A couple of nights ago, as I was putting a woefully exhausted Max to bed, he looked up at me and said cheerfully, "Mama, you know I am going to get married?"
"Oh?" I said. It is actually not unusual for Max to speculate about his marital prospects at bedtime. There is a picture of Ian and I from our wedding near the bed, and apparently it stimulates Max's more romantic musings.
"Yeah, Mama. I am going to get married with YOU, because I love you so so much."
"Lucky me", I said. "Let's wait until you're grown up, though, okay?"
Max, who until this moment had been happily chatting away, suddenly and inexplicably crumbled. His eyes filled slowly with tears and his lips began trembling like leaves in the wind. "I'm crying, Mama", he informed me.
"I know", I said, completely baffled. "But why?"
"'Cause I just -- I just want to be little still!"
"What do you mean?"
"I want to get married and when I still am little, Mama. With you." Two giant tears rolled theatrically down each cheek.
"Okay. But why? What's your rush?"
"Because (sob), because (sniffle), because I am so so lonely when you go away from me, Mama. I just want to be with you and you don't go when I am at preschool, Mama!" And with that, Max pressed his small lips together, nestled his head into the crook of my shoulder, and fell promptly asleep without waiting to hear if his proposal was accepted.
My mother often tells me that every now and then, something that I do or something that she sees takes her back, powerfully and viscerally, to a moment in my early childhood when I woke up in the middle of the night crying and came to her, all tears and clown pajamas, for comfort. (I think that we were camping, and my sister Dillen had scared me with bear attack stories.) Although I am now an adult in my thirties, I sometimes regress for her to that moment of helpless need. I suspect that most parents have a moment like this every now and then, that just hits you sideways with its absurd poignancy, and some part of you always will see some part of your child frozen in that moment. I suspect that Max's breakdown was not really about the thwarting of his courtship of me, or even about being left at preschool, but was prompted by his non-napping exhaustion. Laying aside the practical problems with Max's plan, though (I am, after all, already married, and Max is a minor, not to mention the illegality of our proposed nuptials, and even if you can muscle your way past all of that, Max and I being married in no way guarantees that I won't still leave him at preschool every now and then), his tears really forcibly projected me ahead into a future where an oilier, ornerier teenage Max does everything in his power to be away from me as often and as emphatically as possible. Right now, Max thinks that being with me for all of every minute of every day all the time is the key to his happiness. This is often inconvenient. It is sometimes frustrating. It is occasionally heartbreaking. It is always precious, and it will be gone all too soon. And I suspect that someday, when Max is graduating or getting married or having his own children, the memory of his tearful request to be married with me will be close at hand.