My almost-two-year-old Bruiser wavers now between baby and boy, and nowhere is this more evident than his sister’s preschool acting class.
Punky’s teacher is incredibly kind, allowing Bruiser to participate with the older kids as much as he’s willing. He begins each class in my lap, cheek pressed tightly to mine, watching the other children. Within a few minutes, though, he’s slithered down to the floor, where he leans cautiously against my knee. Slowly, he begins edging closer to the children and closer again, then after a moment turns with a wicked grin, and runs back to my arms.
Eventually, he joins the older kids, playing musical instruments or freeze tag, or banging on the upright piano against the wall. Every few minutes, though, he comes back to the safety of my lap, where he roots through his diaper bag for juice or toys or tiny packets of fruit snacks. Finding one, he holds it up to me. "Ahnt this," he says, and I tear off the top for him. With a satisfied smile, he stumbles about the room, trailing fruit snacks on the floor as he goes. He carefully picks up each one after it falls and pops in his mouth. The mother sitting beside me barks a short laugh of horror, but I’ve learned to choose my battles. I can take the floor-tainted food away and face a screaming fit… or I can let him eat it and enjoy a few more moments of peace.
Of course, I draw the line when a spit-covered fruit snack falls from his mouth onto the floor. I scoop it up before he can get to it and hide it in the dust under the bench I’m sitting on, thinking I’ll throw it away at the end of class. Five minutes later, Bruiser saunters back over and immediately drops to his stomach. He wriggles under the bench and suddenly, I realize what he’s going for.
"No, Bruiser!" I whisper urgently through gritted teeth, trying to pry his wriggling body out from under the bench. I see his face and realize I’m too late. He runs away, his smile ringed in dust. I can even see a few long hairs coming from between his lips. Before I can even jump up, though, his smile fades. With a troubled look, he runs to me. I open my hand and he spits the tainted fruit snack into it, staring down at the dirty glob of goo.
"Gross," he says.
It’s the first time he’s used that word. I am filled with a mixture of pride and revulsion. Half of me wants to hug him like he’s never been hugged before. The other half wants to run to the nearest trashcan and puke my guts out.
And I realize then that this is what it means to have a boy.