The baritone saxophone doesn’t so much toot as blare. Rattle. Shake the house. When the boy is practicing, blowing all his lung air into the mouthpiece, conversation in another room is impossible. The floors vibrate; then he finishes a scale and calls out, “Playing this thing is loosening my ear wax!”
Recently, Paco turned twelve.
I want always to remember who he was at this stage of life: sweet, sensitive, musical, bull-headed, mellow, clever, rules-minded, funny, soft, self-conscious, smart, observant, intuitive, sometimes anxious.
In other words, he’s exactly who he’s always been–only with every passing year, he’s less of a Creature Who Needs Tending and more of a Comfortable Conversation Companion. He just gets better.
All of the traits that were in him when he was two are magnified a decade later. The only difference now is that he accessorizes less when he sings his happy little songs.
In the week before his birthday, Paco took part in two activities that illustrate the breadth of his abilities. First, he completed a day-long blacksmithing class, the foundational course in a series; six days later, he went purse shopping with his mother.
He could have handled either of these as a two-year-old, as well, but the parent in me was grateful he’d outgrown his clown wig phase before standing over the fire in a forge. Too much risk of a stray spark igniting a purple patch of whizzy curls before leaping cheek to smolder on the red nose. I’m also fairly certain the two-year-old Paco, had he been drafted into helping select a new purse, would have been more interested in choosing a shiny gold one with rivets, leopard spots, and a dangling whistle for himself than counseling his mother into the best choice of bag.
True confession: part of me wishes my twelve-year-old were still interested in choosing a shiny gold purse with rivets, leopard spots, and a dangling whistle for himself. We would use it to tote scones and bottles of mineral water when shoe shopping–and to signal each other when stumbling across a noteworthy find (Trumpet that whistle: Dansk clogs are on clearance!).
Alas. His interest these days is weaponry. That’s what led him to the forge: he wants to make a sword. Of course, the road to a sword starts with a single step, in this case Blacksmithing 101, during which he learned to build and tend the fire before whacking at rods of rebar with a hammer for six hours.
The day after the class, our almost-twelve-year-old was whupped. This was not surprising; one of the descriptors listed above with regards to this lad should also have been “low energy” or, phrased more gently, “easily sapped by activity.” He gets that from his mother. After a day of significant exertion, he feels run over; there is no quick rebound or shout of “Where’s the unicycle? I need a balance challenge!” Nae. This kid will need to lie on the couch for a good ten hours the day after effort, persistently promoting the nuances of his sore neck. He will sleep with a heating pad for two nights. He will accept ibuprofen and massages. He will nestle his brain stem on only the softest of fleecy fabrics. When the bathroom calls, he will walk gingerly, guarding his person against offending walls.
I feel this child. I am this child.
Seriously. One time I had a C-section, and from the way I still go on about it, you’d think the surgeon used nothing but a dull butter knife and her left incisor to cut me open.
Interestingly, the ball of blood and tears the surgeon gnawed out of me that day was this very kid, the one who’s just turned twelve.
When he forgets to moan, there is no one better. He works diligently at learning to spin his new bow staff, acting out Daffy Duck and Porky Pig’s famous “Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Thrust!” scene as he twirls.
He loves his softie buddies in the bed and invites them to read in the dark with him, using a head lamp to illuminate a Nate the Great or Rick Riordan book.
And he goes purse shopping with his mother.
It was a spontaneous outing. I’d noticed that my year-old purse’s straps had worn through and were on the verge of giving way entirely. I figured that at some point I’d dash into my favorite store and seek out a new one.
That opportunity presented itself the night before Paco’s birthday. He and I–teeming with vitality and non-sore necks when I suggested an expedition to check out the newest series of Lego mini-figures–had driven to the shopping area in town and done some focused groping of various bags of mini-figs, attempting to discern which figures might be held within the mystery packets. More than anything, we were hoping to detect a unicorn horn; to turn twelve the next day while clutching a Lego unicorn would be, well, like being the forty-seven-year-old mother of a twelve-year-old clutching a Lego unicorn: THE APEX OF AWESOME.
Once we selected our bags of figures and made our way out to the car (“I’m going to open one now and one tomorrow on my birthday; since I’m not having a party this year, that gives me something to look forward to”), I noted that we were conveniently near my favorite store.
“Paco, I feel The Mothership calling. The computer chip in my brain that’s linked to the main hive is pinging and pinging. Can we answer its call? Do you mind doing a little more dinkin’ around before we head home?”
The immediate response confirmed his status as Best Playmate. “What are you asking? I LOVE dinkin’ around.”
When we got to The Mothership, he had no interest in wandering off and looking at things that might interest him. He never does. Always and forever, he would rather stick close. Better conversation that way.
Hip to hip, we entered the square footage of Purse.
“So, what kind of purse are you looking for, exactly, Mom?”
He posed a hard question–for the criteria are variable, so long as the purse speaks. It’s a love thing.
