We've been hearing a lot of "no" lately.
[What I had for breakfast today: an egg, jasmine rice, and fermented mustard greens.]
A few nights ago, cuddling before his bedtime, Kamal announced, "Mama, neighbors are the people who live rightnext to each other." He placed his palms flat against each other to illustrate. "So I'm going to be your neighbor when I'm all grown up. And also, I will call you a lot, because I will have my own phone. And also, I will have a swimming pool that covers the sidewalks and the roads so we can swim to each other's houses."
This was especially nice given that over the last couple of weeks, Kamal's been talking about how he wants to live on Mars when he grows up. I'm not sure he understands how far away Mars is (I mean, I'm not sure I understand how far Mars is) but he knows it's far; he knows you need a rocket ship to get there. I've been consistently clear with him that I support him living wherever he decides he can make the happiest life for himself, even if I have to get really comfortable with space travel to visit him.
Lately Kamal looks for buttons to push, for ways to get a reaction from me. I figure it's part of being the age he is, exploring boundaries, practicing behaviors, seeing what makes the people around you act the way they do. Right now, he's pretty focused on practicing things that might make Mama angry.
In general, it's pretty difficult for Kamal to make me angry. Widespread social injustice makes me angry. Systemic racism, and the denial of systemic racism, make me angry. The fact of food insecurity juxtaposed with the degree of food waste makes me angry.
Kamal considering a move to Mars, though? That doesn't make me angry. Kamal's experimentation with "bad" words--all learned from me in times when someone cuts us off in a dangerous way in traffic or when I've stubbed my toe--doesn't make me angry, though when he says "I hate that idea" or "I will shoot you with a gun" I always wince. (That's just too much ugliness coming out of such a perfect little mouth, and I'm not ready to have the talk with Kamal about why, as a brown boy, there is no real safe space for him to even in jest threaten anyone with a gun; or to define for him what "hate" really means, and how it shrinks your perspective until you're living in a claustrophobically small, angry world.)
One thing Kamal does that consistently makes me angry--so, you know, he makes a point of doing it on the regular--is refusing to get ready for preschool in the mornings. We're late all. the. time, and it is kind of heartbreaking because--here's the thing--he loves his preschool, and he loves their morning rituals there, and I don't want him to miss a thing he loves or feel out of the groove in any way. So I make a real point of trying to manage our time in the mornings: laying out clothes, following routines, frequently looking up towards the clock. No matter how much I prep and plan, though, there's always a moment where he runs across the yard, cackling gleefully, while I try put on his sunscreen, or decides he has to finish a jigsaw puzzle that has a million pieces and half of them are somewhere in the couch cushions, or, you know, he has to poop and that will take forty-five minutes.
This morning, half an hour after preschool started, I was trying to get Kamal dressed. He laughed in my face, peeled off the pair of underwear I'd just managed to put on him, and tore around the house singing and naked and very, very late for school. I stood there, torn between shouting and crying, holding a small, woefully uninhabited t-shirt in my hands. I thought, "It's a good thing I don't have any patients scheduled until the late morning." And then Kamal came back and plunked down on the floor and started paging through a book.
"Kiddo. I've got something to tell you. Come here."
And he looked up at me with his face so open. I can't say I knew what I was going to talk to him about, specifically--I was just mad and trying to find a thing to say that would make this never happen again. But it was clear from his face he didn't have any expectation that I would scold or lecture him. He was just interested and curious about whatever might happen next.
I picked him up, all forty naked, wiggly pounds, and gathered together his long brown limbs so his body was collected close against my body and we were eye to eye. I took a deep breath, and said, "I just want you to know something. I have done a lot of different things in my life, a lot of really fun things. I have been really, really happy a lot of times. But I've never been as happy as I've been since you were born. Does that make sense? You make me as happy as I've ever been. You are the happiest thing of all the happy things in my life."
He watched my face while I talked. He studied my lips as they moved, and his hands reached up to brush my eyelashes, and then cup my cheeks.
"Mama," he said, "can I ask you one thing?"
"Of course, baby. What is it?"
"Can you do that thing you do with your face where your mouth makes funny noises?"
Okay, so I don't know how much of that got through. But, you know, there is a lot to get angry about when you're raising a little person. And then there's a lot to celebrate. Kamal drives us crazy flipping light switches on and off and playing with dimmers and volume knobs and every reachable lever. It's annoying, it runs up our electric bill, and--particularly when he stacks books and climbs furniture to reach switches--it can be dangerous. But it's also the manifestation of his fascination with the way things work, and that kind of interest is what makes people want to learn. And so that's something to celebrate.
And he drags his feet getting ready for school not because he doesn't love school, but because he loves being home. He loves his house, his room, his stuff. He loves hanging out with me and with Adam. And that is something to celebrate.
And today, the moment we took, face to face, standing still together as the morning minutes rushed headlong around us in all their chaos; the gift of the opportunity to tell him the only really true thing in that moment; the way the clutter of all our made-up deadlines and schedules and paper promises fell away from the clean lines drawn from love: that right there is something to celebrate, too.