My son, Ben, recently turned 7. Standing in the kitchen the morning before his birthday, he said, "Mom, I used to call you Mama, but now I call you Mom."
Granted, "mom" is way better than "dumba," which my 5-year-old, John, calls me when he's mad. And I'd already noticed "mama" fading from Ben's vernacular. Still, seeing him by the fridge -- smile full of gaps, tall enough to grab a Popsicle from the freezer -- I felt that familiar pang. I'll sure miss hearing Ben say "mama." I sure wish I could slow down time.
Along with five teeth, Ben's lost some childhood wonder in the past year, replacing it with teenage eye rolls and a general disdain for anything he deems babyish. At John's preschool "letter parade," for example, all the 5-year-olds marched proudly, holding their blow-up "letter buddies" and singing songs. Meanwhile, Ben hid in the van, sticking his head out at random intervals to moan, "Get me out of here!," "This is so babyish!," and "I hate this!"
Age 7 is new territory for us both, and I feel more like a rookie parent than ever. How do I help this exuberant boy navigate life, with all its complexities and unspoken rules? Not to mention those pesky spoken rules. Our days once consisted of us, the backyard and the bookshelf. Now, school, sports, friends and daydreams all vie for Ben's attention. I never know what he'll say next.
"Mom, how were you doing in high school?"
"How was high school?"
Long, stunned pause.
"Not ... great."
"Not too bad. I was just ... shy. It made things harder for me."
"How shy? Like, did you have a few friends? Did you know a few people and did you talk with them sometimes?"
After this exchange, Ben kicked a ball around the family room with John, stopping twice to charge me and plant a kiss on my cheek. Later that night, we were in his room preparing for bed. He chatted and played, then blurted out, "You know that Spider Man book? I can remember a whole page without looking:
"If you want to know the truth,
"I like Mary Jane a lot.
"I've known her since I was little.
"But now she’s my girlfriend.”
He looked at the floor, covering a giggle with his hand. When he looked up at me with those big blue eyes and that silly grin, I caught a glimpse of him five, 10, 20 years from now, growing up and away from me, experiencing things he can only dream about -- for now.
"Wow, Ben, that was great! You know, someday, you'll meet a special girl, too."
"Yeah, I guess. I just want to live with you for the rest of my life, Mom."
Want to know the truth? I think I'm going to like age 7. A lot.
Kris Clouthier is a freelance writer who lives north of Boston and has not conceded defeat in the war against bathroom talk.