Once upon a time, I had a toddler who loved to talk. When asked, "How are you?" he would respond with a toddler-sized account of what he did that day.
"Uhh-uh-uh, I played dinosaurs," he would say, holding plastic toys on top of his head. "Roar," he'd bellow as he dropped to all fours and began attacking my legs. Then he'd pop back up to tell me, "T-Rex is my favorite." As if I didn't know.
Now that toddler is thirteen and no longer lumbers through the house pretending to be a prehistoric monster. When we bring up his past obsession, he chuckles indulgently, but never owns up to the time that he was so wrapped up in playing T-Rex that he took a bite out of a houseplant. (Luckily, I caught him before he swallowed.) He doesn't remember much of anything, it seems. Including how to talk.
I was thinking of the dinosaur days this morning as I dropped my kid off for school. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: "Hey, didn't you have a Spanish test last week?"
Me: "Well, how'd it go?"
Him: "I dunno."
Me: "Your teacher didn't tell you your grade?"
Me: "He WON'T tell you your grade ever?"
Me: "You can't look it up online or anything?"
Me: "Seriously? How are you supposed to know your grades if he never tells you?" (I find this impossible to believe. I used to be a teacher in a land far far away. I know how kids can tune out important information and then go home and tell their parents that it's your fault they don't know what to do.)
Rolling of eyes here. Audible exhalation from son. One hand thrown forward for emphasis.
Once he hits the two syllable pronunciation of my job title, I know the conversation is over. And so it was. When we reached the school, my son shot out of the car, slamming the door behind him. As I watched him climb the stairs two at a time, I tried to make sense of what just happened. As much as I tried, I couldn't shake the feeling that even though we still lived in the same house, he had moved out and left me no forwarding address.
I drove up the hill toward home, my foot heavy on the accelerator. I could still smell my child in the car, a mixture of manly deodorant and Irish Spring soap, so different from the scent of his toddler years, when he'd come in from the backyard covered in sand and dirt and little-boy sweat. But that's all gone now, and so is my son.
And yet. I recall how his voice squeaked this morning when he said my name, like the rusty hinges of an old metal box. I remember how he sat all the way through a picture book the other night without even complaining. I remember how he lingered on the deck during his little brother's birthday party, watching the children play Red Light, Green Light with a look that said, "I want to play, too."
So this is what I'm thinking. Even though my kid has moved out, I haven't. I may not have his address, but he has mine. And just maybe he'll come and visit every so often. And when he does, I'll be here, ready to talk. Or, more importantly, to listen.