The eyes I know. They are the same royal blue with dark grey flecks that I have admired for 11 years. Beneath them the cheekbones seem new. The smattering of freckles that made him seem young and cute now make the strength of his face look open and friendly. It is not just his face that is made of more sturdy stuff. I grab onto his shoulders for emphasis and they are more mountain than bird wing. As a new mother I always felt it was possible he would fly off and leave but now I see that he his attached to this earth.
Logical and level Oliver is a rock mentally as well as physically. Right now that rock seems rather dense. “No” he answers when I ask if he took a survey on drugs at school yesterday. He is sitting in the blue chair in the corner of my bedroom holding a bowl of oatmeal. It is 6:30 am and he has none of the early morning fog around him. Even though his answer is not truthful it doesn’t occur to me that he is lying. He looks at me. I look back. “You didn’t take a survey during a drug presentation?” I ask. “No.” He repeats. Now I am confused. “Did you have a presentation?” “Well we had a marijuana presentation.” He answers. “And there was a survey.” “Did you take it?” “Yes. I took it.” I am confused now. “Why did you tell me you hadn’t taken a survey the first two times I asked?” “Well Marijuana is not a drug.” He states. I wonder about the efficacy of the presentation, and whether in Colorado we have a new designation for legal weed. It is probably worth following up on but I am not too interested now.
Yesterday he chose not to take the trip to buy new sneakers. “Why get new sneakers when these are just fine?” Part of me wants him to understand the joy of choosing something new, something unnecessary but I know that it is a thin line between that pleasure and the pain of believing that particular material goods can make a good life. He stays home. Leo of course wants to come, in fact needs to come as the soles of his shoes are pulling away and the traction is totally gone. It isn’t their lack of function that has him excited to shop, it is that he wants the shoes his friends have. “This is going to be a great outing” he trills from the back seat. “I think we should bring Ollie home a chocolate milkshake” he suggests from no where. His voice is high and lilting. When he finds the shoes he wants and we select the mixed sports pack of (probably chemical laden) shoe de-oderizers we check out. He is excited to point out the Patriots fan in line behind us. He is joyfully giving me a backrub with the ribbit battery operated back massager. He is noticing that his socks are going to look great with his new kicks. He wants to share the shoe balls with his friends. It isn’t until we leave the store that the reality of new shoes hits him. “Do you want to throw them out?” I ask, gesturing at the garbage can at the exit. “But these have been with me through so many great times” Leo replies, brow furrowed. He doesn’t want to let them go. “The soles are pretty shot” I remind him. “I want to keep them to look at.” He tells me. His head his uplifted. I have my hand on his shoulder and can feel the knob and collar bone gently curving away from me. “I want to look at them and remember how happy they made me.” “It’s your choice babe.” I say, thinking of his long blue dresser crowded with rocks and sticks and baseball cards. The surface where a giant card stock pelican squeezes out a collection of spy gear and cheap plastic soldiers. I imagine these filthy sneakers in the mix. “We have lots of pictures of them.” I remind him.
He looks down at the shoes in his hand. “One last picture.” He asks. He sets it up with the sun shining in the right directions and poses as he throws his shoes into the bin. His face is sad, but it is easy to see it is put on for the photo op. He is already excited about the chocolate milk shakes.
This morning Oliver is looking at me to see if we are finished talking about drugs. Or marijuana. Or whichever. He wants to be helpful. Just yesterday he spent an hour giving a tour of his school to a potential corporate sponsor. He talked about building windmills in STEM class and how it connected with their electricity unit in science. He likes these connections. But somehow the mislabel of marijuana as drug has kept him from making the connection between my question and probably the only survey they have had all month.
It used to be like this. He used to require the exact input to offer the output I was looking for. Between that and having to teach him that a kiss wasn’t just a dry pressure of lips to another person I wondered about whether I should evaluate him for being on the autism spectrum. As he grew I realized that this was a style. He was a toddler version of the absent minded professor who had temporary blindness for his sneakers in front of him while being able to see his way through algebra before the topic was introduced. It was clear though that he was able to form attachments and understand emotion. He was passionate about Pokemon and breakfast and socks. He loved and expressed emotion to his family, friends and pets. He sang songs about kindness and love being the key to unlock the best person within each of us.
After confirming that the survey was anonymous I explain that I had gotten a question about it from another parent and wanted to know more before I answered. He did not take this as a cue to offer more. So I left it there and he left the room with a kiss (complete with sound) and a cheerful wave as he passed through the glass barn door.
A few minutes later I make it downstairs where his brother is writing out his spelling words three times each. I watch him pause to shake out his cramped fingers. He is gripping the pencil tightly and rushing to finish. “These are long words” he tells me. “It is so annoying to write them all out three times.” “Every once in a while I just write the word twice and try to space it out.” I look at his page and see that he has done that on one of the 30 words. “Maybe pick another word” I suggest pointing at his paper. The word that is stretched out to fill the space is “truthful.” He laughs. “Ironic” he says. As I step away to fill my mug I see him stretching out his leg at the same time he rubs his fingers. He looks down at his new shoes and a small smile plays at the corner of his lips. “I love these.” He says. “I love these even more than my old ones.”
I bought them matching blue years ago so large that they went almost to their 20 toes. Now they almost fit. Oliver snuggles in his so much that they both live in his room and at two different times he has brought them downstairs. Leo is pretty much done with his. His friends don’t wear things with pom-poms but he has it on probably just because it was convenient. I haven’t bought them the same clothes in years, images of them in matching yellow slickers and striped terry cloth hoodies are for slideshows and memories. But today they sit in front of me in their baby blue shirts eating bacon. It is this feeling loving what was last while nearing what is next that makes me take the picture of the boys. Like Leo and his sneakers I want to hold them here.
And I don’t.