“Lewis, come back! You can’t run outside by yourself!”

I silently will the kind-faced girl scooping ice cream to scoop a little faster, before this monster boy escapes to the playground beckoning him outside.

Before Lewis came screaming into this world. I just knew he’d be a girl. Mothering a little girl would be my grand chance to justify myself as a woman. I’d teach her to be strong and witty, to be kind and honest, to make a mean pitcher of sweet tea, and how to twirl in a sundress. But, life has a funny way of kicking you right in the uterus with a baby who does not in fact have a uterus.

Instead of buying mustard colored mommy-and-me headbands on Etsy, I’m relegated to the ranks of puppy dogs on pale blue onesies with stupid phrases like “Mommy’s Number One Pup.” I will forever be indebted to the likes of Target and Old Navy for selling boy clothes that don’t make me want to gag. I give side-eye to moms gleefully buying skirts and glittery shoes for tiny little girls. They must be living the dream life.

I sit on the blue bench, licking the chocolate off my spoon before it melts into a puddle under the hot sun. My boy fearlessly runs up the steps to the slide, king of the playground. His face glows with a big toothy grin, his unruly curls blowing in the wind – I think his magic lives right there in those ringlets. He yells to me as he sits on the yellow slide, ready to catapult his lanky body to the ground below. He knows no fear. He is equal parts warrior and outlaw.  

While I watch Lewis cheer as his feet hit the ground, I do something I’ve rarely done on my motherhood journey: I cry at the lightning speed of his childhood thus far. This morning, I willed him into a romper meant for a child half his age – my feeble protest against the way babies become little boys. Eighteen months of adventuring with this captivating boy feels like three days to my mama heart. I sip my espresso, and will the tears to stop, despite the relief that comes with them.

Squealing as he runs back up the steps to the slide, my boy glances back at me again, reminding my soul of the words my doula whispered to me when the intensity of my back labor demanded an epidural: 

No one needs me to be their hero.

I take another bite of ice cream, and clap for my boy as he zooms down the slide yet again. He is every inch of me, from those curls with the faintest hint of red to his stormy grey eyes to the sass he wears so well. I cheer for him while he sprints to the ladder on the other side of the playground. He’s clearly too small to try to climb it. He’s also the prime candidate for the first episode of American Ninja Warrior Babies. He puts one foot on the ladder, then another, until he is safely on the platform at the top.

My soul feels a little braver watching him conquer playscape obstacles without hesitation. I remember that I loathe glitter and the colors pink and purple. But this – this invitation to explore the world through dirt and sweat and infectious giggles – is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my own skin. This little boy has unlocked my wild again, just when I needed it most.

Together we’ve braved four days  of labor, a rocky road to breastfeeding for seventeen months, an international move, postpartum anxiety that threatened to swallow me whole, and a few particularly harrowing nights of no sleep and multiple tantrums, perhaps from both of us.

I wonder to myself when the time will be right to give my son a sibling. I dream of a little brother to conjure up all forms of mischief along with this chief mischief-maker. Somewhere, deep in my soul, I still the long for a baby girl. For today, as I buckle my boy in his car seat not bothering to wipe the remnants of ice cream from his cheeks, I whisper thanks for this gift of guiding a not-so-baby boy through the world.

Right here, in the way he sprints away during diaper changes, and those crumby kisses he plants on my lips, I’ve found my way back to myself. No pressure to be the shining example of womanhood. No fear that he’ll absorb my tendency to conveniently forget to eat to keep the number on the scale dropping. No concern that he’ll mirror my insecurities.

Only faith that he’ll streak through life with the same passion and joy he’s brought back to my soul. And all the promise that he’ll never know his fellow humans, every single one of them, to be anything but strong and able.

I hear him singing to himself as we drive home. He isn’t saying distinguishable words yet, a struggle of growing up bilingual. But in the babble I hear an anthem to keep going, to keep running, because no one needs me to be their hero out here in the wild.