When my younger son, C2, was five, he had a knack for finding the quiet corners of our house for his creative play, and, mostly, we delighted in his creations. I grin to see him in memory… his eerily perfect imitation of a velociraptor (after watching the BBC documentary Dinosaurs a gazillion times), a Caped Crusader ferreting out the bad guys with wicked Bat moves, his penchant for catalogue clippings, particularly at Halloween when he cut out any ad donning a ghost or witch or jack-o-lantern and taped them all (and there were hundreds) to the outside of our house. But once in a while, his love of solitary play left us all a little perplexed and thoroughly depleted.
It was sometime in the summer of his 5th year when he was taking a bath. I thought we’d reached that stage where I could leave him for a few minutes at a time and conduct the intermittent check. So I started the water in the tub and slipped into the kitchen to get dinner going. On my return, I discovered the bathroom door locked.
“C-, open the door.”
Still no answer and the tub water ran.
Of course, my verbiage escalated to panicked expletives accented with the pounding of my foot on the door. Meeting with no response, I ran to the garage to retrieve an ax that I slammed into the center of the door over and over, all the while pleading with C- to say something. Making too-slow progress, I handed my older son a paperclip for lock-break duty then ran around the outside of the house to the bathroom window that I shattered with the butt end of the ax at the exact time older brother tripped the lock. A startled and naked C-, sitting NOT in the water but standing at a counter littered with lotions, and soaps, and oils, bolted through the open door in search of safer spaces absent ax wielding mothers.
You might imagine the terrors visited on my imagination in the space of about three minutes left me speechless and motionless for hours. But at some point, C- crept out of hiding to my side and said, sympathetically, “I scared you, didn’t I, Mommy?” I affirmed and returned question with, “What were you doing in there?”
“I was making a potion.”
That five-year-old is now sixteen. And in many ways, he is very typically sixteen, making choices that, by turn, charm and enchant and horrify. Just yesterday, on a return trip from his pediatrician, I was digging for information about a particular horror and coming up with only slivers of truth from which I understood nothing (locked doors look a little different at sixteen). Eventually, the car fell silent, and I sat bereft of words or questions… bereft of any sense of competence as a mother. C- broke the silence:
“Mom, you know, E- [girlfriend] is really beautiful.”
Still frustrated and as yet unwilling to give up that parental role of know-it-all lecture queen, I went off.
“That’s great that she’s beautiful, Honey, but there are more important things… like the fact that she cares about other people in the world and she’s smart and she writes poetry…”
“And, Mom… maybe that’s exactly what I meant when I said beautiful.”
At this stage in the game, there are no axes… no windows to bust through but time. And still, I am grateful. C- knows how to make a potion and he knows something of beauty. For the rest, I’ll just have to trust.