My family likes to tell a story about me when I was The Boy's age. We lived with my grandparents in a house with big bay windows in the living room and an elementary school down the street. Everyday, I would stand in the windows and watch the kids going to school, and I wanted very badly to go with them. One morning, my uncle convinced me it was my day to go -- only I was late! I better hurry! I had to go to school.
And I believed him. I believed myself. I was going to school. Frantic and sobbing, I couldn't understand why Mom and Grandma wouldn't let me go.
The Boy was telling me in the car today that when he was 5 he would go to elementary with his friends W and S. Our daycare has a school that goes up to 8th grade, but we plan to send the kids to public school. I figured I shouldn't set him up for disappointment, so I said, "Yes, you'll go to elementary when you're 5, but you might not go with W and S. You'll go to a school in our town and they might go someplace else."
"But S and I are going to live together," The Boy said. "We're going to live far far away, in California."
For weeks, all we have heard is how The Boy's going to live in California with his friends, W and S. They're going to have skateboards and a pool and a nice shark named Jasper who will let you ride on him. They'll wear light up shirts and light up shoes (Skat-chers, Momma) and ride on light up surfboards. Fifteen times a day, he asks when we're going to California to visit. Sometimes that question is the first thing he says to us in the morning.
We usually play along, but we also remind him gently he'll have to be older than 5, which seems to be the magic age for The Boy. Tonight, not meaning to be, I was a little more blunt.
"You can't live in California when you're 5. You'll still live with Momma and Daddy and you'll go to school here."
Silence from the backseat. I thought he was thinking it through; he does that. But when I looked in the rearview, I saw The Boy's face crumpled -- not in a prefit, silent wail, but as if someone just told him his blanky had been thrown away.
He sobbed for the entire 15-minute ride home. Every consolation I offered -- we can visit, you can pretend to live in California, the police would be mad at Momma and Daddy -- was met with, "But I wanna LIVE there! I wanna live in California." He stopped long enough to hiccup out, "I need a tissue."
At home, I showed The Boy on a map how far away California is. I got him giggling. But then he started crying again. Dinner and bath distracted him, and, as I lay snuggled with him at bedtime, he finally seemed to come to peace with it. I told him he could move to California when he was 25.
"Yeah. And when I'm older, I'll be 25 and S will be 25 and we can drive. And we'll live in California. Be we won't be 5. We're never going to be 5."
Apparently, if 5 can't deliver everything he wants, The Boy isn't messing with it.
I don't remember that morning at my grandparents' window. I don't remember crying or wanting to be one of the kids with the backpacks. I always thought the story was just a way to make fun of me, bookworm and nerd that I am. (And it probably was, a bit.)
But I get it now. That was a sincere heartbreak for me, possibly my first.
It's hard to see your child's dreams crumple, however, silly they are. I didn't know whether to laugh at or cry with The Boy as he sobbed. Once I got past my giggles, though, I realized this is just the first of many heartbreaks I'm going to have to help him get past. Helping him to rearrange his hopes is a huge task.
Thank god we get these little things to practice on.