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Bump to Boy

Dear Boy:

You’re four this month. We call you “Boy” or “The Boy”, which happened sometime this year. Before that you were “Bump”, which was a silly name with a long boring story behind it. But you’re not a little Bump anymore.

“I’m a big boy, Mama,” you tell me, and I can’t argue with that. You’re still fond of cuddling and “squishing” (which is what we call hugs), ecstatic about it in fact, especially at bedtime. You haven’t gotten that stiff-arm resistance kids get when they get older and start to feel smothered by all the hugs and love. I’m waiting for it to show up, but grateful it’s taking so long. Because I want to kiss your head and squish you tight for as long as I can.

You conquered the potty this year, which surprised us but shouldn’t have. Every challenge that we were sure you’d never get to, crawling and walking and talking, you got to, when you were ready. We keep telling each other, let’s try to learn to trust him, but it keeps being hard. Because trusting you still means teaching you, helping you, encouraging you. While not yelling at you. While not losing our tempers.

And that’s a hard thing, a challenge for us in the way potty training was a challenge for you. Being a parent of a four-year-old requires as much of us as being four requires of you.

You can ride your bike with training wheels, when this time last year you couldn’t move the pedals on your little tricycle. You can get your clothes off and on, you can open doors and build Lego contraptions, you can do so much, and every time I feel as proud as if you’d cured cancer. I assume this is a parenting hazard, finding the mundane things your kid does so amazing. I try not to bore other people talking about it, because they can’t understand. Because they don’t remember the squinty little baby we brought home who couldn’t even smile, or hold up his head, whose expression looked like nothing so much as deep suspicion of all this life business.

I mean, how do you get from there to here?

It still boggles me. Every bit of it. Like a magic trick.

This year was a strange one for us, so much good and so much bad all mixed together. Your mom and dad had a rough time, and narrowly avoided walking away from each other. I’ll tell you about that some day, when you’re grown and it won’t freak you out too much. We’re good now, though.

Your Mamaw died, my mom, and I miss her and miss having her in your life. It wasn’t a great way to go and it was too soon. I will try to be sure you know who she was even if you won’t remember her, just like I’ll tell you stories about your Papaw who died before you were born. They were something special.

The world is a turbulent and uncertain place. As I write, there’s a swine flu epidemic and an economic crash that may just be healing by the time you’re in jr. high, if we’re lucky. There’s a lot of fear, and a lot of anger, and no one knows what’s going to happen. But we hope. You help us hope, because you are fearless and full of sly jokes and sideways smiles, loving and sensitive and sweet and full of stormy anger too, when you’re crossed. Harder and harder to fool, quicker and quicker to figure things out on your own. Determined to do things your way.

Your dad started doing his music full-time this year, that was one of the good things, and well, I really and truly hope that by the time you read this, he’ll have been doing it ever since. I hope he’s done with dayjobs forever.

I’m working on a project of my own that I don’t want to talk about yet, but that means a great deal to me. That gives me hope, too.

Your birth is still a hard thing for me to think about; like this year, so much good and so much bad happening at once. You of course, are the good, and only more so the longer you are with us.

I can’t imagine that in 12 months you’ll be five, an impossible milestone, hardly any more likely than the idea that you’ll be in junior high, driving, moving away some day. Impossible but out there all the same. I’d say I can hardly wait, but that’s not how it works; I love the idea of your future, but hate the idea of giving up any of this time here, right now. Thankfully, none of that’s up to me.

Can’t wait to see what you surprise me with next.

Love, Mama.



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On Twitter, where all my random thoughts are magically collected these days, I remarked that I really don’t own any new furniture, bought by me, to speak of. And what I do have is IKEA or some other discounter of plywood-based durables; two beds, some bookshelves, an office chair.

And that’s unusual in my age set; my inability to settle in a profitable career path has meant not having the luxury, as so many of my coworkers do, of buying houses, having more than one car, investing in new furniture, or the like. I am not much richer in material things than I was as an entry-level stiff five years after graduation.

It would be tempting, or unsurprising, if this made me feel bad about myself. Now and then it does; I have to conceal my relative poverty in some ways, not because I care that much but because it makes others uncomfortable. They don’t laugh and commiserate; they get quiet or look awkward. I’m not ashamed, but maybe they think I am or might be? A gulf is revealed between us.  Women my age aren’t supposed to still be scrimping; we’re supposed to be planning our next house makeover. Or something like that.

I do see what they would see if they came to my house, sometimes; an aging rent house with hideous 70s entryway tile, carpet the landlord really should have replaced already, furniture that kind of matches but was not super expensive to begin with and has some wear and tear.

But I kind of love my secondhand stuff, the things I had to scavenge and repair and rescue from garages, thrift stores, and landfills. Even more poignant, so many things were gifts from my mom, a woman who did decorate with a vengeance and liked nice new things most of the time. I am glad to still have so many things that she gave me, even if they’re not things that are super-beautiful or expensive. Not antiques, just hand-me-downs that will give out, eventually, one day.

I like the odd little pieces of framed needlepoint that I’ve collected from Goodwill, that cover the battered walls, too. Somebody cared enough to sew them and frame them, and then what? Died? Got tired of them? Gave them to someone who hated them? Who knows.  At least a few of them have a new home, now.  I love the English Pastoral oil painting from the 1930s done by an amateur artist and given to my grandmother as payment for some favor in lieu of the money no one had. It is smoke-stained and undoubtedly has no value, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

I like the faded blue bedspread on Nathan’s bed, that will keep him warm and yet not be anything I cry about when he has accidents, as children do. I like the artwork on his walls, also Goodwilled when some child got too old, plus some maps and cool pictures I got from a teacher supply store. I like his little thriftstore lamp shaped like crayons, and the raggedy secondhand loveseat where we read bedtime stories.

I guess what I like about all this really breaks down into two things; the satisfaction of salvaging and recycling things other people discard, and the happiness at not feeling too tied to my possessions.  I enjoy them and like them, but none of them sent me into hock, or were something I had to agonize about buying. Most of them could be replaced if I had to.

When we were going through my mom’s stuff after she died, it kept hitting home to me how little of anyone else’s life can really be passed down. Every person acquires a satellite ring of stuff that they need or can’t bear to throw out, but only a small percentage of that can absorbed into the lives of their survivors. That’s how stuff gets to Goodwill, after all; no one needs that ugly side table Mom’s been keeping since 1982 in the garage. Or the collection of potholders she made as a little girl at summer camp. You don’t want to throw out any part of the life of the person who’s gone, but you can’t keep it either. Without them around to give it meaning, it’s just stuff, lifeless collections of papers and debris.

Maybe some of it ends up being valuable, later on; a silver punch ladle, a memento that some collectors seek. But when you’re the survivor, it’s funny how little you care about that, initially. Who cares if her china doll collection has value, when she’s not here to enjoy it?



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