"What, babe?" I called back. It was Monday afternoon and we were on our way to pick up Max from a friend's house. I was walking Jake while Evan pushed Molly in the stroller a few paces behind me.
"In exactly nine years and three days, I can enlist in the army."
My heart stopped and then so did I. I turned to look at my little boy, his too-long hair flopping down into his eyes, his bright, wonky, mis-matched tooth-y smile gleaming.
"Technically, you're right, bud. But you know you need to finish high school first."
"I know, but Mommy! I'm halfway there!"
Today he is. He's nine years old today. Halfway to "adulthood." (But we 30-somethings know better than to think an 18-year-old an adult, right?)
But he IS halfway to being eligible to enlist in the army.
How is that possible?
I swear it was just last night that I read aloud to him while he snuggled in close beside me and twirled the hair on the crown of his head around his finger. Actually, it WAS last night. He's still my little boy. My little big boy. My medium boy. Hmm. I guess he's right...halfway there.
They're right when they say the years are short, you know. These nine? Like lightning. But, though the journey is fast and furious, it's a beautiful one. And, to be honest, I don't really miss the stages we've outgrown. I love babies. (At least I think I do. I was pretty sleep-deprived for a long time. It's hard to remember.) I love toddlers and little kids, too. But medium kids? Medium kids, I LOVE. Medium kids make you laugh, not in a "You're so cute" kind of way, but in a "Holy cow, kid. You are FUNNY!" kind of way. Medium kids can have Big Conversations about Big things like "The Truth about Santa" and literature and social justice and politics and, yup, love and marriage and babies. And, not only can they handle these Big Conversations, but they can contribute to them in ways that make YOU think.
This one? He makes me think.
Medium kids are the sweet spot. Medium kids are old enough to do everything you want to be able to do with kids: travel, sightsee, eat in restaurants, share jokes, hike (like, for real), read GOOD, thick, meaty books, watch good movies, stay up late talking after lights out, play board games that don't involve color recognition, spinners, or that damn Gumdrop card that gets me every damn time I'm about to reach the Candy Castle....and Medium kids are young enough to still want to do those things with you.
You, Evan, are the Sweet Spot.
Halfway to the military? No way. This is the boy who still takes his syrup "on the side" so each waffle bite can be dipped to mapley-perfection.
This is the boy who still needs his back tickled before he falls asleep.
This is the boy who still plays with his Playmobil Pirates and construction trucks.
This is the boy who still dances around our living room without the slightest trace of self-consciousness.
This is the boy who still laughs until he cries upon hearing his brother say "butt cheeks."
This is the boy who still calls his Mommy and Daddy down to the basement to show off his latest tricks (most recently, spinning a couch cushion on his head like a Harlem Globetrotter in a pillow fight).
This is the boy who, just this year, finally agreed with us that he was ready for live-action movies.
This sweet, sensitive, goofy, hilarious, clever kiddo, who is still a little boy but who is getting so much bigger faster than with which I can keep up.
There have been countless moms who, on their children's ninth birthdays, were halfway there. Halfway to their children enlisting. Did they know? Nine and nine. It's too fast. How do you send your 18-year-old baby to war? How do you send anyone?
But maybe Evan, The Fact King, The Steel Trap Memory Kid, The Knower of All Things, is wrong. (It doesn't happen often, but it's been known to now and again.) Maybe, nine years from today, he won't be visiting his local army recruiting station after all. Maybe he'll be poring over college acceptance letters, trying to make the biggest decision of his young life. Or maybe he'll be applying to a higher education program that isn't a traditional four-year college. Or maybe he'll be starting his own business. Or maybe he'll be traveling the world. Any way you slice it, there will be a Good Bye...or, at the very least, a See You Later.
Maybe this boy will grow up to be a historian or a teacher or a writer or a stay-at-home dad.
Maybe an accountant or a scientist or a wind farmer or a pilot.
Maybe he'll be a pediatrician. Maybe he'll be a bartender.
Because that's what moms do.
But, if he's committed to serving and protecting and he asks for my advice, I'll remind him of his Uncle Jack. A police officer in a major metropolitan city, Jack puts on his uniform and works every day to keep the peace and to offer safety and protection to those who need it. He's brave and he's Good and he's committed to serving and protecting...but he's close enough to go home and have dinner with his parents once a week.
Because, in addition to supporting their kids' dreams, moms also negotiate. It's about compromise, right?
Evan, on your ninth birthday, I want to say for the record: Whatever path you choose to pursue in your life and in your career, we will support you.
(Especially if that career is as a tenure-track history professor at the highly-ranked public university just down the road....)
but even if you choose to be a soldier. You rough, tough fighting machine.
Evan, on this birthday, and on all birthdays, may all of your dreams come true...even the ones I don't understand. You are bright and creative. You are clever and kind. You are a total goofball. You have a tender heart and a mind built for sound decision-making. I love you and I trust you to know how you can best spread Good around this world....because you have so much Good to share. HBTY, my love.