living room or in the cereal aisle. Life is still simple and I cherish it. They are happy, healthy and we don’t embarass them… yet.
* Less than 24 hours after writing this, Noah lost his first tooth. Seems I just can’t seal that bottle tight enough, no matter how I try.