Children, Parenting


Under the blanket, the smell is rank. Is it him or me? My son’s hair is a chrysanthemum explosion too close to the earth. He pushes into my body, twisting the sheet and blanket away from my folded knees. Morning breath and cool autumn air snake in around my neck.
He bathed last night and now the faint scent of berry shampoo joins the mix. In the tub, he stretched himself to his full length. His head was submerged over ears, up to jaw, past hairline. My boy became a naked mask, bald and brown, hovering just above the surface of the water. “Put your hand under me, Mommy,” he said. I did, floating it down below his back and in the open space under his calves.
“You’re levitating,” I said. “Is it magic?”
“It’s a trick. I push my head against one end and my feet against the other. It lifts me up.”
If he’d pointed his toes, he wouldn’t fit. My son is this tall. I said it aloud but he mouthed, “I can’t hear you.” I dipped my hands under the water and cleaned his ears. I pressed the soapy cloth into neck creases that are quickly disappearing.
Now, we linger in bed longer than usual. We have time to talk about nothing. He rides the school bus for the first time today. My boss agreed to let me have a late day once a week, a 9:30-6:30 sort of day, as much for my kid as for my working students prefer after-hours meetings. The bus comes late around here. Usually my kiddo is already deep into some before-school activity and I’m parked at my desk when the other neighborhood children are lining up on the street with their backpacks.
When we finally untangle ourselves from the blanket, I pad into the kitchen to throw together banana-oat waffles while Bug assembles a lego spider truck. Steam rises from the waffle iron. Warm syrup. A dog walk. A long shower. I never could have imagined such weekday luxury. I drag my bike out the door and we bump to the curb where a mass of families is assembled. Is it possible this many kids from Bug’s school live in our neighborhood? My son’s smoothed white hair falls down around his eyes and he slows, wiping it back, surveying the crowd.
We meet Ray and Rose and Marianne. Bug presses himself close to my side and whispers something. I bend down. “There’s BK from my class.” He points. The gesture is tiny but certain. A mom with a daughter in Bug’s grade walks up to us and introduces herself. “You’re new here,” she says. A dad carries a baby girl on his shoulders while his son charges ahead. The crowd surges closer to the street as the bus rounds the bend. It hisses to a stop and blinks in dumb excitement, doors grunting open. The driver is a big man in a Redskins jersey.
One boy on the sidewalk screams and sobs. His backpack slips from his shoulders. His mother discharges him into the grip of an older brother who tries to cover the little boy’s mouth. Big brother gives up and simply frog-marches the shrieking child up the steps. The bus swallows them whole. Parents cluck and shake their heads. The kids all wait at a safe distance until the show is over then they press forward in pairs and trios to climb aboard.
Bug gives me one last appraising glance up from under his curtain of hair. He does not smile. He disappears inside, his blonde head now just a shadow passing through the crowd. I click on my helmet and wave. He takes a seat, scoots to the window, and turns away from me. He is already talking to his neighbor. The doors thump close. I throw my leg over the saddle and push off towards the metro as the bus wheezes off, carrying my son away.

2 thoughts on “Stretch”

  1. Ah, memories of the mornings I too would put my son on the bus and then bike off to work, though they were never so calm and luxurious. You’ve captured the emotions and the picture so clearly. A beautiful description!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s