On Sunday, we left Zachary home alone for 22 minutes. Both his father and I were no more than 4 minutes away the entire time. I dialed my cell number into the home phone so he could just hit the redial button if he needed me. We told him to stay inside and open the door for no one. But to answer the phone, definitely answer the phone, because one of us might be calling with some urgent message that couldn’t wait 22 minutes.
When his dad got home from the grocery, Zach was already racing down the stairs to put on his shoes and go out to play. The only reason he even cared we were gone was because he’d had to stop work on skinning a large tree branch in the yard.
Clearly, one of us was ready for this step. Two of us were not.
On Monday, he got on a bus to day camp, smiling at me while the bus waited but forgetting to turn and wave as the bus pulled away. Due to threats of fratricide, we decided not to put the boys on a bus together, so after Zach left I walked Benjamin to the front of the JCC, where he would spend 7 hours at his camp.
Seven hours. Lilah’s half-day preschool camp doesn’t start till next week, so we have this week five days of seven-hour stretches to ourselves. I’m taking other people’s kids for two of the days, and Friday is marred by a dentist appointment, but I kept Tuesday and Wednesday just for us. Yesterday, we went to the science museum, most of which was over her head. The damned butterfly exhibit is closed for refurbishment, but we got to see a chick not a half-hour old. Lunch at Quincy Market was more to her liking.
Today, I took her to the zoo. It’s a small zoo, but since there’s no big one here, it has a lion or two and a herd of zebras, plus the requisite peacock. Lilah wanted to see the bunnies and, of course, the butterflies. There, I held her for fifteen minutes while we waited in front of the chrysalis box for a butterfly to emerge. Have you ever seen a brand-new butterfly? It’s about the coolest thing ever.
Both days, we’ve come home exhausted, Lilah weeping for a nap. We’ve curled up on her bed together, blinds closed, and I’ve held her solid body against me, trying to forget how long her legs are in the sweatiness of her hair.
When we’ve gone to get the boys, Benjamin has been a mess, worn out from seven hours of art and science. Zach bends his knees coming up the bus aisle, hoping to surprise me, unaware that I can see the top of his head as he makes his way to the exit. Invariably, he returns much lighter than he went to camp, having brought home only half of his belongings.
“Mommy, there were these kids on the bus who were really mean,” he told me today.
“What did they do?”
“They said I couldn’t have read all the Harry Potter books. They said I was too young. Then they tried to trick me with math problems.”
“How many of them were there?”
“Three, and they wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“Why didn’t you tell the bus counselor?”
“Because they said they’d say I’d said a bad word.” I know this will surprise some, but he actually doesn’t know any curses. I get them all out in my writing.
Later, I asked if he wanted to tell the bus counselor tomorrow. “Yes,” he said. “I could just avoid them, but then they could do it to someone else. People only talk about physical bullying, but most bullying isn’t physical.”
He’s forty pounds, but he’s not a baby anymore. One minute he was a stringbean in a stroller and the next he was an almost-eight-year-old marching off to defend himself against three bullies.
And so, tomorrow, when I take Lilah and her friend to the town beach, I’m going to squint a little so all I can see is the baby fat in her cheeks, instead of her long, strong legs.