Today, like all days, I looked at you and thought what a glorious thing it must be, to be you, a boy of seven. To be you, waking up in the morning with a bright smile upon your face. To go to bed the way you told me you always do; whispering things you are excited about. Counting them off in your fingers, one at a time. To be you, never lost or bored, but full of things to do, full of ideas, moving from one fun thing to the next. Nothing weighs on your shoulders. You heart is full and free.
Let’s play a game and pretend we are lost. Not yet. When we get there.
Okay, so who will we be?
I’ll just be me, and you’ll be you. But we’re lost in the woods.
I can’t stop smiling when you are around. The light in your big blue eyes, the gaps in your teeth, the smudge of dirt high up on one cheek. They used to be so fat and round, but not so much these days. You are growing up. Becoming a stick boy.
When we get there, you are still holding my hand, and you have forgotten about the game we were going to play. I hold on as long as I can. The dogs are off, and we walk across the two wooden pathways, talking about the summer holidays and how to fill them when they come. When I talk to you, when I tell you things, I feel like there is nothing that won’t excite or please you. It’s just easy.
The days are getting longer, the weather warming up, and the squidgy mud is drying out under our feet. You remember the game and you pretend we have to find things to eat. We can eat leaves and berries. Dandilions and daisies.
I like the way you look at me when you talk. I feel huge, tall, towering over you, this white haired stick boy with dirt on his cheek. Smiling a gap toothed smile as his hand tightens on mine. We follow the stony path while the sky is stretched and blue. Down the hill and still your hand is in mine. You play the game, pretending we know the way home now. We just follow the path back to the house. Then we can have an ice cream sat out on the doorstep. I look into your face and everything is beaming back at me. All the things promised for the summer, building up and swelling inside your chest, the game, our hands, the ice cream, today and tomorrow. You live in each moment with your blue eyes wide. You want to go up the steepest hill. You never stop smiling, not once.
I ask you questions and you say ‘yep!’ and ‘nope!’ At the top of the hill you want to go left while I go right. We’ll meet in the middle further down. Then you shout out ‘3,2,1’ and run down your side of the hill, arms pinwheeling, white hair streaming back from your forehead, ‘whoooooooo’ you go, and I am laughing. You dash down, turn right and come back to my side. It’s in you now. The urge to move. With the sand and stones under your feet, and the wind in your hair, the movement has set you off, set you free. I point out a secret way. That way. Through the trees, where the hills are small but steep. Down, up, down, up, then down. Covered in thick green moss, springy, inviting, this way I tell you, you’ll like this.
You go first. Running again. Your feet pounding, your knees pumping, your little stick arms out to each side. You make it to the end and then start running back. You do it! You do it now! Ahh but I can’t run like you, it’s not the same once you are older…or is it? I take your advice and run like a lunatic. Like a fool, I thunder down one side and up the next, and then I remember how addictive the movement of running is. I am laughing and you are laughing at me. For a tiny fragment of a moment I am like you, I am seven, I am small and strong and on fire with the desire to move and keep moving. I am moving through it all, through everything, leaping over logs and branches, hearing the crack and the rustle, my eyes down, then up, my legs powering me on, my feet wanting to keep it up…Enjoying a ride o nature’s own little rollercoaster. I think I could play here all day. I could play.
But I stop at the end and wait and watch and laugh at you, and here you come, my white haired stick boy, yelling and hooting. Running so fast I am sure you will trip and fall into my arms. But you don’t, you stay up, laughter hitching in your small chest. And after that you keep running.
I have to count the seconds, as you try to get faster and faster. And now you are running ahead of me, always ahead and out of my reach. Little stick boy, white head bobbing quickly away from me. I watch you getting smaller. I think about how much more hand holding there is to come, and a little bit of me breaks open and what leaks out can’t be scratched back. I want to keep you and hold you, but parenthood is always letting go. I want to be you and join you, but your growing is too fast, your moments too brief. I am left behind.
Little stick boy running down the track, zig-zagging past the daffodils, legs brushing the new nettles, hair bouncing, running faster and faster and further from me. Do you like being seven? Yep, but I can’t wait to be eight.