This little boy of mine is as sweet as they come. He is the boy hiding behind my legs, the one shielding his eyes from a stranger's glance in the grocery store aisles. He is the one with pursed lips pretending he forgot how to talk when someone other than myself speaks to him, the one who can sit for hours creating masterpieces with fingerpaint and washable markers. He is the one who watches from afar at the other children roughhousing and running around the playground, the one who reaches for my hand or the comfort of my shirt when he hears the uproarious shouting from a rowdy group of older children. I love this about him. I love his sweetness, his pensiveness. I love his artistic eye and the way we can still lay on the futon in our home office listening to Iron and Wine and letting the music calm us as we cuddle. I love his gentle spirit. My husband and I always say with a sad, half-joking smile that one day someone will come along and break his heart; one day someone will destroy him to the point of scalloped-paged journals filled with poorly written teenage prose. I know because that was me. "This is your payback," my mother says, as Ethan clings to her jeans to avoid saying hello to a stranger. It is a payback I am grateful to accept. I'm grateful for the sound of paintbrush strokes on construction paper, the way he has secrets and jokes that he likes to whisper to only me.
At twenty-seven months, I am watching him challenge himself with his shyness. I am watching him take chances. When his My Gym teacher calls his name for Red Rover, he will always hesitate but most times he will still run. While the children are all lined up on the ledge at swim nervously waiting the big jump in, it is Ethan chanting "One! Two! Three! UNDER!" at the top of his lungs.
I love watching his confidence grow. I love watching the way his fingers slip from the edge and he throws himself into and under the water, his messy hair a blur underneath the blue water. It is him growing but not just physically, and not just in the I can't believe he's not my baby anymore sense. But him growing into himself, into who he is; discovering who he is and running with it. Reveling in it. Smiling that sweet, innocent smile as he declares he cannot go to bed because an elephant might visit and, of course, he wants to meet said elephant. "Grandma's doggie drives Ethan nuts," he declares at random while strolling through Target. "Ethan mommy's baby. Mommy so proud of Ethan," he declares at random while driving home from our mommy and me class. He is two and understands the world in a way I want to remember how to understand it myself, a way that only children can.