Volume 16 • Issue 30 | December 23 - 29, 2003


Holding on to the little boy in my son

By Jane Flanagan

I read a short story in the New Yorker recently about a woman who becomes deranged when her son becomes a teenager. Not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the kid. It was her. She couldn’t accept that he wasn’t her little boy anymore.

I almost understand this. I think I’m becoming unhinged myself. My son, Rusty, is 5 and the idea of him getting older makes me nuts. I want him to be 5 forever.

This age has so many things going for it. For one thing, it is the age of reason. All of a sudden my former toddler, who only wanted to bang trucks, has become a thinking man. A logical one, no less. One day at school, his teachers were trying to figure out why one of their pet tadpoles was so much bigger than another. Stumped, they queried Rusty.

“Maybe one was born before the other,” he said.

He’s also a man who knows what he likes.

We went to buy a Christmas tree. Rusty looked at a few and then spotted his favorite. I agreed it was nice, but suggested we look at everything before choosing.

“That’s okay. You look. I’ll wait,” he said, planting himself next to his tree. He remained there watching me walk up and down the lot. His humoring paid off. We went with his tree.

And then there is the sheer exuberance of 5.

I was making chicken cutlets for dinner. Eying the scrambled eggs, flour and bread crumbs laid out for dipping, Rusty was enthralled. He asked to help by way of another fivism: adorable language.

“Mom, I want to dunkee,” said Rusty, who has been adding “ees” to everything.

But his all-time cuteness is his rendition of an infant.

He likes to pretend he’s a baby learning to walk, talk, eat, etc. My job is to pretend I don’t know he can do these things, and marvel over his accomplishments. I love it, too, because I get to pretend he’s a baby, and there are no diapers.

At 5 he is also noticing me.

We were in a grocery store the other day and as I walked the isles juggling several items, he commented.

“You can do that because you were a waitress,” he said admiringly.

He also thinks I’m a talented genius because I make him hot chocolate.

“It’s better than Starbucks,” he said.

Well okay, it isn’t all cuteness and light. We do have rough times. The worst is at bedtime. He really hates going to bed alone at night and comes up with endless delaying tactics and reasons to get me into his room. One night I’d made ten trips in there and still he didn’t go to sleep. By 11 p.m., I was frustrated and exhausted. In desperation, I told him he could lie on the couch in the living room while I read a magazine.

“But don’t talk to me,” I said angrily. “This is my time.”

Flopping into a chair I started to fantasize about him being older and able to put himself to sleep.

That’s when I picked up the New Yorker article. The woman in the short story was out to dinner when the tears started to fall. She explained to her date that she was missing her son. Confused, he pointed out that her teenage son was at home sprawled in front of her TV. “No, I mean I miss him being small. I want him to be a little boy again,” she said sobbing.

I dropped the magazine and got up to give Rusty a hug.

“It’s okay sweetie. Would you like a book?” I said.



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