I don’t like how people look at Graham these days.
They used to smile indulgently, but now I see trepidation in their eyes. They used to coo over his baby fat, but now they look him up and down, silently assessing the potential for disruption contained in his strong limbs.
Their affection used to be unconditional, now they have their reservations.
My son is growing up. He’s not a baby anymore: he’s a little boy.
And that changes everything.
Graham is extremely tall and he looks older than his three years. People have always assumed he should be just a little more capable than he actually is.
When he was eleven months old I was approached by someone who assumed he was at least two and asked in a hushed tone, “Why isn’t he walking yet?” Just a few months someone else asked if I were having “problems” potty training: she thought he was at least four.
These cloaked admonishments, I now realize, are just a taste of what is to come. Because while people coo over babies, they have expectations for children. They expect Graham to act and react in a certain way. They expect him to be well behaved. They expect that he will not infringe on their right to privacy or silence or serenity in general.
I know this is inevitable. I know it is just the very first step for Graham as he embarks on a life where he will most certainly have responsibilities to fulfill and expectations to meet: I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But it still breaks my heart just a little every time I notice people narrow their eyes ever so slightly when he enters a room. It pains me to see apprehension, or worse, exasperation, in their eyes. They are wary of his energy and his strength: I get that. When he charges through the door of the grocery store, crackling with vigor and vitality, I can’t really blame them for bracing themselves for a disturbance.
But I wish so badly that I could reassure them there is nothing to fear. I want to explain to them how sweet and good-natured he is: how much he loves kisses and his favorite feline friend. I want to make them look at him, really look at him, and see that he is just a little boy for whom the world is still a giant playground.
But I don’t, of course. I just smile as politely and reassuringly as possible, and hope that I am striking the right balance between their need for order and Graham’s compulsive enthusiasm.
Oh how I miss seeing people light up at the sight of my son.
I wonder if he misses it too and if he notices that every day his beautiful, innocent heart is surely growing heavier under the weight of the world’s expectations.
Photo courtesy of Don Mills Diva