My son was a baby (in my mind) when we arrived in New Zealand. A soft, round three-and-a-half year old with little tiny legs and velcro Nikes. He shuffled along on those little legs and gave innocent smiles when I patted him on his little tufted head.
Then, one weekend in April, before my very eyes, he transformed into a man. Just like that. No goofy boy phase with teeth larger than his mouth. No stinky underarms or gangly legs of a pre-adolescent. I can only guess about the teen years since I’m certain he would have hidden himself away in his room sleeping the day away. I’ll never know, he skipped them all and went straight to manhood.
It started on Friday when his pre-school informed him he would no longer be eating communal lunch with all the younger kids. On Monday, he would be getting his very own lunchbox and he would have to decide which healthy options to put in it. In preparation for primary school, he would have to learn to ration his food in order to make it last for all 45 meal breaks during the day. He spent many a bed time coveting this honor and thirsting for the day he could wield this power over all the lowly food-sharing babies. He had arrived.
Saturday morning he attended a little girl’s birthday party. While many kids were eating cake in the shade, he was climbing a tree with his idol, Henry McLaine. When I sneaked over to snap a photo, they both gave me the bird! All of a sudden, I understood the elevated appeal of Henry McLaine.
Mason had already mastered the steepest slope at the bike park on his balance bike. I had just recently been able to leave the AED heart attack paddles in the car while I witnessed this hair-raising stunt. So, of course, we have to move up to a pedal bike! We spent about two weeks balancing him and coaching him and calming him down when he Hulk-raged because he couldn’t keep the handle bars straight and just went in circles. On this particular Saturday in April, we went to the school playground, Tony just let go, and away he went. The look of discovery and pride on his face was worth every prior heart palpitation. I was so proud, and he was so grown up.
That afternoon we left town to spend time with our friends on their dairy farm. On every visit to the farm we are certain to see, try, learn, or eat something new and this trip wouldn’t fail to provide. There was some prior discussion that the men might go out hunting wild pigs and goats that night. I certainly didn’t include Mason in my thought process about this event, even if his name was mentioned. Subconsciously I suppose I thought he wouldn’t actually join the foray. He’d be tired, he wouldn’t want to go, it would rain, something would be a show-stopper for him and he’d stay behind. But before I had a moment to hold him close like a baby (okay I should have stopped doing that a while ago), he had all his cold weather gear and gumboots on. He was out the door and headed up the hill looking pretty proud of himself. We women folk stayed in and relaxed by the fire with some red wine and a cheese platter. I could have cut the gender divide with that cheese knife.
As we munched and chatted, I put on a brave face and thought about my little man out there on the dark, misty hills stalking his prey with the big boys. They were gone for what felt like five weeks but turned out to be about three hours in non-worried-mom time. I just knew he was cold and tired and possibly a bit scared. I wanted him to be home immediately so I could hold him tight and keep him safe. My wish finally came true when I heard them stomping around on the front porch. But instead of my baby, a taller boy with a proud grin and a gleam in his eye strode in, peeled off his muddy clothes, and headed to the liquor cabinet for a whiskey and a cigar (might as well have).
It all ended that weekend. Babyhood, babyness, baby whatever. My baby became a man and now I have to grow a pair too and raise him as such. Okay, fine. But every now and then, when he lets his guard down, I sweep him up like a baby and hold him there till he wriggles free. And I plan to do it until the day I throw my back out. Or until he has a beard. I should probably stop then. We’ll see.
Kiwi Glossary: As. Drop any adjective and finish the sentence with ‘as’. Up on top of the hill it was foggy as.