Tucked beneath my blankets, I read to my 5-year-old his bedtime story from a column called “Readers Write” out of a literary magazine called The Sun. Every month the stories relate to a chosen theme. One section is for readers who share poignant stories that are heavily edited. We have fantastic discussions about racism, what it means to be Jewish, divorce, heartbreak, death…
He stops me…”Why are people saying things about his color?” He innocently asks.
I love that his experiences thus far, as his brain is forming, are that our shades of skin are as different as our hair color and the pants we wear. His brother is brown. He is too young to understand the biology behind it so it is simply fact. Elijah’s biological parents are with us on birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, sometimes even Mother’s Day. His mom is white. His dad is black. Who knows what Wyatt thinks at this point. We tease him saying that one day he will also have brown skin.
“Well, Wyatt. When people are unfamiliar with a situation they become scared.” I say into his unblinking grey eyes. “When people are scared, they want someone else to take the blame.” He seems satisfied.
Wyatt can’t sit still. As a toddler, we had drive-by eating. He would run around the house with toys and take a bite from the fork I used to wave him down. I would scatter protein snacks in tiny bowls around the house so he would always have food. He was born five weeks early, at 3 pounds. He nursed well but he also regurgitated 80% of all calories. Any parent of an infant would agree that he was about to die. All of his running around during meals meant that he was burning more calories than he was consuming.
He can’t sit still during story time either.
I would tuck the boys beneath the blankets, after a bath that steamed the bathroom and coated the walls and ceiling with bubbles. I would heat the towels up in the dryer and then wrap them up after plucking them from the tub where inevitably Elijah was mad, and Wyatt was maniacally laughing, or vice versa. Elijah didn’t like how poop could so simply drop form his baby brother’s butt into the bath they shared. Wyatt did not like his toys being hidden to the depths he could not reach without drowning.
I would toss the giggling wrapped bundles into the bed, beneath the mounds of down, crawl in with them, and begin to read. They would excitedly look at the photographs, and in seven seconds Elijah would pinch Wyatt beneath the sheets or slowly push his foot into the baby’s backside until he was falling off the bed. This would begin with laughter, and end in tears. Flashback to my parents advising my sister and I when we got physical: “It’s going to end in tears!” I could not help thinking, “Well why in the hell don’t they stop her?” So I stop Elijah. He can’t stop this gleeful torture, so I send him to bed to read his own story. Wyatt feels smug and, as a result, gives the magazine another seven seconds. He is now spinning beneath the covers, kicking off of me for each revolution.
“Wyatt.” I say evenly. “Wyatt.”
He pulls the blanket down just enough for one eyeball. He rolls the eyeball as if he is crazed, being sure not to make contact with mine. He snorts. I try not to laugh. I return to reading. He is now leaning over the bed dangling his fingertips for the kitten whose reflexes are much better than a 5-year-old. He quickly recoils as the kitten sinks his claws into the prey. He screams for every centimeter of bloody lines left oozing down his arm. I am on the second paragraph. I now have to chase the kitten out of the room, shut the door, and climb back into bed. Wyatt looks sullen now, while holding a warm wet washcloth to his arm. I light a candle on the bedside for a calmer ambience. This perks him up. He climbs across me, slides off the edge of the tall bed and gazes peacefully into the flame while I read two more short paragraphs about poverty. He asks more questions, “Mommy, are we rich?” He sees another candle.
“Mommy.” He says with a questioning lilt. “Mommy?” He looks at me with pure sweetness. “May I light this candle too?”
“May…” he says. He really does listen. He has just told on himself. I tuck this away in the mental file “He’s smarter than he looks.”
“Yes, baby,” I answer while turning the page. “You may.”
He does it successfully and watches the warm wax become liquid, swishing it around the wick.
I get four more paragraphs read during this hypnosis. He stirs paperclips into the wax until the magazine section is done. I tuck him back in to the blankets, turn out the light, and snuggle him until he drifts off.
For the next several nights he calmly plays with the candle wax all through story time. We still have great discussions while his hands are busy. He is now pouring wax off into another glass jar to make his own candle. We have a wick for it. By the end of the week I buy a box of small candles from the thrift store. He is so very excited and looks at me as if I am the most amazing creature he has ever imagined. He quickly burns several into his jar, now also filled with gems, tools, random screws and broken doll parts. He is having such a great time that the flames become a little higher than the past, and suddenly the curtains behind the nightstand catch on fire. He jumps back and gasps. “MOM!” He shouts as I jump from the bed. I don’t want him to panic in situations like this. I want him to react swiftly with a calm attitude. I cannot show fear. I am scared.
“It’s ok, baby!” I laugh, hoping to assure him. I am actually terrified. I grab a small blanket, use it as a glove, and grab the flaming curtains, sliding them through my hands until the flame is extinguished. “See?!” I say triumphantly as I ball up the blanket to extinguish any leftover flames.
He sees that it’s ok, but the adrenaline made him mad.
“WHY would you let a 5-year-old play with fire?!” He yells, looking me in the face with exasperation, and I laugh.
The dictator reigns again.