I saw him today for the first time in six years. His grey beard is longer, his stomach much, much smaller. The grey sweatpants gave way to red shorts, but the mittens are still there. I didn’t have a chance to see if they were the same blue-grey mittens he used to have – but if I were to guess, I’d say they were. Some things, even when they’ve changed, have to stay the same.
Ten years ago, I spent my sophomore summer of college living in my Aunt’s house just across from a small park. It’s a beautiful grassy space and quite popular in the neighborhood. I don’t recall the first time I saw him, but my Aunt offhandedly pointed him out and said “Oh, he’s been shuffling around the park for the past year. He’s gotten a little faster!”
Back then his pace was a snail shuffle. I often saw his morning run around the park. It didn’t matter what the weather was, he was out there. It didn’t matter what the weather was, he wore sweatpants and mittens. Three times around, no more, no less.
There are certain fixtures in life you come back to. Certain things that you think will never change, but do. My childhood home – the one we moved to when I was eight and I moved away from at eighteen – it’s gone. It was used for a fire department practice several years ago and everything is grown over with grass now. On the rare occasions I visit my hometown, I look for the land as we drive by. I almost always miss it. It somehow blinked sideways out of time.
There are also things in life you know will change, but you’re unprepared for the vast difference between what you expected and what actually happens. I woke up with a mouthful of little boy hair this morning. I’ve never been so grateful to feel Munchkin’s lanky body tucked up next to mine. Cuddling these days is a dangerous affair, he fidgets and flips and shuffles around and most often it’s daddy he wants, not me. Preschool is good for him, he’s having fun – making new friends and learning new skills. We get some much-needed space from each other. But I’m not used to having whole chunks of his life be a near-mystery and since I’m currently low on the totem pole… I miss the one-on-one time we had last summer.
Munchkin had his school pictures taken last week. Two pictures… one with the I’m-smiling-to-humor-you tight-lipped smirk I know well, and one with his joyous-I’m-having-fun! grin. So grown up and so young all at the same time. I go in at night to kiss him, before I go to bed. I run my fingers through his hair and try to imprint his sweet sleeping face in my memory forever. I whisper “I love you,” before I turn away and one more night slips away.
This perhaps sounds dramatic, but I feel like I’ve lost him. His preschool teacher tells me, “You’re big, you’ll adjust,” and well, I suppose that’s true. Nothing is the same in life except the constant change, right? What I’m getting at is that it has started. That inevitable slide toward not knowing every second of your child’s life intimately. That slow changeover from being the only one who can interpret their toddler-ese to being – at times – the last person to finally understand what they’re talking about. I still don’t know whether I’ll home-school or send him to kindergarten next year, but if he walks away into those yawning school doors… that’s kind of it, isn’t? The first step into a world that even if you have familiarity with it… it’s all different. It will always be different, because that’s how things are.
And then again, there are certain things that you think will change, but I suppose never do. Like an old man running in the park. Or a little boy cuddled up next to you.