The K is upside down, but all I see is that he spelled the word “thanks” on his own. Every letter couldn’t fit on one line, but he was the one to do all of the peeling and sticking; the one to troubleshoot when space ran out. The circle has corners that circles, as a pretty fundamental rule, are not supposed to have.
But sitting down with him to cut and paste and ignore messes that would be swept up after Thanksgiving crafts this year, I was by his side to see changes that were brand new to him this fall. I was the first to notice how much better he could steer the little, blue-handled scissors he learned to cut with two simultaneously short and very long autumns ago, and that he could spell words on his own that last Thanksgiving over turkey and Native American crafts, he couldn’t.
Little handprint turkeys and pilgrim hats of newspaper and thread are some of the most tangible measures of his growth I’ll ever get. The end products are like photographs anyone would love to keep around, but actually making these things with him are what stir it all to life for me. I know that looking back at his artwork someday will remind me of more than just an age or a roundabout time. It’ll bring back a day, dotted with specifics; glue smeared and fading into the front of a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt, an “uh-oh” we said together after a canister of glitter burst with a hiss onto the floor, a funny thing he said while we were cleaning up.
It’s wholly and entirely selfish of me to worry about – he’ll get so much from school next year that I can’t give to him at home – but I wonder if it’ll be the same when next year, he hands me a macaroni necklace that I wasn’t there to watch him make. I wonder if I’ll feel like I’m missing out on too much, or if being at the receiving end of a surprise he pulls proudly out of his backpack will be even cooler.
The part of me that makes things with him now because it offers any kind of cognitive or motor skill edge is very small. The part of me that crafts with him because it’s easy-going fun all the time and never ends in a mess that hardly seems worth the benefit is even smaller.
I do it because he is growing (like they always have to go and do) so much faster than I can keep up with. And when we craft – when I listen to the way small scissors bite decisively into paper that doesn’t bend anymore when he’s trying to keep it crisp – I get to see all of that growing in action. There isn’t always a lot to see, it isn’t always significant, but it slows the high speed down a little. It helps me to feel like I’m really experiencing this age as much as I possibly can before it turns into something new so fast I hardly notice it has.
Sometimes the growing is elusive – as easy to miss as letting him concentrate for longer bridges of time. Sometimes the growing is a payoff I’ve put in a long, hard wait to see: he’s rambunctious, but this time without knocking anything over or forgetting to use manners in all of the dither. Sometimes, when the only thing driving him to finish at all is irked determination, I hear him seethe a strong word and keep going, instead of stomp off when the scissors slip for the hundredth! time. And I know in that moment that just now, I’ve watched him do a little bit of growing up.
Today, when Scarlett got into our new package of foam letters and ripped a few of them apart, he got up with a short huff. “Scarlett, no, no, baby.” He pulled the pieces of torn foam out of her hand, quick to replace it with a crayon so as not to make her cry. “There you go, sweetheart. It’s okay,” he soothed. “We can keep these parts for scrap.” He didn’t let it enrage him like it would have done six months ago. He didn’t whine for me to take care of it, or jump at the chance to play pre-school dictator. He handled himself like a big brother, and then returned to his seat at the table without having to climb the way he used to – the way his sister does now. He remembered what we were talking about easier than he would have just a month ago, and he went on… talking, pasting in excessive amounts, and positioning little shapes on what would eventually be a small, perishable turkey we probably won’t even keep.
I didn’t say anything to him about how proud I was. He was already pretty passionately into a ten minute story about something that took ten seconds to transpire. But I was. Instead, I took that small, intangible piece of his budding maturity, admired it wordlessly for a minute and I tucked it tightly away.
It’s not a big, screaming deal. But this time with him is something I’ll always cherish that I got to spend on him when he was small. It’s a season of parenthood I can let pass, if maybe with a little bit of a broken heart, knowing that at least it was really fun while it lasted. We had some pretty good times. And we’ll have others.