He’s lying across the back of the red couch, one leg drooping down, his face pale and serious.
“If I’m not going to school tomorrow can I have the iPad as long as I like tonight?”
Steve and I say “no” in unison, and his face darkens. This is Leo of the shin guards, long hair and easy laugh. Our power child who is ready to pitch a fit in a pinch. I can tell something is different though. He is not whining, screaming, or thrashing. Just slightly darker and more closed than the minute before when we were peacefully planning his party.
Fifteen minutes earlier I had confessed to Steve that I had agreed to allow Leo to skip school for his birthday, a custom of my childhood that seemed sweet and innocent then, and now seems like not the best choice on the first five day school week for the kid who asks to skip school as if the question is a natural part of his morning routine.
So I doubted myself, and that was compounded by the fact that Steve’s mother is in town to bear witness to our hooky playing. Although I don’t know her policy I somehow imagine her three kids skipped school about never. Maybe even actually never. This is the family that drives 6 hours to watch each other play collegiate club sports. Obligations to family, team, church and country are not optional. They are not optionaligations. Crap its late. Thats not even a little funny.
So Leo looks at me, and I look at him and decide to just go for it. In the vein of “bus fuck” and the time that the kids were fighting on my bed and instead of ignoring them or shrieking I just piled on and we all giggled.
I tell him I think he is trying to understand the reasoning behind the rule. Yes, he says. He is with me. I ask if he feels able to listen to my odd explanation or if he is too tired to deal with something that might be complicated and not go how he wants.
He is six going on seven and he answers this the way he should. With wariness. I mean, what possible answer can he give and we both know it and I am worried that I have thrown aside my shovel for a backhoe and am just digging straight through over explaining parenting into some place even I have never been. (Except maybe the time I tried to explain the holocaust.)
So I tell him, I made a mistake when I told you that you can skip school.
It is like I am inside his head with him. The head that is about to split open in rage, utter rage at being 6 (almost 7) and not in control and not getting what he wants, but he remembers the tacit agreement that he made about listening to my reasoning.
So he doesn’t scream and I am able to tell him the next part.
I think I made a mistake, but in this case I gave you my word and I am not going to go back on it. However, even though logically if you don’t have school in the morning the reason for shutting down the iPad isn’t relevant I just don’t want to compound my mistake.
He is almost giddy. I get it Mama, I get it. Even though it doesn’t make sense to say no iPad you are saying it anyways because you don’t want to make two mistakes. So you will just make one mistake. And thats OK. I’ll go to bed now, without my iPad and then Ill skip school tomorrow.
“But Leo, its not bedtime yet.”
The laugh that comes out of him. The utter joy of understanding, and not being stripped of this treasure, he is ready to put himself to bed an hour early. How funny is that, his laugh says. And through it all, the little bit of him that sees each story in its larger context. The part that told me at age 2- when I have kids I will teach them the things that you teach me. That part is living large tonight.
And he reached out and patted me with a hand that still has just a shade of plumpness, pat pat pat. Mama,lets go upstairs.