This is it. Watching SpongeBob SquarePants and he cuddles into me, soft and warm as a new towel out of the dryer. He fits right into me, and I wrap my arm over his 10-year-old shoulder and give a squeeze.
Move an inch this way. Blend in. I’m not sure if he even notices me. But all my senses notice him. This is my youngest. My arms ache to hold him and my heart feels the loss his puberty will bring, even as I hold him now. My free palm rubs his bent knee. Just like my mom used to do to me.
I was in a restaurant with my mom before she died and she told me stories about Hawaii. About her life before me. I remember thinking how much is in her head? In her little head—I stared right at it in that restaurant—and it was small and neat like elderly heads get. Gray and tiny and full. So blessedly full. I wanted to climb into that brain and know everything. I sensed that these nights in a restaurant were not for long and I wanted to learn more, learn everything about this woman who taught school children in Hawaii. But all we had was an hour or two. I thought: How would I ever know? I know nothing.
"Mom," I said as we shoved our arms into heavy wool coats for the Minnesota night air. "There is so much I need to know."
"Like what?" she laughed.
"About you. About being a mom. About how to act. About everything."
"Oh, you’ll know." She smiled. "You’ll know."
After I got the heater in the car going, she put a hand briefly over my hand on the wheel.
"Maggie," she told me, "I have nothing to tell you. These things are so mundane. You are the one with the stories now."
Back in the family room, my husband walks in and starts to say something, then stops, mouth open. I follow his gaze to the child’s eyes and I see they are closing. I am proud to be caught like this. Cradling a 10-year-old.
"Let me carry him upstairs," he whispers. I shake my head "no." Go away, I think selfishly, go away. I tighten my grip around him, add the other arm for good measure.
My husband turns the sound down on the television. SpongeBob’s bright laugh is mute. I observe the room after he walks out and see we missed a wine glass from last night on top of the TV.
Last night, a party full of loud laughing about our teenagers, my older sons. Everyone here with stories about the chaos and chasm of raising a teen. I sat in this same spot and poured wine into my neighbor’s glass. My husband stood by the TV and told a story about our oldest. Wound up tighter than a weed-eater, he spouts off stories round and round. He whipped up those tales, oiled by the laughter, not letting truth get in the way. He told about the time my teenage son was 2 and ran face first into a step. A deviated septum and a hematoma evolved, and it landed us in the hospital with our first child. We lost our minds over this, and I laughed as he embellished our craziness.
I remember a different part of that story. I held my 2-year-old in the hospital after surgery. My arms were stuck bent because he fell asleep on my lap, but I wouldn’t let go of him. My biceps cramped and I was crazy with worry. We were surrounded in stiff chairs by my husband and the pediatrician who stopped by on his rounds. The surgery went well; the boy was fine. It would take me years to recover.
A nurse came in and barked, "You should move him to his bed so he can be more comfortable."
I took my cheek off his head to glare at this nurse. My arms tightened around my child and I shook my head "no."
I told my mom in heaven, I know now.
In my living room, SpongeBob is over and my arms start to ache around this beautiful child on the couch. I figure the news must be on by now, but I will not move an arm to change the channel. He might wake up and make his way upstairs. I put my cheek to his head and take in the scent of his hair. Gorgeous child. Cheeks still fat, middle of fifth grade. We will see his cheekbones as he comes out of fifth grade. I know.
He is beautiful even with "hat head"—brown hair jutting this way and that—as wild and out of control as the day he just so earnestly put in. He never combed his hair today. That will change after fifth grade as well.
I move my leg to get some feeling back into it and settle in.
Treasuring this sacred mundane.
Maggie Stewart is a freelance writer and mom of three boys living in Lake Forest.