Last week Jackson woke in the middle of the night from a nightmare. I gave him a couple minutes to calm himself down and go back to sleep, but, when he didn’t stop crying, I quietly got up and headed into his room.
“Shhh,” I said, “Shh… it’s ok. It’s just a dream.”
“Mama?” he said.
In the dark I bent over his crib and lifted him into my arms. He rested his head on my shoulder and wrapped his arms around me.
“It’s ok,” I said, patting his head and rocking him side to side. “It was just a bad dream.”
It’s been many months — almost a year — since I held him in my arms as a baby and suddenly the bulk of his weight against me like that, I remembered and I missed it. He has turned into a little boy with a big vocabulary and and even bigger personality. He has experiences now that I’m not part of and a social circle that doesn’t include me. He’s opinionated and he’s funny and … he is his own person, separate from me in a way I am only beginning to fully appreciate.
Back in July, when I made a solo trip to Chicago to visit friends, I picked up a little wooden red line train to bring home to Jackson. When the three of us went back over Labor Day weekend for a wedding, we got him a blue line train, and for his birthday he got two NYC subway trains to add to his collection. We also got him a train track starter set, and in the three weeks since turning two he has spent countless hours lying on his bedroom floor pushing his trains up and down those tracks.
Not only is this behavior a 180 from his usual go-go-gotta-get-outside-RIGHT-NOW routine, he has made it very clear that he enjoys playing independently — another very recent change.
“Bye bye, Mommy,” he said to me a few mornings ago when I crouched down on the floor next to him and started pushing the red line train down the tracks.
“See ya later, Mommy,” he tried again, gently moving my hand off his train.
His babysitter would be coming to pick him up soon to take him out for the morning and I was already dressed in my running gear so I could get a quick jog in before getting to work. He eyed my ensemble and tried one more time.
“Go exercise, Mommy,” he said, not unkindly, but firmly.
Point taken. I got up and poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at the computer to check my email.
Several hours later, when he came back home from his morning out with his babysitter, he swung the front door open and exclaimed: “Mommy!” running over to me. I picked him up and swung him around, kissing his face and telling him I missed him. I took off his shoes and jacket and asked if he wanted a snack.
He shook his head and said, “Play with trains,” making his priorities clear.
“Ok, let’s play with trains for a few minutes before nap time,” I replied.
I waited for him to tell me to leave his room, but he didn’t. And when one of his trains derailed, falling off the track, he picked it up and handed it to me, saying, “Uh-oh, Mommy, fix this,” and I did.
I figure my days of being able to fix things for him are already numbered. I can put a train back on course, and I can sew a loose button on his shirt, and I can get most stains out of his clothes, but eventually there will be bigger problems that I can’t fix — misunderstandings between him and his friends or embarrassment in school or a day when he experiences loss in a way he’s been spared so far. And I imagine that more than losing him bit by bit to the world of wonder around him, watching him be hurt or confused or sad and not being able to fix it will sting the most as his mother.
“Mommy!” Jackson exclaims, running out of his bedroom waving two trains. “Fix this!”
“Ok!” I reply, taking the trains from him and following him to his room, where I place them back on the track and push them through the tunnel.
“There,” I say, “It’s fixed.”
“Thank you, Mommy,” he says, “Bye bye.”
“Not yet,” I reply and continue pushing the trains. “I want to play with you a little while longer.”