This week you turned forty-five months old, and it was your ninth day of school. Maybe you knew it was your 45th month birthday, because you walked into that school of your own volition, without crying. So I guess you’re officially a big boy. Not that you like being identified as such. You don’t think of yourself as a “big boy,” because you assume you’re a grown man. You’ve been Fireman Sam for a while now, several months, and he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although it’s the second day since you first got your firefighter rain boots that you’ve opted for sneakers instead, which I never thought would happen again. People ask you all the time (upon seeing you appear in full costume) if you’d like to be a firefighter when you grow up. This question seems to baffle you. “I AM a grownup… and I’m already a firefighter,” you answer, head cocked, palms upturned. “I’m Fireman Sam.” (I can’t tell you the number of times someone has come up to me and said, “You must be Sam’s mom,” or “Sam is so smart!”) (Yes. Sam is so smart.)
You usually need to have your gear with you at all times. You’re decked out everywhere we go in your hat, your boots, a prison-orange vest that’s part of a construction worker costume from back in your Bob the Builder days, but it’s been repurposed as a firefighter’s jacket, an Elmo backpack which you call your oxygen tank (only you pronounce oxygen like “oxy-ghin”), the strap from my diaper bag which is your hose, and the piece that cleans all the spit out of a recorder, which you attach to the strap and use as a hose nozzle. Sometimes you also have other pieces of string or cloth sort of draped around your neck, and I guess that’s your rope, although I’m not exactly sure. And SOMEtimes you also bring along a toy broom that you call your beater. I believe this is used to beat brush that’s smoking. We’ve had many loud fights in the parking lot of playgrounds because it’s 900 degrees outside and you want to wear all this stuff to slide down the fire pole. The argument that you’re going to get overheated doesn’t phase you; a firefighter is used to being hot DUH. Your years of training have prepped you for intense heat or whatever. We usually end up negotiating. (Me: “It’s not a brush fire; you don’t need the beater. And since you’re not going INTO a burning building, you’re just spraying on the OUTside, you can leave your oxygen tank in the car, too. And I’m going to give you two minutes to wear your hat before you have to take it off, so put the fire out in under two minutes because I can already see sweat beginning to drip down your cheeks.”)
People must think I’m crazy. Add to that you hollering across the playground, “PENNY! PENNNNNY!” after I’ve just introduced myself to someone as “Megan,” and they probably think we’re totally bonkers. “Penny’s just my alter-ego,” I explain, grinning sheepishly and dashing away. *Cue moms all around me gathering up their children and leaving.* Just kidding, Bubbs. Actually most people I talk to think you’re awesome. They can’t BELIEVE your imagination. And while I wish you’d be “Fireman Noah,” I do have to admire you constantly staying in character despite all the opposition you face from teachers, friends, other parents, and of course, us. “I don’t WANT TO BE PENNY!” I yelled at you one day, after you had been trying my patience all afternoon. (Yes. Mommy can sometimes be a belligerent five-year-old.) You stared at me for a few seconds, then slowly and dramatically sighed, smirked, looked me in the eye and said, “Mom.”
And then I felt bad. A demotion! After all my years of service fighting fires and rescuing treed cats.
Oh, Bubba. You drive me NUTS sometimes. You’re obstinate to the point of being straight ridiculous. You argue with EVERYTHING I SAY. If you ask me a question and I answer you, you find some way to contradict me. You stubbornly choose new names for everything and refuse to call them by their actual names. It’s MADDENING. The amount of inane conversations we have each day is out of control, man.
But I miss you so much when you go to school. I think about you all day long. I try to imagine what you must be doing, what “works” are occupying your time. Little by little, I get snippets of your day but most of the time I have no idea what they mean. “George wore an orange shirt.” “The gril with the belt. I don’t remember her name.” “We celebrated a birthday today and we got to eat cookies.” “I climbed on the geo dome.” “There’s a gril there named Violet!” “I played with Edie and June on the playground.” “At lunchtime you have to take out all your food and set it on your food napkin and then we say we’re thankful and then we say ‘Don’t have a teet, now you can eat!’” “I did the airplane work today. It was boring.” “I played with the blocks and I made a tower.” “There’s not fire pole at school.” “I only get to read books if I’m sad.” “You can’t move once you’re on your sleep mat.” “I love my teachers.” “There’s a mailman teacher who lives at the school. She stays in the glass room.” You grind coffee for us almost every day, and this morning when I mentioned we needed to get some more beans you reminded me that you JUST ground some for us YESTERDAY. (I should mention we have approximately nine baggies of super stale coffee grounds that you’ve brought home, only they are like 1/8 of a teaspoon each. I’m thinking to celebrate you being in school for one full year next May, we’ll take all the grounds from the whole year and make a single cup for us all to sip.)
You do seem to be enjoying school much better lately, thank God. Your second week was horrible; we thought we were going to have to pull you out. You screamed and cried every morning, you cried at the end of the day, you cried yourself to sleep, you cried all through breakfast. You begged me not to take you; you begged me not to leave you there; you begged me to get your lunch basket and “head on home” with you. A little piece of my soul died each and every time I walked away with you screaming for me from inside the school. It went against everything I believed to leave you like that, and it went against all my instincts. But today you asked if you were going to school tomorrow and actually sounded not horrified at the notion, so I think we’re making progress!
I was worried about how Violet would react to you going to school, but it turns out she’s quite calm while you’re away. I think she still feels a bit out of her element; she’s calm but seems in another world almost. Of course I think she misses you. She’s never run to help anyone else up when they’ve fallen. She’s never rubbed anyone else’s back when they’re crying. Just the way you two greet each other every morning and when you’ve been separated for a time assures me that there is a piece of her that’s just empty, waiting for you to come back. (But there’s another piece of her that’s super content to get the train table all to herself with no brother to push her away, I’m sure.) You and Violet are still the best of friends, even when you’re annoying the hell out of her and she’s melting your skin off with her screams. Last week we went to the zoo and Violet wanted to go into the petting zoo part. You were way not into this, but she was running around, petting all the goats while you tried to protect her from each of them by standing between her and the goat. She was furious of course, and you were furious with her for not complying, but I recognized it for what it was: you were shielding her from harm (albeit perceived and not actual harm) by using your own body. Later, at home, you snatched something from her and then laughed maniacally as she cried. You are already the epitome of big brothers. I feel sorry for her future boyfriends.
Having a three-year-old is like riding a roller coaster that has missing track pieces but you’re already almost to the broken part when you see the broken part, so you just have to close your eyes and pray you make it through alive. Sometimes you’re talking to me like you’re 30 years old, and 20 seconds later you’re fake whining and 20 seconds after that you’re tickling Violet just to hear her giggle and 20 seconds after that you’re yelling at me that you WON’T wash your hands and 20 seconds later you’re having such a meltdown that I can see storm clouds gathering right outside the windows and 20 seconds after that you’re hugging me and crying and telling me you feel sad that you didn’t let me hug you goodnight earlier and you love me.
And then you told us a story over dinner last night that went like this: “Elvis (translation: Daddy)! Earlier this thing happened. We had friends over, and we were eating a snack. And then Jehan poured me some milk, but there was a… (dramatic pause) DEAD FLY in the milk!” And you threw your head back and laughed. And I thought, that’s my boy. Ever wanting to be the center of attention, ever wanting to tell a funny story to make people laugh, ever stepping into a theatrical role to prove a point. I love you, my little Drama King.