Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on October 10, 2012
So, we’re standing in front of the pacing sun bear, in a now-that-they’re-ten-and-twelve-years-old rare trip to the Saint Louis Zoo, and it’s that time of year, so the pumpkins and the scarecrows and the witches have jazzed up the place for the upcoming toddler frightfest, Boo at the Zoo, an event that both Max Baker and Sarah Baker have just announced (poor, deprived souls) they never, ever got to attend. They’re wrong. I think. And later, I will dig out some photographs, I hope. As evidence.
Anyway, I turn from the sun bear because Max has declared, in his most serious tone, Hey Mom, I’ve gotta ask you something.
Here we go. It’s gonna be about girls. About sex. About terrorism. About his bar mitzvah. About godknowswhat.
Do you think that, you know, since this will probably be my last year and all, that I can trick-or-treat, you know, without you? Like, just with me and my friends?
Trick-or-treat. Without me?
I think: Stupid tears, I feel you coming. You’re right there. Just hide the hell away. Get back in there. You will not cry, Debra. No. No. Not in front of him, you won’t. Heart, stop it. Don’t break right here, in front of this sun bear, in front of your son who looks so tall, whose face is breaking out with pimples, who will soon kiss a girl. Brain, don’t start counting the years until he’s away at college because the number is smaller than you want to think about right now, no, don’t do it.
Don’t think about that year he wore that Tigger costume, when he couldn’t even walk yet, and how you plopped him in the middle of the pumpkin patch and took three million pictures. No, don’t think about the year you found that Tootsie Roll costume on E-bay and you were so proud because it was only ten bucks and all the other moms at the Spoede Elementary School parade, the moms who hadn’t sneaked off from work, panicked to arrive just in time, how they had all oohed-and-ahed because it was the cutest darn costume in the whole bunch. And how he had waved to me from the crowd, and I had thought, that’s MY boy. Yup, that cute one over there with those eyelashes and that scratchy voice….
Don’t think, Debra, about how much you loved the simplicity of standing on your neighborhood streets, year after year after year, while he and the other kids would bounce up to the houses with their Unicef boxes jingling and their huge pumpkin-shaped bags of candy and how you would remind them to say thank you, yes, don’t forget to say thank you, and how you were always freezing, shivering, even with your winter hat on and your gloves, and how even though you hated to be so damn cold, you never ever wanted those nights to end.
No, Debra, don’t think right now about how all of the kids would gather in your kitchen for the annual post-Halloween bartering session. They would sprawl on your dirty linoleum floor, the floor that you swore you’d replace right when you moved into that house, but they never cared that the floor was ugly and they never heard how it screamed to you a reminder of all that was broken or neglected, no, they would just sort and trade and count, and sort and trade and count, until everyone would emerge with their ideal hodgepodge of candy, which for Max needed to include at least 12 Three Musketeers bars, some Skittles, and a couple of packages of Starburst.
No, don’t think about how he would always ask first, was it okay if he could have maybe three pieces of candy right then, and how you would say sure, and how you’d think, you know what, Buddy, I would’ve said yes to eight tonight. But, no, he never asked for much.
So, yes, you stand there beside the sun bear, beside your son, and you try to pretend that everything is not about to change, that your world is still sturdy even though you won’t be shivering on those sidewalks, hoping he gets a million pieces of his favorite everything.
I say: Of course you can go trick-or-treating with your friends. Umm, I think that’s a great idea. We’ll just, you know, do something different this year. It’ll be amazing. And, you know I trust you. I know that you’ll be careful and all that.
I squeeze his right shoulder. And then I turn away from my twelve-year-old son because the tears are pushing, pushing, pushing, desperate to be part of the conversation, and I have to remind them that they’re not invited.
No, not now.
I smile at Max as together, on this fall afternoon, we head toward the tigers, toward his favorite animal. Still.