Growing up quickly and surely

He turns 13 this weekend.

Thirteen.

The age he becomes a man, he tells me.

I tell him he’s not a man yet.

He disagrees and tells me he is.

He’s at that age where he is teetering between precious childhood and stepping into a world that feels a bit more grown up.

I feel him growing up and it makes me sad.

I miss the small child who eagerly grabbed my hand as we would walk across a parking lot, his smile beaming up at me.

The little boy that used to crawl into his mother’s lap constantly now says he’s too big.

No more cuddling him until he falls asleep.

No more special little rituals that we once did.

As I cleaned out my office this weekend, a task long overdue, I came across so many little mementos of just a few years ago that made me pause.

Drawings, some just scribbles, but full of hearts that he had made for me.

Notes we had passed back and forth on days I would be at work and he would be home, that I hid around the house for him to find were tucked into the nooks and crannies of my space for safe keeping.

I sat in the floor and carefully looked at each of them as I softly cried.

It seemed like it had just been yesterday he had been this small tot, and I was his “sweet girl” and his “heart.”

Now, it felt like he was trying to pull away little by little.

He keeps trying to assert his independence in dozens of little ways.
“I can make my own food, you know. I know how to use the stove.”
“I don’t like you using the gas,” I reply.

He sighs as he puts the food back up. “I am capable of using it. I know how. You just won’t let me. Why?”

Because, cooking for him is the one thing I have left.

The one thing no one else could do like Mama; Daddy has never been able to make his food, not even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Cole even preferred my cooking to Granny’s, saying when right past his toddler stage that Granny’s food was good, but it wasn’t Mama’s.

And now, he wants to make his own food.

“Can you take me somewhere and I will buy us lunch?” he asks. “My treat.”
“No,” I say.

He sighs again. “Then just let me cook. I can do it.”

I stop and look at him – really look at him.
He’s my height now, but tall and lean. His face that once had cute cherubic features is now getting angular and showing the shadow of a moustache.

His voice cracked a little the other day and it made me tear up again.

His hair that he has spent the last year growing out in aspirations of Keanu Reeves’ style in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is now getting on his nerves and he wants it cut.

We argue over the style he can get. “It’s my hair,” he tells me. “That’s what you said when I asked if I could grow it out.”
But I know the shorter cut will make him look older and that pains me.

“Are you going to get his hair cut?” Mama asks me.

The best ally for any child is the grandmother. Even if the grandmother may not have let her own child do the same thing the grandchild wants to do.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I don’t want it short. I like it long.”

“Well, he said he wants it short and he knows how he wants it.”

“I still am his mother and I still have some say in how he gets his hair cut,” I said.

“Why don’t you want him to get it cut?”

“Because…” I searched for the words. “I just feel like he is growing up too fast and the short hair will make him look older.”

Mama was quiet for a few moments before she softly said, “It’s OK to let him grow up, you know. If anything, it will be pretty amazing to see the incredible person he is destined to be.”

I know he will be an amazing adult. What I have wanted for him is to have a compassionate heart, to have his own opinion that he expresses respectfully, and to always treat everyone equally with love and kindness.
He does that now. He always has, without me having to teach him.

I ran into his former kindergarten teacher a few weeks ago, and Cole sat, talking to her about “when he had been a child.” She lovingly told me after he bounced away for a few moments, “He’s growing up, you know.”
I nodded. She squeezed me. “It’s OK, honey. He’s a great kid and will be a great man.

He will be fine. And you will be, too.”

As I tucked all my memories into a file box labeled “Sentimental,” Cole peeked in my office.
“Can I please use the stove? I am so hungry and didn’t want to bother you.”

He expected me to say no, I know. But instead, I urged him to be careful.
“Really? I can use the stove? For real?”

I nodded.
“Thank you! I will be careful, I promise. I promise. Can I make you something?”
I shook my head no.
He was growing up. Rapidly and slowly at the same time, in front of my very eyes, as he teeters that line. But, forever my baby, he always will be.

No matter what.

 

 

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Tall Tales & Little Lies

I come from a long line of juddywhackers.

From childhood on, I was surrounded by a bunch of grown-ups who had no problem stretching, embellishing and sometimes completely fabricating the truth if it suited whatever fable they were concocting.

