July 10th, 2008

Little Boy A changes like mercury rolling around in a pan; the colors of his moods shift and flash like the scales of a fish in the sun.

At Gymboree today he gets into a grabbing and pushing match with another little boy over a ball. He pushes aside a girl who is reaching for the same sparkling fluttering soap bubble as he is. As long as he`s alone with me he is playful and having fun but he doesn`t want to play the organized games with the other kids; he wants to dance around in circles, dance and dance. I agree, even though we`re supposed to be playing at monkeys, hoping to burn off his energy and dance the contrary little demon he`s hosting today out of his system. He uses a small plastic ball to catch soap bubbles, calling out “Look, Mama!” when two delicate spheres land on his orange ball and hold there, quivering. He guards this ball fiercely against the other children, pushing away a girl`s hand.

Why all the pushing, suddenly, he has always been such a gentle boy, I do not know what to do with this pusher, this grabber. Where is my gentle son, when did he slip away from me like a clever fish, and will he come back?

Class is ending, we are singing the last songs and a little girl, J, starts crying wildly, I do not know why, I did not see what happened but she is sitting there on the colorful mats sobbing. Little Boy A stands up, picks up his precious ball and walks over to J, holding the ball carefully to preserve the soap bubbles that quiver there like the tears on J`s cheeks, and sets it down in front of her like an offering. J, in a fine temper, pushes it away; Little Boy A fetches it and returns it to her, then comes to sit at my side.

He does not look up at me hoping for praise, nor did I prompt these gestures in any way. It is the mercury. The pan has suddenly tipped and the scatter-shot pieces of my son have rolled back together again, silver and flashing. I pull him into me, kiss his hair, nuzzle his neck and whisper “That was such a kind thing to do. Thank you, that was so kind.”

“Why was that kind, Mama?” he asks.

“That was your very special ball,” I say, “and you gave it to J because she was crying. You thought of somebody else more than yourself. That`s kindness.”

“Okay, yeah. That was really kind of me, wasn`t it?” he says, fishing now for the praise he had not thought of in his moment of genuine childish kindness. I rise to the bait, why not, let me be an easy river today and send the fine mountain trout of praise to nibble at the outsized fly he has dropped so obviously in mid-stream.

“Yes, Little Boy A. That was very kind.”

The pan will tilt again, probably before bedtime, so I hold this gentle silver boy, this slippery fish, closer to press the memory of this into my mother-flesh. This moment, this boy, this place to which, when the storms of being three years old with a younger brother taking away my attention, we`ll return. I mark it on the map of my heart. This here, this place: this is our headwaters.