He comes running into the room, breathless, and maybe it’s because I’m just on the brink of sleep but his footfall confuses me. Usually I know each one of them by this alone. I could name who’s coming down each of the two creaky staircases in this old house by the unique pattern of stomps and creaks, but these are heavy footsteps and I expect a man.
Instead it’s my boy.
“Give me your phone!” he says, already pulling it from my hand. I instinctively hold it tighter, pulling back. This particular dance happens at least a half-dozen times per day, but this time I’m not letting go. Whatever inane YouTube video he wants to watch can wait. It’s bedtime.
“Please, Mommy, can I have it?”
The fingernails on the hand wrapped around my phone are long and need to be trimmed. I look at him, and notice his hair is long too, it’s starting to curl where it brushes over the tops of his ears. He’s always growing out of or through something it seems: his expensive shoes he had to have lest the other kids make fun of him at school, the show we used to enjoy together just six months ago, a mannerism I didn’t even remember being fond of until it was gone. This kid I spent so much time just staring at, studying, drinking in with my eyes while I rocked him hopefully towards sleep every night now often feels like a stranger to me. He’s busy, in love with things I don’t understand: baseball, video games, videos about video games, dub step. Even when I try to follow, which isn’t often, he’s already moved on by the time I get there.
“Please? It’s the moon. It’s incredible. I want to take a picture.”
It’s not what I expected to hear, and I release the phone so quickly he lurches backward. Recovering, he runs to the window.
“You should come see it too.”
So I rise and follow him there. He waits, for once. The moon is gorgeous, round and bright like a beacon in the night sky. The clouds striate across it with the breeze, making it look like it is gently rocking back and forth. We are stunned into a temporary silence together, the phone forgotten in his hand. With the curtains spread, the moon casts whatever the opposite of a shadow is onto the worn, wooden floor where we stand next to faded pencil lines on the wall, a growth chart. It’s been a while since we measured. He’s inches over the last mark.
I remember that scene in the movie, “An American Tail,” that I ugly-cried through as a child, when the two mouse protagonists are separated but take comfort in the fact that no matter where they are, they are sleeping under the “same big sky.” I wonder if that’s kind of what this is: the two of us, Jack and I, so different in so many ways, him already well on his way away from needing me the way he used to; yet for a second we are here, together, awed silent by the same beauty.
I take the smallest of steps towards him, wait, and take another, until I have shuffled my way into that moonbeam and my feet glow white and I can feel the warmth of him against me. I consider measuring him tonight, pressing his curls against the wall and marking this new space that he occupies, but for now it seems like enough just to stand here together.
I had just heard on the radio how different cultures see different things in the moon. In the Western world we talk of the man in the moon, in Asia they see a rabbit. Other cultures see a woman, a dragon, a moose, a buffalo, even a frog. For me, tonight, if I let my eyes go soft and squinty, I can see me and my boy, rocking gently across the great expanse of sky.
He was right, it’s incredible.