“Hmmm. Well, you know the colors I like. Actually, even though I don’t usually like oranges and reds, I could do them in a purse. I just would need to be careful never to hold the purse next to my face, and the only time I can imagine my face ever nearing my purse would be when I’m digging for a quarter, Kleenex, lip balm, bandaid, dental floss, car keys, phone, or wallet, so what I mean to say is no reds or oranges. Also, I really hate blingy stuff, and all the random hardware they like to attach these days feels painfully Try Hard to me. Let’s just say we’re looking for a classic purse without a lot of crap jammed onto it. Oh, and also: always remember that fringe is the devil’s work.”
Having processed my words, Paco wandered over to a luscious navy blue dreamboat and gave it a heft. “How about this one? Nope, wait: it’s open across the top, and you need a zipper so all your stuff doesn’t spill out.”
Carry on, small man.
Moving to the next navy blue bag, he noted, “I like the shape of this one, and it’s so soft. Do you need a long strap, or do you just want to wear the handles over your shoulder?”
Negotiable, kid. I won’t know ’til I see it. It’s a love thing.
Then he looked at the price tag. “Oh, no. I’m worried about the cost of this one. It’s pretty high. That’s why it’s so nice.”
Teachable moment: you get what you pay for, buddy. Sometimes, when a purse has nice shape and is soft, that’s because it’s well made.
“Okay, then,” he continued. “You should carry that one around for a little bit to test it out. Also, it’s the last one, and you don’t want anyone else to take it until you’ve decided.”
I clutched it to my chest and petted the softness, just as I had this boy when he was a baby.
We wandered to the next display. “Yuck,” Paco noted. “Beiges and whites won’t be practical. They’ll get dirty so fast. Plus, they’re boring, and you like fun. Keep walking.”
Moving to the clearance rack, our eyes were drawn to a bright blue bag, smallish, zippered-but-not-too-much. “Ooh, I like that one,” I got squealy.
“But isn’t it too small, Mom? Your wallet won’t even fit in it.”
“Yea, but I could use it when I travel and only want to take the essentials–some cash, a credit card, a Burt’s Bees lip balm, ibuprofen, and a unicorn mini-figure. Those things would all fit easily!”
I grabbed the bright blue purse and smashed it against the navy blue one. Cuddling two babies, I followed my young man.
“Hey, Paco, wait! Isn’t this one kind of funky? The flap is asymmetrical, and it has two different chains for each shoulder strap. That’s fun, right?”
I’d gotten so off track, my counselor had to turn and give me a dead-on corrective stink eye. His gaze burned into mine, laser-like, as he countered my whimsy. “Mom. No. This purse is red. Would you say it’s ‘classic’? Can you undo that button on the flap easily every time you get in and out of your purse? No, Mom. No.”
He was right. In fact, rack after rack, every time I tried to derail my original intentions (Jocelyn Superpower #47) and get excited about impractical, silly, or ridiculous, the last-night-as-an-eleven-year-old’s voice brought me back from the edge.
“When you put that one on, it juts out really far. You’ll always be knocking things over with it. Since I’m always one step behind you, I could lose an eye.”
“I don’t think you should get two purses. That gets too expensive, and how many purses do you take out with you each day? ONE.”
“You think that’s cute right now, but when you look at it next week, you’ll realize it’s ugly.”
“That looks like a dead lizard on a string. You can’t.”
“I don’t want to know someone who would carry that heap of sequins on her shoulder.”
“Look at the lining inside that one. It will rip by Tuesday. And it looks like barf.”
We turned a corner.
The racks of green purses.
Green and I have a history. Green might actually be Paco’s father.
Our steps slowed; our fingertips grazed. Green was promising.
While I soaked in the big picture, Paco went specific and started digging to a barely visible hook in the back. “Mom! Look at this one! Lime green! And you know how we feel about lime green!”
I helped him extract it from the tangle of purses. It was lime green all right.
“And it doesn’t have dangly junk or bling, either. It’s like a real purse. Would it hold all your stuff? ‘Cause, Mom? I think this is the one. This is the best one, right? Let’s look at the price. Hey, not so bad! You have to get this one, don’t you? No question about it! LOOK AT THE GREEN! Mom, we love it; don’t we love it?”
Fortunately, I’m open to lime green. Fortunately, it was a good size. Fortunately, it was a good price. Fortunately, it was well made. Fortunately,
even if I’d been on the fence, unsure if it spoke to me, not completely sold,
I realized that–on the cusp of my son’s twelfth birthday–this was a moment to tuck into my heart. The next few years will see him moving further away from me, separating healthily and painfully; he will always be my boy, but he’s about to become less and less my boy, more and more the world’s man. He will always be part of my pulse, yet I will miss him forever.
Rather than yielding to the wash of melancholy that threatened, I focused on what he was right then, in that moment, in The Mothership, standing next to the green purses, enthusiastically holding up his choice.
Almost as tall as I, this young man was sweet, sensitive, musical, bull-headed, mellow, clever, rules-minded, funny, soft, self-conscious, smart, observant, intuitive, sometimes anxious. And he was applying all of his everything to helping me with my cause.
There was no question. Even if he’d been holding up a red purse dripping with sequins and fringe gilded with seven gold chains, I would have bought it.
It’s a love thing.