Eleven

July 06,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I have the number ten bouncing around in my head these days. I've been thinking about the day, some ten years ago, when I walked into a drugstore with L. in the Baby Bjorn front carrier. "Ooooh, how old is he?" the cashier gushed as I dug some change out of my wallet. "Ten weeks old," I said proudly. Then I stopped and gasped inside a little at the size of that number: ten WEEKS old. It seemed only the day before that I had told another cashier, in another store, that my baby was only ten DAYS old.

That cashier's eyes had rounded in surprise. "I can't believe you gave birth ten days ago," she said. "You look fantastic!" I was proud and happy because, while I had once desperately wanted someone to notice that first baby bump some seven or six months earlier, I certainly appreciated being told that I no longer looked how I felt: swollen and bruised still from the birth.

Last summer L. turned ten YEARS old. It seemed impossible. It seemed surreal, even. How could he have been on this earth for a decade, when I could still so easily picture him just-born? I could still conjure up the feel of his body curled against mine, the funny baby habits he had, the smell of his neck, the tickly feel of his hair against my cheek?

Today that baby, that ten-year old boy, turns eleven. Eleven is a strange number, but a comforting and solid one, too. The double number ones could be like bookends, containing everything in-between. Or, they could be seen as a parade forward, even-footed and standing tall. Already my son looks so different to me, in his new haircut, his broader shoulders, his taller body. I am learning how to parent a middle-school child, learning how to talk to one. I go to pull him close in a hug and I stop and put my arm loosely around his shoulders, instead. Sometimes he swivels away and rushes off, embarrassed, but other times he leans in for a second. "Oh Mama," he says, with an indulgent half-smile.

L. at eleven is poised on the edge of something new, something big. He is still all about Clone Wars and Star Wars and now about Portals and writing wikis and, alas, apocalypse theories; he still loves cats and Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side, and Fawlty Towers and, lately, Bollywood films--just the slapstick ones. He is funny and smart and handsome, too. He is complicated beyond measure, but oh--oh so beautifully so.

Happy birthday, L. We love you beyond measure, too.