I’m divorced and I co-parent. Really co-parent. We split my son down the week. Sundays through Wednesdays with me, Wednesday nights through every other Saturday with the ex-husband. We both have maintained flexible working schedules so that our son essentially has two full-time parents. Aside from relatives, he’s never had a babysitter.
I was tucking him into bed on a Tuesday night. We just finished the goodnight song, John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.” He sings along to the “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” line. That’s my favorite quote. It’s so obvious, it’s like calling sugar sweet.
“I hate Wednesdays,” I pouted. “I’ll miss you.”
“I hate them too,” he chimes in, more empathetic than truthful.
“No you won’t,” I remind him. “You’re going to your dad’s. You love it there.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I love every day. Every week. Every month. Every day of the year!” He’s declarative and truthful. He understands the words he’s using; they’re more than phonics.
It’s been four years since we’ve been co-parenting. People comment on our technique consistently. Teachers, other parents, riders on the bus—curious and opinionated.
But since I consider myself a virtual part-time parent, I feel like I have to be an extra good parent. Like doing extra credit. Like going to office hours. Going the extra mile to get the A.
But I worry. For all parts political and kind, all loving and considerate of him, he has in him this not-so-mysterious love of guns, battles, explosions, and all things with good guys and bad guys. Like it’s that simple. Good guy, live; bad guy, die. Very black and white; very six years old. “They” tell me it’s normal for boys to be this way. But still, I worry.
What does my brilliant son want to be when he grows up? I genuinely don’t care as long as he’s happy. I will never guilt him because of his potential. If I see him happy, I feel proud. But still, the worrying bomb is ticking inside.
When his father took him to the auto show, the only thing he was interested in was the Marines infomercial and the tanks. Last year he wanted to be a ninja when he grew up. This year in a project where they had to create a superhero animal, he created an Army crab.
He builds Lego models for fifteen-year-olds. Why not an architect? He imagines it and then he creates it—so logically. He uses both sides of his brain. An architect seems like the perfect career; can’t he ninja on the side? Kind of like Batman. He can dream up some underground Ninja Galaxy with lightsabers, and then he can build it and conduct his ninja business as a hobby—for shits and giggles rather than for the paycheck. I guess he doesn’t think about the paycheck yet. I hope he holds onto that.
Children have their brains set on intake mode; that’s what they’re programmed to do at this point. The rest of their life is about the output. Over time our brains morph in consistency from silly putty to a porous rock. It can still absorb information, but it’s a lot harder going in; a lot less malleable. There’s a reason for the old dog, new tricks saying. But children have a gift for imagination. They let their brains expand and stretch. They are not bound by grown-up limitations.
He can stare at a single page from a Lego catalog for hours. Entire battles emerge off the page with shooting cannons, skeletons and robotic flying creatures. There’s dialog, there’s conflict, there’s resolution. Maybe he’s a filmmaker. Filmmaker is good. Let him make war movies. Let him work with George Lucas and make Stars Wars Episodes 34–89.
So yes, I worry. It comes part and parcel of the motherhood thing; a buy one, get the other for free. But every day I try to worry less. Every day he amazes me. I spent my life trying to be as good as he is now. He has integrity, values, connection to emotion, confidence.
You’re born with the same eyes you have all your life. They don’t grow. He had these huge eyes when he was a baby. They enormous brown eyes with eyelashes like a giraffe. I could stare at him blink—and he always stared back. He saw directly through my heart as only he could. I’ve often thought he was born an old soul; he was so serious as a baby. I would do a whole circus routine to get a smile out of him. It was like he was born above it all. Like he had lived through it all already and known that the good part was coming.
From the time he was old enough to talk, he has been teaching me how good it really is. Early one gray morning, the coldest day so far of the year, I walked like a grump, while he, chipper as ever, walked with a skip in his step. Literally, skipping every other step. “I love this weather,” he says. I know he does. He loves the cold. I hate it.
We walk to the bus stop and it’s freezing on the corner. He wants to sit on the fence so I let him. We’re across the street from Central Park; it’s late fall and the trees are half bare and half late fall colors. The vibrancy has now moved from the treetops to create an autumnal carpet of leaves on the cold, hard dirt.
My son looks up at the tree directly across the street. “Mommy, the leaves on the tree across the street are so yellow it looks like the sunshine is pouring out from them.” I smile and take a deep delicious breath. I look at him and am reminded—he is life’s good part coming.
(Note: I wrote this piece over two years ago but never published it until now. He is now eight-and-three-quarters years old and incrementally more mature and amazing. I thank my lucky stars I get to call him my son.)