“I woke up this morning to a proud little boy holding out a cup of coffee. The coffee was hot and sugary, but not nearly as sweet as his smile. It is impossible to grasp and even more difficult to explain that yesterday he was a tiny baby and today, he is making his mommy coffee for Valentine’s Day. Once again, as my groggy eyes gazed upon his face and my hands reached out to take my favorite mug, my heart burst into a trillion pieces.
He will be seven next month, which means he is still six now. I am holding onto each precious moment of six with all my might. Six is a magical age. He is still little enough that he loves to snuggle and would prefer me to help him out of the bath, but he is also old enough that on the nights I am frazzled and just need him to go to bed, I know he can actually dry himself off, find his own pajamas, and help his little sister with hers.
Still, I search his face daily to check for lingering signs of the roundness of babyhood and refuse to cut his hair short because I know it will make him look older. While mothers love all their children, there is something magical about the one who gives you the title for the first time.
I remember the day he was born with crystal clear detail. My blue hospital nightgown. The pink-walled room. The tiny little being with dark hair attached firmly to my breast. In the wee hours of the night, I called the nurse for more ice, refused any pain medication which might make me sleepy, and stared at him all night long while my husband snored loudly in the chair beside me. I have been gifted with two miracles in life and this boy is my first.
In France, they call seven the Age of Reasoning and as we close in on that number, I understand why.
The other day one of my son’s friends, who has been spending a lot of time at our house, called him ‘Rich Boy.’ At the time, my son really didn’t have much to say about it, but at bedtime, as is his nature, something was on his mind that he needed help sorting out. ‘Mommy, why was Charlie calling me Rich Boy?’
As so often happens in motherhood, I felt tears begin to sting my eyes and clenched my toes to will them back into place. My mind began to race as childhood memories surfaced and I tried to figure out something to say. If only parenting came with a book of answers, like an encyclopedia. If only I could look up ‘Name-Calling’ and then ‘Rich Boy’ and find a logical explanation for this little one, nearly seven.
Why did Charlie call you Rich Boy?
My mind flashes back to a couple of months ago when my mother and I were folding laundry and she looked up and said, ‘Do you realize your daughter has about 20 pairs of underwear and a multitude of pajamas?’ When I began to get defensive, she just looked at me with that empathetic gaze only mothers have. ‘I understand, honey.’ Watermelon basket.
When I was growing up, in the middle of nowhere Alaska, I didn’t know my family was poor until I was about 10. Alaska, being the unique place it is, makes like-minded people out of communities pretty quickly. We all had warm clothes because they were necessary for survival. We all had guns and fishing poles because, again, it was necessary for survival. Not all of us had electricity and running water, but that just added to the adventure of being Alaskan. Everyone went camping over summer break and I don’t think I ever saw a family photo of Disneyland until I was well into my teenage years. My favorite part of Christmas wasn’t the chocolate or the doll, but the tangerine in the toe of my stocking. If another child had more than or less than me, I didn’t realize it… until February 14, 1989.
The year before, one of the boys in my class signed up to bring fruit to our class party and when his mom arrived with it, I immediately dropped the Hershey Kiss I had just been given and joined the crowd that was quickly forming around his mother. In his mother’s arms was a watermelon, cut into a basket and bearing a variety of fresh fruit…in FEBRUARY! It was marvelous. It was amazing.
The next year, when our teacher wrote the food list on the board, I quickly raised my hand and waved it back and forth to get her attention. I was thrilled when she wrote a cursive ‘Jaci’ next to ‘Fruit.’ I couldn’t wait for my mama to make a fruit basket out of a watermelon. Except, when I got home and told her what I had done, she was not as excited as I was. In fact, she seemed sad.
We drove to the store in silence and while I ran over to the fresh fruit section, my mama disappeared down a couple of aisles. When she came back, I was trying to finagle a watermelon into a hanging scale. When she yelled my name, I froze, and the watermelon slipped off of the shiny scale and crashed to the floor into a slippery pile of sweet, luscious mess. My mama instantly had tears in her eyes, and I was horrified to think she was upset at me. When a clerk came over with a mop, she had a private talk with my mama and said for her ‘not to worry about it.’ We made our way to the cashier and left with two cans of fruit cocktail and a box of Dream Whip.
The next day I woke up, not to a fruit-laden watermelon basket, but a goopy pile of pink fruit cocktail salad. When I protested, my mama told me this was the best we could do. In that instant, I understood. The tears the night before were not because I dropped the watermelon, but because we couldn’t afford to pay for it.
At school that day, I tried to smile when my teacher called ‘fruit,’ signaling it was my turn to bring my party contribution so it could take its place amongst the other goodies on the table. The chunks of cherry and pineapple bobbed unsteadily in the quickly melting Dream Whip as I set it down. No one ate it. When I got home that night, my Mama asked if her fruit cocktail salad was successful and for the first time in my life, I consciously and purposely lied to her. She smiled happily.
It was only later I found out she had discovered the pink mess in my backpack and had never said anything to me about my lie.
I have reflected back on that day often since becoming a mother.
