Last night, BubTar and I attended parent orientation for the new school year. It was just the two of us and found an empty pew. It happened to be directly behind the faculty pews and a teacher or two turned around to say hello to him. He shifted his big beautiful eyes towards the floor and shrugged his shoulders up to his ears. He said nothing in response, but I could see a smile hiding under his lashes, maybe a giggle trying to escape. This behavior always baffles me, my exuberant, opinionated, argumentative, hilarious, talkative boy suddenly forgetting how to speak to make eye contact. It shouldn't surprise me, though, it is par for the course with him. He has spent birthday parties and dinners with his head buried in my lap, ignoring friends or family or anyone else who might be around. I suppose I just have trouble reconciling this version of him with the one we see at home.
We sat together, listening to the administrator and principals have their turns at the microphone. My feet were swinging under the pew, bounced my knees rapidly. I have trouble sitting still. Airplanes are torturous for me. Can't bounce or I'd have very upset seatmates. At the movies, Josh is always squeezing my knee softly to remind me I'm shaking the entire row of theater seats. I swing and bounce while picking at my nails, another little habit of mine. I tear at my cuticles, find tough skin around the sides and rip it loose. The whole time I'm listening to the speaker, absentmindedly it might seem from the outside, but really these things help me focus. If I was trying to sit totally still, well, I'd be thinking about keeping myself still. If I was looking at the speaker instead of poking at my nail beds, well, I'd be noticing funny things about the speaker or maybe counting the tiles on the wall behind him. So I swing and I bounce and I pick...and I listen, too. Then I look over at BubTar. I see his feet swinging under the pew, and his finger in his mouth. He's mid-rip with a slice of his cuticle. His big eyes look up at me, his finger still partially between his teeth. For an instant, I'm looking right into a mirror. A small and boyish mirror, perhaps, but also a clear one.
I drink the reflection in and think deeply. This darling boy of mine, we have fun together, but he is also my sparring partner, my opposition in combat. He knows what to say, how to challenge me. He strikes a nerve. We press our heads together in an endless battle of wills, some days it leaves me exhausted. There are days when Josh gets home, I say, "You get the rest of the arguments for today. I, am out." Occasionally I fling myself across the bed dramatically, feigning utter exhaustion. Perhaps it stems from our sameness.
He and I, we have a temper. Not from rage, but from perceived wrongs. From hurt feelings. Hot, angry wet tears on our cheeks. I remember running to my room as a child, slamming the door, sobbing under my bed until I nearly hyperventilated...countless times. Years of memories and moments go by. Shouting things I didn't mean, things that weren't nearly true. "It's ALWAYS my fault. ALWAYS. I NEVER do anything right! NEVER!!" I hear them echoed by him now, "Fine! I don't want ANY toys. COME AND TAKE THEM ALL AWAY! I HATE PLAYING!" or "No one EVER plays with me. NOBODY LIKES ME!" or "I ALWAYS mess things up! I can't do anything right!" It is all always and never and none with him. I'm still guilty of it, too. A bit quieter now, though. I recall a conversation with Josh from the night before, and the ending, "Twice, does not mean ALWAYS, Kyla." I know why BubTar says it that way, because in that moment, it feels like always and never and none. It feels bigger than it is, as if it will always be the only feeling that exists. It leaves no room for reason. No room for calming down. Not in that moment, anyway, even if he doesn't know yet, there is always another moment where you take a deep breath and feel always and never and none dissipate. He hasn't figured it out yet and I wish he would. I tell him, again and again, I know how it feels, but it won't always. He wails and ignores me, content to be broken over it, whatever the particular it of this moment is, and frustration fills my chest like a balloon. I think, why do you ALWAYS do this? You NEVER listen to me. NONE of this is important. I know because we are the same, we are always and never and none. But the moments always pass. You'll learn this, just let me teach you. Can't we just skip all this?
When I was a child, at home, I was free, always free. I didn't think twice about my words or my actions. I was outgoing and quite funny. I had a dry wit, sometimes a little caustic where my sister was concerned, but clever. I always, always had a joke on the tip of my tongue. At school, though, I was very quiet, never sure how to bring that part of myself out for other people. I knew how to read my family well, these classmates and teachers, they were unknown. Jokes would come to me and I'd swallow them down, never knowing what reaction it might get. My family, they had to laugh, didn't they? Maybe I wasn't as clever as I thought. So I was quiet most of the time. I had friends, though, mostly the ones who were the type to seek me out. The louder ones, happy to have a quiet companion around. Or maybe they could see the sparkle in my quiet eyes, a glimpse of my other self, the one they would get to know eventually. I outgrew the splitting of myself, but slowly and a bit painfully. Most of it just happened the last few years, really. I still do it, to an extent. The me you find here in these pages, isn't always who you might meet out in the world. I'm more honest here, open. I speak of things here that would keep me silent elsewhere. But slowly the pieces are coming together. My trouble with reconciling my son at home to my son elsewhere is really his struggle to reconcile his selves. I wonder what might have been different if I learned this sooner, became one self instead of fragmented, smaller, compromised versions of myself depending on the whens, wheres, and whos. I hope he learns this lesson, too. He is valuable. He is funny and smart and quite the little character, we don't think it because we must...we think it because it is absolutely true.
There are parts of him, too, that I don't recognize...the perfectionism, the competitiveness, the way he wakes with the sun, and more; but so much of him, more than I can list here, is also me...I see now. I take one last long look at my little reflection and he smirks up at me, probably about to say, "You're crazy, Mom." and then I ruffle his hair and stick my tongue out at him. He rolls his eyes in a way that says, "Geez, you're so embarrassing." We both smile our big smiles and go back to studying our fingers, our feet still swinging in sync beneath the pew.