A few weeks ago, I was running errands with the boys in the back seat. Out of the blue (a phrase synonymous with many things kid-related), my six-year-old, Will, asked, “Mom, when was the first Monday?”
These are the kinds of questions I do not know how to answer. Why is the sky blue? Let’s look it up. What is God? Got it. How are babies made? Sure. But, when was the first Monday? I don’t know. I just don’t. I mean, technically, I’m sure I could track down the answer by figuring out when the calendar was put in its current form, who made these changes, and when the vernacular became “Monday,” but even then, it wouldn’t start to answer his question.
His question at its root was not about Monday. It was about marking time, finding a beginning, making sense of the world around him.
We have chickens, two of which have turned out to be roosters--roosters who like to crow every morning sometime between 6:00 and 6:30--roosters who are going to be traded with the farmer for hens before I wring their necks. This morning, the red numbers on the clock glowed at me--the light screaming 6:23, mocking me, laughing and saying, “Your alarm is set for 7:03! Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!” I sat up, not unhappy, on the first morning in a long time that I’ve had to set an alarm. Why?
Because today was Will’s first day of first grade.
We homeschooled for kindergarten because (long story short) it made sense at the time, and over the last week as we prepared for going to traditional school--gathering school supplies, buying new shoes, picking out fun snacks for lunch--I found myself counting down all the “lasts” we were sharing together.
Our last summer movie night.
Our last day of waking up with no alarm and staying in pajamas.
Our last sushi lunch at our favorite restaurant.
Last night, as we left meet the teacher, I asked Will if he had any questions. He grabbed my hand to cross the street and said, "Can you walk me into first grade tomorrow? And for the rest of the days until I get the hang of it?" Yes. Yes, I can. I wanted to ask him the same question back.
This morning, Will stumbled out of his bedroom at 6:37, far too early, saying, “The rooster woke me up.” I scooped him up, no easy feat these days as he is quickly approaching my shoulders in height, and carried him back to bed. I climbed in next to him and pulled the sheet up around our necks. He pulled my arm around his head to rest on my shoulder and said, “I wish Daddy could be here tomorrow.”
“Me too, buddy.” Tomorrow is Will’s seventh birthday, and Scott is deployed. Unfortunately, this is not the first or last important day that we’ve been apart. I snuggled my six-year-old, on the last morning of his being a six-year-old, and asked, “What do you think about turning seven?”
He yawned, his morning breath invading my nostrils, and answered, “I will fun faster and be better at video games, and I’m not sure what else.”
And in that statement, you see why he is my hero: his future is full of possibility, even if he’s not sure what it holds.
A little over a month ago, one of my dearest friends found out she was pregnant with her first baby. We stayed up late talking, when she confided in me her anxiety about motherhood, the bittersweetness of closing an era of her life. I assured her the bitter would fade, leaving only the sweet, after the first time she looks in the mirror and sees her belly starting to swell. Or perhaps after the first time she feels the fluttering feet or hiccups from the inside of her abdomen.
I had a conversation with a recently divorced friend who confessed over beers that he slept with a woman on his birthday, the first since his divorce--a woman in her forties. He laughed, thinking about how his ex-wife is still in her twenties, and added, “I’ve never even slept with a woman in her thirties!”
I pray daily for a friend who posted a picture on Facebook of her first visit to her baby’s grave, just days after her baby took her first and last breaths.
I spent time with three different friends while home in OK last month who marked six, seven, and eight months since taking their last drink.
Another friend posted a picture of her daughter’s laundry from her first weekend home from college. A few of months ago, we didn’t know what that day would look like for them as my friend was starting her first round of chemo for breast cancer. What a joy it was to celebrate her last treatment and announcement of remission right around the time her daughter moved into her dorm room.
We measure our days, whether we mean to or not, in firsts and lasts. It is one way we attempt to measure what life is, what it means. We take pictures, we keep records in baby books and journals, we make every effort to celebrate and mourn the passing of time by creating benchmarks. These benchmarks are not just plot points on our timelines--they are memories of joy and sorrow and everything in between.
When we got home this morning from dropping Will off, I asked Ben what he wanted for breakfast. He replied, “Fried eggs,” and then added, “Can I play Wii?”
I answered, “Sure. Just while I cook the eggs. Then, you’ll need to come to the table to sit with me while we eat.”
As I cracked the eggs into the skillet, I heard his tiny voice, speaking aloud to himself, “I’m going to be Mario.”
Ben, the second child, the little brother, is always Luigi. For the first time, he gets to be Mario. And that, friends, is when I started to cry. Every first marks a new beginning, even the tiny firsts.
I sat down at the table with Ben to eat, and he asked, “Can I have some toast?”
Ben likes toast. Never in my memory do I ever remember making toast for him.
And then he asked, “Can I have some jell-o on it?”
Translating the three-year-old speak, I took the strawberry jam from the refrigerator and grabbed the loaf of bread from the pantry.
Today, I ate eggs and toast with strawberry jam with Ben--just Ben--for the first time. And it was lovely.