Raising Richmond: Thank heaven for little boys

…and big boys and all those in between. Here’s a little to tribute to a few young men in my life. Consider it a thank you for how they help me get excited for the future, think back fondly (but realistically) on the past, and not spend all my time wishing away the present.

I watch as he works his way through a word scramble in one of his magazines–Highlights or National Geographic Kids, something like that. Bent over the kitchen table where I sit with his mother, he swiftly but carefully fills in the puzzle with handwriting quite neat for a fourth grade boy.

It’s as if his nine-year-old frame gets lankier as he stands in front of me. My son wears many of this boy’s old clothes now–shirts and sweaters and pajamas kindly passed down to us by his parents who can spot those hand-me-downs a mile away, usually with a smile that says, I remember that…

But he’s all “big boy” these days, save the slight traces of the little guy I first met five years ago. He still has the same curly brown hair, the same dark lashes, the same unabashed love for his mom. It’s just that now he gives us more frequent glimpses of the young man he’s quickly becoming. He’s got cheekbones. He’s more outgoing. He’ll chat with you about books and what he’s learning in school. He gets (and uses) sarcasm. He’s a good big brother to all of the little kids in his life, whether they’re his by blood or not. He gives me hope that today’s challenges will pass (or at least seem less daunting), making space for what comes next.

— ∮∮∮ —

He’s crouched on the floor of the church nursery, ready to pounce or run or hit the deck at any moment–whatever the situation might call for. Toddlers, man. When they aren’t moving they’re locked and loaded all the same.

Clutching a plastic helicopter in his dimpled fingers, he propels himself off of the floor in a wobbly but triumphant jump.

“HEPICOTTER?! HEPICOTTER FIE IN DAH SKY?! SEE IT, BAL?1 SEE?” he shouts, frantically waving it through the air. His big blue eyes are open so wide; his hair is a halo of crazy curls around his face. You can almost see the energy and excitement pumping through his little body.

He suddenly opens his hand, sending the helicopter crashing to the floor.

“Oh no! Hepicotter cwash,” he frowns at me. “Cwash and FALL DOWWWWWN.”

His look of concern melts away as he hears a voice; it’s his dad, here to pick him up now that the church service is almost over. All is well. He grins and makes a beeline for the door, leading with his hips–his Tiny John Wayne Walk, I call it.

“Say bye-bye to Miss Val. Thank her for playing with you,” his dad says, pulling what I realize is a very familiar and once beloved striped T-shirt back down to cover this little boy’s fantastic, two-year-old barrel belly.

I remember that…

“Bye-bye, Bal! Tank-oo!”

He gives me a big smile, and I’m flooded with the memory of spending my days with a busy little one like him. I can’t tell if the fact that it’s just a memory makes me feel relieved or sad.

Maybe a little bit of both.

— ∮∮∮ —

I run my fingers under the letters, guiding him as he sounds out the word.

“S…ssss…ay…ah–I can’t do it!” he shouts, his voice beginning to break.

“Yes, you can, bud. Let’s just try again.”

We’re camped out on the kitchen floor,2 the first book in his new easy-readers series open on our laps. It’s bedtime, and I can tell he’s getting tired. He can and wants to do it, but, if given the choice, he’d rather me do it for him. That pretty much sums up most things these days: a constant tension between wanting to be a big boy and wanting to stick with what feels familiar and safe. It’s tricky, this business of being five.

“Sss…ssss-ahhh….muh. Sa-ah-muh.”

I can hear the smile sprouting on his face as he continues to work it out.

“Sam-uh…Sam. Sam!”

“Yes! Sam!” I cheer. “Now let’s try the next one.”

“Sss…ahhh…tuh. Sah-tuh. Sat! Sam sat!”

He’s on a roll after that, needing just the slightest prompting to make it through the rest of the book. By the time we put it away and head upstairs to brush teeth, change clothes, and get into bed, he’s bursting with pride and, thus, bouncing off of the walls.

A couple readings of his new favorite book (I handle this one) settles him down. I set the book down on his dresser, turn off the light, and tuck his blankets tightly around him. His breath softens as I sing a few verses of “Amazing Grace.” I run my hand up and down the length of his back, feeling how the fabric of his pajamas–dark red, hand-me-down feetsies3 with race cars embroidered on the left side–is starting to pill up due to so many wearings and washings. A couple months ago he was swimming in them; now we can just get them zipped, the sleeves barely reaching his wrists.

I hope I remember this…

He burrows down further under the blankets, settling into the crook of my arm. Slowly but surely, I feel him drift off–my boy who can’t quite decide if he wants to be big or little. And who am I to rush him? I’m perfectly fine right here as he figures it out.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Little kids have a really hard time with the V sound in my name, so most of them call me “Bal” at first. I. love. it. 
  2. That’s where you read with your kid, right? 
  3. This is what he calls pajamas with feet. Always has and always will–as long as I have anything to say about it. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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