To Be A Boy Of 7

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.10750337_880996085252991_634165168261834774_o

Rainy Day Book Shop…

Half term. Raining of course. Oldest child wants to stay in all day watching Supernatural on dvd. 10 and 7 year old want to keep playing their car game on the landing. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy too. Another load of washing. Floors to clean. Wet dogs to rub dry. A baby to entertain. But it’s half term, no school! We should be doing something together as a family…

So we force them out. Into their coats and into the car and out into the world and the empty wet streets that lead down to a favourite haunt. Every time we go looking for it I worry that it has gone. That we didn’t go often enough, didn’t keep an eye on it and it vanished, faded away when we weren’t paying attention. Good things do that sometimes. You forget they are there, and then when you need them you find out they have moved on.

But not so The Crooked Book. Push open the door and the smell brings a smile to my face, and I am carrying in the baby with the feeling that I am introducing him to a warm and wonderful place. Which it is anyway. On first glance, on first smell, old and musty and reminds me of my Nan’s house when we were growing up. Old things well cared for. Ceramic basins and wooden spoons. 1920’s wardrobes. 1960’s coats. An ancient typewriter or two. I wonder how many words were tapped out on its keys… Tables and chairs, mismatched and eccentric, two men in suits chatting about a business plan. Free wi-fi. Tea, coffee, cake and soup. But those are not the reasons we come.

We make our way slowly to the back. Where the books are. Piled high and higher still, on clumsy shelves and scruffy displays. The familiar face at the till says hello how are you? We are fine, and we move on, carefully, trying not to knock over anything precious or valuable. Like the books, I want all of the things…And the smell…

The smell of books and thoughts and feelings and dreams. The smell of pages thumbed and worn. The smell of cracked spines and cricked necks. It makes me sigh. My shoulders relax. I hug the baby tighter, and feel the urge to show him all of the books. A whole world, I want to tell him. In fact a million, million worlds. A million, million, million words and ideas and tragedies and triumphs.

It feels safe here. Close and comfortable and sheltered. We huddle in the kid’s section while 7 year old laments the fact they never have the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid book he is after. But we find him a Doctor Who annual to keep him smiling. 12 year old as ever has an armful and we have to cajole her down to just two. 10 year old finds a book on dragons and a book on vampires. I’m lost. Or is it found?

I suddenly remember that I want to read Toni Morrison, so me and the baby hunch down and find M on the bottom shelf in the left hand corner and there is Beloved. Something I have wanted to read for years. Happy, but not done. I find a book by Roddy Doyle that I have not read, and a whole selection of Douglas Coupland novels catch my eye. In the end I choose Beloved and Girlfriend In A Coma. At the till husband is in a world of his own with Marx and Engels…

Fifteen pounds worth of books, smiles all around, priceless and a collective urge to get back home. Back into the warm with a coffee and a biscuit. Our books under our arms, we run back to the car, jumping puddles, job well done. We came, we browsed, we conquered. I feel slightly bereft as always for all the books left behind. Goodbye The Crooked Book. Until next time.