|Nearly nine and fully dressed for karate. |
Photo: Tess Gillis
As I write, it is Labor Day and we are at the pool. It is your birthday week: you turned nine last Saturday and your Big Party at Pump It Up is next Saturday. I am sitting in our blue and green striped beach chair on the concrete pool deck, mesmerized, watching you and Connor play in the water. Your six-year-old brother climbs up your back like a monkey. His legs wrap around your waist and his arms lock around your neck. You stand in the deep end, water up to your chin, with your blue-edged clear scuba mask over your eyes and nose. Your faces tilt up toward the electric-blue sky. You are both laughing as, suddenly, you duck both of your heads under and then shoot back up, both slippery-shiny in the late afternoon summer sun. Everything reflects light: your slick hair, the mask lens, Connor's latte-colored skin, the waves peaking all around you in the crowded pool, your smiles.
When I climbed out of the pool to visit the restroom not five minutes ago, you clung to me with all the strength of your sixty-three point five pounds. "Don't go!" you whined, almost desperately. "I want you to stay!" I staggered in the deep water against your strength just to keep my balance.
"But, Cole, I have to go pee pee," I explained urgently, frustrated that this most basic urge continues to require negotiation even after nine years of motherhood.
"Alright, but just go pee pee and then come right back." I think you knew, in that moment, that this day marked the end of something important: you are no longer a small child. Outside the deep end of the pool, you are too heavy for me to carry for very long.
When you didn't want me to leave, squeezing me to the point of a restraining hold, I was, for a split second, whisked back into your first preschool classroom. You were two and you didn't want me to leave you then, either. It felt cruel to extricate myself from your iron grip seven years ago, to leave you so that I could work. It felt cruel again, today, to leave you so that I could simply urinate.
The pool is crowded today: it's hot, it's a holiday, and it's the last open-pool day of the season. It is rare that a clear space appears in the water big enough for even a child to jump into. I would swear under oath that every family that belongs to this pool is here today--and that all of their children are in the water, screaming "Marco!" "Polo!" and splashing with abandon.
You and Connor don't notice yet that I'm back. I know that I should come back into the water with you. I want to, and I plan to. But first, I want to just watch the two of you. Cole, you are growing up so smart, compassionate, and funny. You are laughing with and protecting your little brother. Everything I hope to teach you--well, you're already all of it. Everything I love about you is apparent in this one scene. I am as proud of you in this moment as I have ever been. I wish I had a camera to capture the brief tableau of gorgeous sibling love, but the shot would be gloriously overexposed by your light. The sun's got nothing on my sons.
Happy Birthday, Cole, I love you. I'll always come right back.