It is hard to explain how, as mothers, we have a direct line to our children. If they hurt, we feel it. If they are happy, we feel it. They are little extensions of our body walking around on their own two feet. It’s heartbreaking. All of it. The good. The bad. The happy. The sad. I wish someone would have warned me motherhood equals being in a constant mess of tears. But even if they had, I wouldn’t have understood it until this little boy made me one.
I am guessing this is a standard trait of motherhood because if it wasn’t, then we wouldn’t work as hard as we do to make their worlds as perfect as possible and there would be no such thing as mom guilt (remember life without that?). We know one day, they will grow up. We know one day, they will discover the world is not perfect, people can be downright evil, and failure is a part of reaching success. Despite everything we do, they will find out that death is real and unpreventable. They will struggle with faith and wonder who and what God is.
But while they are little, we try so hard to keep them in a bubble, build up their foundation, and shape their self-esteem as solidly as we can because as they grow, the bubble gets harder and harder to maintain. In my experience, and this is a blessing, the bubble hasn’t burst all at one time. It is slowly being deflated as my little boy experiences outside influences and grapples with making sense of them. As each day progresses, I find myself trying to find the balance between protecting him and teaching him how to protect himself.
You see, the answer to my son’s question is so much more complicated than he can comprehend at almost seven, but still six. While appreciating how resourceful I am because of my childhood (I can wear the same outfit five times in a row and you will never know it), I want, more than anything, to give my children watermelon baskets, even if that means sometimes I must turn the fruit cocktail salad into the watermelon basket.
As he gazed expectantly and patiently into my eyes, I took a moment to look around his room. It is painted blue, a color he chose and we purchased from Lowes with a gift card. He has a variety of maps on the wall. The large one that hangs over his bed was given to me by Stephane our first Christmas together while I was still law school. The one that hangs over his dresser is actually a brochure for the Paris Metro. He has two framed pictures of trains we found when we converted a frame shop into a restaurant before he was born. He has a collage of brightly colored pictures his sister drew for him, which are stuck to the wall with patterned tape. The blanket on his bed was my stepson’s when he was a child and the bed itself was purchased from a thrift store. The dresser, which conveniently appears to match the bed, was given to me for a volunteering stint I did. Throw all of these items together and add some Spiderman curtains, and it is one heck of a little boy’s room.
Why did Charlie call you Rich Boy?
In that same conversation where my mother mentioned how many pairs of underwear my daughter had, she also inquired about my friend, Claire, and whether we had any plans to visit her on our upcoming trip. Claire has resources in life other people can only dream about. When I told her I didn’t think so, she asked why and after muttering a few plausible excuses, I finally came clean,
‘Because I am afraid when we walk into her ginormous house and my son sees all that she has, he will say he wishes he lived there and if he does that, it might kill me.’
My mom looked at me. ‘Why would that kill you?’
I cast my eyes down to the floor. ‘Because I cannot provide him with private chefs and a maid and a chauffeur and a jet right at this moment. I don’t want him to envy someone’s life when we have worked so hard to provide him with this life.’
My mother was silent for a moment and then looked at me thoughtfully. ‘You know what I would have said if you had said something like that at his age?’
Me, close to tears, because I was ashamed of my feelings, ‘What?’
‘I would have said, ‘You can live here. You can do anything and be anything that you want to be.’ In fact, I do think I said something like that. Look how well you have done, Jace.’
In that moment, it became clear to me. Part of controlling how quickly your child’s bubble deflates is teaching them to use a knife and then passing over the watermelon…or the can of fruit cocktail. We cannot all have what we want in this life, but most of us have the ability to carve our own watermelon baskets. My eyes shot arrows of love at my mama. As I said, mothers have direct lines to their children.
Why did Charlie call you Rich Boy?
Looking down into that beautiful face I have watched grow from babyhood into toddlerhood and now rests firmly in (little) boyhood, I spoke softly:
‘Buddy, ‘rich’ can mean many different things. A person can be ‘rich’ because they have a lot of money in their bank account, but a dessert can also be ‘rich’ because it is so full of flavor and perfectly satisfying. We are rich like dessert because our life is full of flavor. We have more than some and less than others, but what you need to know is there will always be people who have more than you in life and those who have less than you in life. There will always be someone who has a cooler bike and better hair and there will always be someone who thinks you have nicer shoes and prettier eyes. What is most important is that we do not waste our time wishing we had what others have but being grateful for what is right in front of us. We are so blessed, my son, in ways you cannot fathom right now, but will understand the more and more you grow inside and out. Just being American makes us very very lucky. Count your blessings, my love, and know I am teaching you to carve a watermelon basket.’
With that, I kissed his perfect little nose, said his prayers, tucked him into bed and walked out of his room with gratitude filling my heart…when out of the silence he yelled, ‘But Mommy, what is a watermelon basket?’
But that explanation can wait. Like I said, he is still six, not seven.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jaci Ohayon of Colorado. Follow her on Instagram here. and visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Jaci here:
‘You can offer him a better life than I can. Please. Take him,’ she begged. How can I fall in love with a child and then leave him behind?’: Woman takes in Haitian shoeshine boy, ‘I didn’t birth him, but he is mine’
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