And suddenly he’s two. Well, not suddenly really. But startlingly. And unbelievably. Not a baby anymore. A kid. I look at him and I know it’s true. And my heart is so full of joy I think it might be breaking. How is it possible he’s already two? How is it possible he’s only two? How is any of this possible?
He doesn’t know it’s his birthday. We’re celebrating next weekend and I didn’t want to confuse him by telling him it was his birthday but not giving him any presents or cake. Because that’s what happens on your birthday, Mommy. You get presents and cake. So I thought it best just to let the day slip by.
But I know. And it gives the day a different spin. Not so much his birthday, as my birth day. The day that I gave birth to him. And I love this take on the day so much I wonder why everyone doesn’t celebrate this way. But I guess you can’t trick your twelve-year-old into thinking his birthday is on some random day just so you can walk dreamily through his actual birthday, reminiscing.
But I have, unwittingly, allowed myself this luxury. For this year at least. Maybe next. So I take him to the most nostalgic place I can think of: Barnes and Noble. Not nostalgic for everyone, perhaps, but, for me, it’s the only place to go if I want to immerse myself in memories of the last two years.
I first took my son to Barnes and Noble when he was a three months old. The freeze of the bitterest winter we’d seen in a while was just beginning to think about thawing. And I was making my first forays into the world, having been crippled by a terrible post-birth illness for much of his life.
I parked the stroller, pulled a few board books off the shelf at random, and sat him on my lap on the floor and read to him. I remember looking around at all the other mothers there, reading to their toddlers and their older children, and yearning for the day when that would be me. When this tiny, floppy, screeching bundle would turn into a person who could understand the book I was reading to him. Who could talk to me and play with me. A kid.
We went to Barnes and Noble at lot in those early months. And I mean a lot. Almost every day. It was close enough to walk to and it was warm when it was cold out and cool when it was hot out. There were books to read and toys to look at. And coffee. Most importantly coffee.
He went from a tiny, floppy bundle to a slightly larger, slightly less floppy baby. He learned to crawl, and set off across the floor of the kids section. He pulled himself up on the ledge of the storytelling stage and learned to climb it. He began to take an interest in some of the toys there. There was this plastic turtle he loved more than life itself. I can still sing the song it sang, even though we never owned it.
And then we moved away. And he did another year’s worth of growing. And we visited other Barnes and Nobles. And then we moved back. We don’t go to Barnes and Noble as often as we used to. But we go a lot. He loves it there. The toys, mostly, but the books too. So I take him there, today, on his birthday.
And now I am that mom. The mom I looked at yearningly two years ago. Here I am, playing with my toddler, talking to him, reading him a story he understands. And a dad whose son is playing nearby asks how old my son is and I tell him it’s his birthday today. “Congratulations,” he says. “You made it.” And I have. I’ve made it. I. Made. It.
And as I look at my son, expertly wielding a light saber toy and saying, “Zoom! Zoom!” I am suddenly consumed with loss. That floppy little baby is gone. And he’s never coming back. He’ll never need me as much as he needed me then. In fact, if I do my job right, he’ll need me a little bit less every day from now on.
But then he runs up to me and hands me my own light saber and says, “Mommy play too!” and zooms his red plastic stick in my direction. I block him and a sword fight ensues that ends with us both on the floor of Barnes and Noble giggling. And that feeling of loss fades. I hated infancy. I couldn’t wait for him to get older. And here he is. Older.
And I look at him and I think of all the amazing things to come. Pretend battles with his action figures. Dress up and pillow fights and forts. Science experiments and Lego sculptures and bug investigations. Sports games and movie theaters and Broadway shows. So many adventures still to come.
And the loss is still there. Because those things will end too. Those things will come. But then they’ll go. And he’ll go. If I do my job right. Which I intend to.
But today he’s two. And I take him home for lunch and a nap, bundling up against the cold. Remembering another cold day not so long ago. His birth day. And mine.