Oftentimes, these scenarios involved a very naïve and gullible chubbikins, also known as yours truly.

It started with my dear, sweet Uncle Bobby, a man who would not hurt a fly but would pull my leg all day.

He was largely responsible for my round shape as a child, bringing me brownies, donuts, and candy bars on a daily basis.

And they always included an elaborate tale with them.

He saw my face light up one day when he told me he had got me something extra-super special as he handed me a cupcake with swirly frosting and sprinkles on top. A pastry far fancier than Granny’s sprinkle-shy cakes.

I oohed and ahhed over it; it was a cupcake fit for a princess.  It was almost too pretty to eat but that wouldn’t stop me now and wouldn’t slow me down then.

“Is this for me?” I asked.

He nodded. “And you want to what else? I made that special – just for you!”

“You made it?” I exclaimed, frosted crumbs dropping from my lips.
“I did. They let me go in the bakery and make it just for you! I put all of those sprinkles on there, too.”

This was the tale he gave for every sweet treat he got me. According to his tales, that man was in more bakeries, candy manufacturers and ice cream shops than he was fox holes in Viet Nam.

And now that I look back on it, this whole “especially for you” is probably what contributed to me thinking nothing can make you feel as good as a donut or a dozen.

Granny’s tales didn’t involve food but were often used to either entertain me or dissuade me from doing something.

I was told fables of folly about how my face was going to freeze and I was going to have 10 little girls who were just as sassy and mean as me. That last one usually stopped me in my tracks.

She often spun her tales around growing up and doing things like picking cotton and keeping opossums out of the chicken house.

And one time, a bull was involved.

“I was told to go put the cows up,” she began. “So off I went. I headed out to the pasture where they were and had to herd them up. This was a tough thing for just a small child to do. I was younger than you when I did this.”
“How did you herd them?”
“I clapped my hands at them and told them they needed to come home because Mama was not going to rest until they did – and they knew how ornery she was. You know that saying, ‘til the cows come home?’ Well, I’ve never been given proper credit but I do believe I was the one that said it first.”

“And they all went back to the barn?”

“Yes, they did. All but one. And this one was out in this other field. I had to walk all the way over there – it was far, too. It didn’t seem that far when I was just a-looking at this cow but when I started walking it in the heat it was.

“Anyway, I was about halfway across the field when I realized something – that was not a cow.”
“What was it?” I asked.
“It was a bull! A great big old ill bull. And there I was, in this pasture with it, hooting and hollering for it come on home.”
“What happened?”

“I’m telling you!” she exclaimed. “This bull, he was huge, maybe three times bigger than my Oldsmobile, and he was angry. He charged towards me and I knew I was a goner. I thought, that’s it. I am not gonna die at the horns of this bull. I am going to fight and get him back in the barn if it is the very last thing I do.
“He came running towards me and I went under him. Just dove straight down like I was going for the bases in baseball. I had a mouthful of dirt when I came up but I didn’t care. I had managed to get behind it and even though that bull was going probably 30 miles an hour, I grabbed hold of its tail and held on. He snorted and tore across the pasture and I was just a bumping along like a tin can in the back. He’d go one way, and I’d go the other.”
“I held on for dear life – I knew if I let go, he would surely kill me. And finally, I realized he would go the way I twisted his tail. So I’d twist it to the right and there’d he go. Or I’d twist it to the left. I got him back to the barn and when he went in, I let go and shut the barn door. Daddy always said I was able to handle that bull better than anybody after that.”

“You could have been killed, Granny!”

“Nah,” she said. “I was meaner than that bull. I couldn’t die.”

I asked her brother, G.E., once if it was true.

“I’m going to tell you the truth – as it is known to me,” he said, a serious look on his face.  “It wasn’t just one bull, it was two. And Helen stared one down and made the poor thing run off – our daddy was still looking for that bull until the day he died. Sometimes, we would think we heard it booing –”

“Booing?”

“Yes, child, booing. Cows moo, bulls boo. We thought we would hear it off in the distance booing but it never did come home. Helen had scared it that bad. Daddy may have lost a prize bull.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Truth?”

“You don’t think I would tell you a juddywhacker, do you?”

I honestly wasn’t sure. I had heard some mighty big tales.

And somewhere, in betwixt and between, there was some teeny, tiny kernels of truth.