Perched on the edge of the middle row looking down intently at the parking lot pavement, August rejects my hand to help him make this one-foot jump from the car.
As his kids’ size 11 Dr. Martens thump on the ground, he reaches for my hand and says, “I only hold your hand because it’s the rule.”
We walk for what feels like mere seconds before we reach the sidewalk and he lets go again; and I find myself thinking, “Here it is. My baby. My youngest. Letting go. Oh, boy . . . I’m not one hundred percent ready for this.”
He shouts, “Expelliarmus!” and marvels how the automatic door seems to open at his disarming command. Leaving me in what I think he must perceive as his dust, he runs through the mall–twenty feet or so–and suddenly stops.
A man to his left, sitting on a bench, slumped over and staring down at the floor–a man I would have simply walked by en route to my next destination without much thought–catches his attention. August turns to me and says, “I talk to that man? He looks sad.” I quickly survey the situation, thinking of all the dire admonishments about not letting children talk to strangers, and am nevertheless compelled to nod my assent.
August walks over to him–tentatively but clearly on a mission.
“What’s your name?” the emphasis on your.
He is startled but looks up. “John. What’s your name?”
“I’m August! I’m three!”
My son turns to me and beams as the man smiles; and undoubtedly thinking he can make his day even better, asks me, “I hug him?”
Completely under the spell of this moment, I look at the man and say, “It’s okay with me if it’s okay with you.”
And it is. And August does. And the man’s demeanor is now 180 degrees from where it was a moment before, his smile beyond compare. He says to me, “Ma’am, you are aware you have someone special here.”
And I say–and know with all my heart–“I sure am.”
Recently while on vacation in Florida, we had the opportunity to visit with family members in St. Augustine. We agreed to meet at a local eatery–one that was purportedly kid-friendly–as five children under eight would be sharing the table. After hugs and kisses and hellos, we sat down to lunch. It was wonderful to spend time with family we don’t see nearly enough, and it was especially poignant to note how well the children were getting along. After lunch, August, the youngest of the bunch, went into what is now being seen as his legendary post-meal show. To know August is to know joy–a grin that spreads beyond his face, a laugh that comes from the recesses of his belly, a love of humankind that is unequaled. He is robust, and he is loud, and he loves to make people laugh.
So that’s what he did for roughly five minutes–made the table (and much of the restaurant) laugh. However, when my husband took August outside while the older kids visited the gumball machine, one of the men in the restaurant applauded–sarcastically, as if to say, “It’s about time someone took him out of here.” He then uttered as he shook his head, “Thank God.”
I looked at him–really looked at him–and thought about going over and sharing a word or two or three with him. He was with two young boys, maybe ten or twelve years old, perhaps his sons. He was not much older than I.
As I resisted a very strong urge to respond to him, I thought about myself ten years from now–when my children are much older and (a bit) less boisterous. And instead of staying angry at this man, I sincerely wished that as the years go by I never forget what it is like to have young children, that a child’s happy laughs and silly faces would never irritate me instead of bringing me joy.
Today we visited a small violin shop in Providence. As I worked very hard to keep August and Edgar’s curious hands away from the violins, bows, and all things breakable, the kind proprietor simply smiled at me–and them–and said, “This is what I love to see–curious children. This means they are smart; they want to explore. I hate seeing kids being forced to sit still.” The shop’s proprietor is 85 years old.
Childhood is really the only time in our lives for unabashed expression and exploration–a lesson from a gentle and wise octogenarian to us all.