My husband told the kids they could each get one toy for the trip to the mountains. I was against this, because I’m generally against the purchase of all things, because they end up cluttering up my house, and I end up cleaning them.
But I was happily wandering among the hiking gear, picking out some new pants and a shirt. I was shopping. I was blissful. I was unaware. Unaware, that is, of the toys my husband let my kids pick out. One selected a plastic truck that ran into shit and did wheelies while blaring cock rock. Another picked out a truck with a dinosaur coming out of it, which everyone else found awesome and I found a hole in the space-time continuum. And then there was the toy my oldest son selected.
I stared, open-mouthed, in the middle of the sports store aisle. I was trying to figure out how to tell off my husband without my kids knowing.
“I told you Mama said I couldn’t have arrows anymore,” Blaise said.
“That’s because the last time we let you have anything resembling a projectile weapon, you shot your brother in eye.”
“It wasn’t the eye,” my 7-year-old said, foam-tipped bow-and-arrow at his hip. “It was only near his eye.”
“It left a bruise for days,” I shot back.
My middle son sniffled dramatically and clutched his dinosaur truck. The baby, oblivious, rolled his truck against a display of baseball bats, where it got stuck. The sound of wailing guitars rose.
“Well, he promised he wouldn’t shoot it at anyone,” my husband said. “He’s going to shoot at this.” He held up a box. That box read inflatable boar.
“Oh my f—” I bit back the F-word just in time. “You’re buying our son a bow and arrow set and a — How big is that thing? Three feet long? — inflatable boar? Just so we’re clear. You have lived in the Deep South for far too long.”
“He’s 7,” my husband said, as if this was enough of an answer to everything.
And I learned that there are some things a mother cannot intervene in, cannot be a part of. They brought the bow and arrows up to the mountains. They brought Hogzilla up to the mountains. And first thing, they unpacked both of them, opened the packages, and ran off into the yard to shoot arrows at the target on its side — a target placed, I felt, only to make it mad.
Whenever we were at the cabin, the kids bolted outside to play. Only Blaise got to shoot the bow and arrow because he was 7, and 7 was apparently old enough to entrust with projectile weapons. He tried to hit any part of the boar he could, because while he was old enough to use the bow and arrow, he wasn’t really proficient enough to shoot accurately. He didn’t stalk it. He didn’t name it. He didn’t concoct elaborate hunting scenarios. He just stood at a distance and played target practice.
The boar was definitely a boar. In addition to the target on side, it had inflato-tusks. It also had a lump where only boy pigs have a lump. This struck me as unnecessarily obscene. I’m of the Barbie doll school of blow-up boars.
Blaise loved his bow and arrows. He loved his blow-up boar. Shooting it was a serious business; no one tried to ride it or hit it with sticks or anything. His father was not invited to participate. Nor was I. Sure, if we had asked, he would have let us play. But he didn’t need us. This penis-bulging boar and his bow were his, and his alone. A solo activity.
I remembered the days when he used to accost us with books, when he’d interrupt my writing by shoving toys on top of my keyboard. Those days are gone. Now he reads his own books. He spends his days playing Legos, watching TV shows whose concepts I find fuzzy (Nexo Knights? What the fuck is that?), or shooting anatomically correct blow-up boars with knock-off Nerf.
I knew he was growing up, of course. But I still expected him, I suppose, to pick the cock-rock truck, not the bow-and-arrow and the boar. Well, maybe not the cock-rock truck. Maybe something a little bit older. But still something more little kid-ish. Something less Lord of the Flies. Yes, he’s climbed up (hiked up) Whiteside Mountain two years in a row now. He doesn’t ride in the kid backpack, and he’s making his First Communion soon. He has his own tailored seersucker suit. But the boar made it clear to me: my son, my first baby, is now a boy.
He giggles and pokes the boar in its boarhood. He shoots things with arrows and pretends sticks are guns. He wants to find gold in the streams. He farts and laughs and then laughs when his brother farts. He says the word “shit” when he sings Hamilton. Not only is he not a baby or a toddler, he is also no longer a little boy. His hair is long and wild; he puts together Lego sets and reads everything and shoots an inflatable boar in the ass from several paces away.
It’s pretty entertaining, this boar hunting, this farting. I like it better than the cock-rock playing truck, anyway. I miss my baby. I miss him in ways I can’t even begin to articulate. But I suppose I can keep this smelly-footed, boar-hunting creature around. Especially when he rings his arm around my waist and says, “I love you, Mama.”