There's a song by Matt Skiba & The Sekrets called How The Hell Did We Get Here? and it was probably the turning point in me realizing that Ethan was at an age where he not just listened to lyrics, but regurgitated them properly. ("Target? We're at Target? How the hell did we get here?" and other appropriately used exclamations shouted out in the correct tone when just enough people were around to hear.) "School starts next week," I lamented as usual one morning. "How did we get here already, buddy?" He was silent for a minute and then asked "how the hell did we get here?" with just enough sing-song familiarity for me to realize he was recycling lyrics I probably should have stopped letting him listen to in the car months ago.
Ethan decided that he wanted to attend summer camp at his gym the week before school began. "I want to stay all day," he assured me. I've realized that motherhood is very much walking a fine line between squashing the independence out of your child and desperately trying to stay sane while grappling with a terrifying reality. And so, with bursts of tears at random, I dropped Ethan off at camp. I dropped him off with a packed lunch he would eat with people who aren't me, and said goodbye and walked out the door understanding that I could not protect him for the next few hours. He says things like "I have a water bottle with my name on it and a rocket ship, what else could I need?" and he smiles so purely that I have to bite my tongue so hard to not force him to understand the harshness of the world that he has just begun to wade in.
My husband doesn't understand because he was cool. He was well-liked. He got along with everyone and liked the things other children liked, and to this day watches the television shows that other people watch. He liked sports and Rancid and politics and computers and always has something to talk about everyone with because he's well-rounded and likable and tall and handsome and can pull it together even when it feels like the world is spiraling out of control. I, on the other hand, began elementary school pretending my name was Selena Valenzuela because I'd watched La Bamba too many times (what kid loves La Bamba?) and began middle school frighteningly close to legitimately believing I was a cast member of The X-Files. In high school, I listened to emo bands with long, strung out names about being miserable and drew sad faces on my Converse with Sharpies. Ethan is a little bit more like me. Okay, he's a lot bit more like me. And so I worry.
Motherhood is also a fine line between encouraging your child to be who they are even if that means they're pretending to be an alien and wanting to drop kick the next kid who points and laughs and calls your kid weird.
I have been staying up half the night (which means binge eating bowls of sugary cereal at 2 a.m. because that's how I cope) worrying about school despite the fact he's only enrolled two days a week. And now I have been trying to put my big kid shoes on and swallow the idea of camp for a few hours each day, too. Camp is easier to digest. Ethan has been attending classes at his gym since he was eight weeks old and so his teacher is more a part of our family than people who are actually a part of our family, but still. There is a piece of me that aches when he is away from me and I'm well aware this is just the beginning. As he smiles and runs into the gym for camp, I close my eyes and can picture him slamming his bedroom door to sob away his first heartbreak or to tune me out because the perils of high school are too tedious to discuss with your mother. That's how fast life goes, isn't it? That's what grandparents are always nagging for you to understand, that life just goes so damn quickly? One day, you're twenty five years old rocking your first baby all night as he reflux-style vomits all over your hair and you cry because you don't know what you're doing and then you blink and you're waving your first baby off to Pre-K. Or camp. Or both.
How the hell did we get here?
The other day before he ran in the gate to swim class, Ethan turned around and said "I'm going to make you proud today, mommy." Already teetering on the edge of sanity from this school debacle, I felt my eyes well with tears. I realized then he will never begin to understand the depth of my pride or how devastatingly proud of him I already am and always will be. Everything he does makes the world outside of his smile seem dim and dull. He will never know how even the silliest things like playing at camp for four hours makes me feel like he's just accomplished something so big, or how when he smiles I know that there is nothing he can't do.
I'm not sure how the hell we got here already, but I do know what an honor it has been to be a part of his journey. Even if that means sobbing unapologetically into the speaker at the Starbucks drive through because there is no one in the backseat shouting "venti iced water!" when I'm trying to order my coffee.