Typical dinners include Jacob and I battling for some semblance of a conversation– our opponents usually include splattered yogurt, spilled milk, and kids poking each other with forks, but tonight, Cohen actually listens to Jacob tell stories about a silly student who visits his classroom every day bearing drawings of elephants and pigs on swings (don’t ask.) Cohen laughs, letting out punctuated Ha’s! in between authentic giggling. He follows the flow of our conversation, munching on his buttered bread and cucumber sticks.
And he is small and he is grown.
“Does Gaga have Friday off?” Cohen asks. I nod my head. “Phew,” he gasps, “That’s good because she’s going to Miss O’s retirement party.” “I’m not sure if she’s going to the party,” I tell him. He shakes his head. “But it’s for all teachers, even past teachers.” And the word past is so innocent and fresh and so obviously repeated, I must smile and tousle his hair that grows long around the ears, bleached from chlorine and the sun.
And he is small but he is grown.
Jacob mentions how a brewery might be opening up in downtown Cary and Cohen begins the onslaught of questions: within a few minutes, he hears about fermentation and sugar and distilleries. Later, after most of the burgers and bread have been eaten or spilled, he begins writing a message on blue post it notes, asking us over and over again what different letters looked like in cursive. “It’s like a normal one, but with a curly thing,” we say each time, except with the tricky letters, like f and g and r. Afterward, he changes out of his swim trunks and turns on the shower and puts on a oversized gray sweater and fleece camoflauge pajamas, because the wind is picking up.
And he is small but he is grown.
We lie in bed together and he reads Cam Jansen. We sound out words and talk about long vowels and short vowels, and I keep myself from explaining what quotation marks mean. I open his blinds so he can read by the light of the setting sun, and he says thank you. And he is small but he is grown.
He’s come back dowstairs, and he lies next to me as I type.
He continues to read Cam Jansen. He hums as he looks at pictures, reading almost every page by himself. Slow. Steady. Words. He misses periods, the word ‘laugh’ always requires extra thought, and he pronounces his Ts just right, like he’s spelling out his last name over a malfunctioning phone line. He finishes the whole book, and he has missed the resolution to the mystery, so focused on vowels and consonant clusters that he’s convinced the author has made a mistake– “I’m not kiddin!” he says emphatically, “They didn’t solve it!” So we go back a few pages and reread and discover no one actually stole Cam Jansen’s popcorn. They just had mistaken their row of seats at the circus for another. He reads this sentence over my shoulder, asking about dashes and questions marks. His head falls down on my chest and he breathes slowly, steadily. “Are we going to the Quad Cities on the 4th of July?” he asks suddenly, breaking the silence. “And will we leave on the fifth? Or the third?” His pointer finger waves back and forth, his eyes squinting, imagining empty calendar squares in his head.
There is quiet for a while, except for the growing wind outside. The curtains billow into the room, sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully.
He scratches his leg and asks “Is it raining outside?” And I say “No, it’s just the wind.” We sit a bit more in silence. He falls asleep.
And he is small, and he is grown.