I don’t like 8-year-old boys. This isn’t a revelation. I didn’t like 7-year-old boys much either, so it just goes to figure that 8-year-olds would be more of the same but bigger.
But this? THIS?! Ugh.
Late each summer afternoon, my husband comes home from work and I’m staggering around between the sink and the refrigerator with hungry Twilight eyes, muttering, “Is it five o’clock yet? Five o’clock?” because Mama needs a drink.
It’s hard to describe what the actual thing is that he does that drives me so bonkers. He teases his sister. He says mean things during time out. When his brother is playing with his toys, he punches him in the solar plexus and laughs a little. He whines to play Monopoly or baseball in the yard, but even when I comply (and I pretty much hate baseball only slightly less than I hate Monopoly), he is still a jerk.
He wants to quit when he’s behind, taunts when he’s ahead.
Tonight while we were reading, he curled away from me, fiddling with the edge of his blanket.
“Are you even paying attention?” I asked. Reading at night, just him and me, has been one of those traditions I’ve held onto, something we’ve savored.
He rolled towards me, ripped an absurdly loud fart and then flapped the blanket in my face.
And it stank. Like grown-up, I-just-ate-jalapeño-poppers-and-drank-a-pitcher-of-beer stank.
“Seriously?” I said.
And then my husband walked in to say good night.
“Geez. It smells like monster farts in here!” He laughed, and my son wagged the blanket and rolled away again, hysterical.
A few weeks ago in the library I ran into a woman I vaguely remembered. She was there with her 8-year-old son. He’s blond-haired, blue-eyed beautiful in the way that either the really good boy or the really evil boy is in a horror film.
“How’s summer?” she asked.
“Well, you know, it’s been going on for two weeks for us, soooooo…” I rolled my eyes.
“Oh my god,” she replied. “We just started yesterday. And it’s…” She looked over at her son as he ran his fingers nonchalantly along the videos, glancing back at her with cold, reproving eyes. “It’s hard,” she finished in a whisper. I swear it almost looked like she feared for her life.
“Mine’s a total pain in the ass,” I replied.
“My friend texted me yesterday and said she’d already cried! I texted her back and told her I’d already cried TWICE!” she confided.
“Thank god for texting and girlfriends.”
We both nodded.
Sometimes I don’t know whether to just use tough love, tell him he’s such a pain that I don’t want to be around him. I’ve been known to say, “I don’t want you playing with my children because you’re such a rotten bully.” And he’s one of my children, too. But his snarkiness is poison.
Then I get to thinking that my snarkiness is poison. Like maybe I should use that therapy they suggest for feral teens, where you just sit and hold them all day long? And you do everything for them until they know they’re loved? Like everything? (I swear I heard it on NPR.)
The other day I found an illustrated book he’d made. There was a picture of us reading together with the caption, “Reading Harry Poter.” Also, “At the beetch.” (That’s BEACH, people. He’s not that bad.) And then a picture of a square cage with two figures intertwined next to it. It said, “Dansing at the grosery store.”
It reminded me of what I would do on those rare days we shopped together, he and I, a few years back. These were the days when the twins had preschool and the baby would be asleep in her infant carrier propped on the shopping cart. I would promise to “punish” him by dancing. In public. To Muzak. At the grocery store.
He would commit some trumped-up crime, like putting gum in the shopping cart in a very coy and obvious manner. I would grab him and we would spin down the aisle to the Copa Cabana, heedless of stock boys and the elderly. And while he would profess to hate it, we would both laugh madly.
This weekend we loaded everyone into the minivan and headed north in an effort to escape all our everyday woes. The first clear day after we arrived, I paddled my stand-up paddle board around the island, and he came with me in his kayak. His head was on a swivel as he paddled, and he talked about everything: the colors of the lobstermen’s buoys, what time they like to report back to the dock, who was dropping their traps when.
I talked about the sailboats and how my sister and I used to sail when we were kids, how important the tiller was for steering, how the boom can whack you right across the head as you switch directions if you’re not careful, how there’s a moment as you come about when the sails falter, powerless, before they fill and carry you away again in a new direction.
This may be my refrain each year: Why I Hate 9-Year-Old Boys, Top 10 Reasons I Want to Punch All 10-Year-Old Boys in the Throat, 11-Year-Old Boys Suck, and so on.
And each year as I consider this new phase, as the frustration builds inside me, I hope that the moment before the explosion, I see the face of my firstborn child, the grocery-aisle-dancer, the kayak-adventurer, the read-one-more-chapter cuddler, and I remember that he’s in there.
He’s in there, trying to find his way through … just like the rest of us lost souls.