About a Boy

156 Comments

sleeping-boy

This is a story about a boy and his room.

When he went to sleep that night nine years ago, our first night in this house, boxes were piled high around him. Before he fell asleep, I read to him from his favorite book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales – I’d packed it along with his teddy bear and his new checkered comforter and marked the box OPEN FIRST.

After the story, I lay next to him for awhile, the lights still on. He wasn’t ready, he said, to turn them off, or for me to go. So I pushed the hidden button on the teddy bear’s heart — the one that triggered the 30-second recording of me singing a few lines from “Help.” It had become his lullaby when he was an infant, when I was so sleep-deprived that I couldn’t remember the words to a single other song.

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way…

I watched him as he grew sleepy. His lashes were as golden as his hair, and dipped at the ends. His skin was perfect. I knew he was halfway between the years of wide-eyed wonder and those of surly rebellion — the Time of Bliss — and I wanted to savor every moment. What a boy, I thought, what a magical nine-year-old boy. When he laughed, it made me laugh. When he cried, it made my heart ache. If he were selling dirt door to door and I’d never met him, and didn’t need any dirt — just one look at that face and I’d have bought a truckload.

We sang along, and he pushed the button over and over, until he drifted off to dreamland, and I got to work.

I’d made up my mind that I was going to unpack all the boxes in his room — so that when he opened his eyes the next morning, he’d find it entirely different from when he closed them. The six months leading up to the 1400-mile move had been hard: his father had gone ahead of us for his job, while we stayed behind to finish the school year. That winter was brutal, one of the worst in memory — one ice storm after another, followed by difficult goodbyes to friends, to teachers, to the home and the places he loved. I wanted to make him happy — to give back some of the bliss he’d given me just by being him. To create a space that he would enjoy the way he had his old room, where he acted out characters from books and assembled Lego creatures both large and small.

Fortunately, he slept like a log. I hung clothes in his closet and capes and hats on wooden pegs, put pictures on the walls, books on shelves, and toys in his red, wooden wagon. I displayed his Lego creations, stored trading cards in a shoe box under the bed, and lay his moon-and-stars rug on the floor. Over his bed I hung the yellow Styrofoam sun with a smiling face.

By 4 a.m., I was finished. I’d even flattened the boxes and carried them to our box-filled garage. Before I went to sleep, I set my alarm for 8 a.m. — I wanted to see the expression on his face when he woke up.

At 7 a.m., he was standing next to my bed.

“Mom,” he said, touching my arm. “Mom, wake up, please.”

I sat up. “Why are you awake so early?”

“Cause something happened when I was sleeping,” he said.

“What?”

“My room got nice. The boxes are gone,” he said. “You gotta come see my room.”

Last week, after taking him to college to begin his freshman year, I packed up that same room. Some of his things will be thrown away, some given away, some kept for memory’s sake. He still had the Legos and the trading cards, but most of the other things had been replaced or boxed up over the years. There were a few drawings and pictures left on the wall — he’d mailed his favorite posters to his dorm, including several of The Beatles. His closet was mostly empty, save for a few hanging items wrapped in plastic — the judo clothes that had been my husband’s as a child, the wool blazer my mother gave him when he was a toddler, the tiny fake leather jacket he wore when he pretended to be Elvis, the honor-society tees.

I vacuumed curtains, bedding, and dried-up toothpaste on the carpet.

I dusted the sun with the smiling face.

The button on the bear had long ago lost its juice, but I sat down on his bed and sang the lullaby one last time.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down 
And I do appreciate you being ’round 
Help me get my feet back on the ground 
Won’t you, please, please help me? 
Help me, help me, ooh.

Comments

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  1. 1

    Sadie says

    Beautiful! Tear-jearking! I have a 10 month old and I can already see that this journey is so very bitter sweet. Congratulations on the college milestone. Hugs to you sweet Mama!

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    • 4

      Melissa T. Shultz says

      Thank you! I am very proud. Our new life in separate places will take some getting used to, but I’m looking forward to this chapter and to watching him become the man I know he can be.

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  2. 5

    Kati says

    Awwww, my baby girl just turned nine and we are redoing her room. It breaks my heart to know she is closer to gone. This was beautiful. Good luck to your son and to you Mama <3

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    • 10

      Melissa T. Shultz says

      It’s hard to slow down when you are in the thick of it, but yes, if I were to give my younger self advice, that would be at the top of the list.

      All Best,

      Melissa

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  3. 15

    says

    Thank you for such a beautiful post, Melissa! Isn’t it funny how we, as parents, always look to the next milestone with excitement and long to have the last one back with our kids? Thank you for reminding me to look at the ones right in front of me. This is a very exciting time for all of you… enjoy and thank you for sharing!

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  4. 18

    heckofanurse says

    My Heathen is only 7, but he’s one of those kids that, when you look in his deep-ocean blue eyes, it’s like he sees your soul.I think sometimes how I’d like a crystal ball to see him as the man I can’t wait to see, but then I don’t know how he got this age, either. He started 2nd grade this year, and he’s too grown up for me already! I cried at the very idea that his flame curtains and solar system bedding will be banished too soon. Thank you for the insight!

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  5. 20

    Katie says

    My oldest daughter turns 9 next month and it is a little bittersweet. It goes by so fast and I am trying to hold on to all of it and help her navigate it all. Thank you for a the story, it made me cry.

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  6. 21

    stacy says

    So very touching…thank you for the reminder that life moves too fast – it’s so easy to get caught up in the stress of the day, and wish the weeks away…when these are the moments to cherish (I have a 21 mo. old). Huge congratulations to you and your son…you both sound very blessed to have each other.

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  7. 25

    Cheri says

    Lovely story and brought back some lovely memories, as this is all too familiar to me, with one twist. The year I packed up my one and only son (at that time) for University here in the UK when he was 17, I was pregnant with one of his little brothers (after trying to get pregnant for 9 years). Then a year and a half later, had my 3rd little boy. Then the year my eldest son graduated from University, my middle son started Reception (Kindergarten equivalent in the UK) and my youngest started pre-school. It has been a surreal life with my precious boys, and I’m really taking the time to enjoy it even more this time around, as I know ALL TOO WELL how fast the time goes!
    Thanks for sharing :) xx

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  8. 27

    Rissa Bruno says

    Wow…..made me tear up! This is exactly how I felt when we initially bought our first home and moved in. Our Son was 4 at the time. We lived there for 14 years and then he left for the Army. At that time also, the housing market crashed and we went upside down on our mortgage which forced us to give the house back to the bank. I remember bawling my eyes out when I packed up his room. I felt like I was losing the memories too! Such a hard time…..but it does get better.

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  9. 28

    Nancy D'Angelo Stein says

    Yeah, the older one just moved into his own apartment and the "baby" turned 18 yesterday and is 400 miles away at school….although I cleaned their rooms, I haven't put their stuff away, and there are certain books I CANNOT read right now because they were bedtime books….

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  10. 29

    Amanda says

    My son is never allowed to grow up. This broke my heart. I’m still leaking out a few tears as I write this. I am not looking forward to the day my boy grows up into a young man, and eventually marries the woman who makes his heart flutter. I still have to endure the first solo bike ride, his first day of school, that loose tooth Ive got to pry out….Reading this will make me more appreciative of the time I still have with my boy.

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    • 30

      Melissa T. Shultz says

      Those will all be wonderful experiences for you both…enjoy every one of them, even if they are difficult, or imperfect — they are yours and his forever and ever.

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