When Tre was six years old, he looked like Christopher Robin. Something about his legs, I think, straight and strong and spindly, poking out of his shorts. His knees were often battered. His hair fell straight and shiny and dark brown, and under it his eyes were enormous, intense, and stained-glass brown.
One morning, shortly after his biological dad left, I woke up to hear something thumping downstairs. I slipped out from between infant Raphi and three-year-old Max and peeked in at Tre's bed. It was empty, and I hurried down to the kitchen to find him.
The door to the car port was in the kitchen, and a few weeks before, the handle of that door had been slammed into the wall hard enough to punch a hole in the drywall. I had bought a...thing to fasten to the wall over the hole. A rubber bumper for the handle. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it covered the hole, and the thought of patching the drywall and figuring out how to match the texture, and finding the right paint...there was no earthly way. Some mornings the thought of showering made me want to lie down on the floor and cry.
Apparently actually installing the bumper was too much work too, because I'd brought it into the house, tossed it on the nearby dryer, and left it there.
Tre must have noticed this undone task, because he'd dragged a step-stool over to the hole in the wall, and pulled the plastic bag with the bumper in it open. His small, determined fingers made dimples all over the plastic where he'd worked at breaking through. And now he was kneeling on the step-stool, leaning against a screwdriver, trying to turn a screw with enough pressure to force it into the drywall.
The screwdriver slipped and his knuckles scraped along the wall - again it seemed. Tears were suspended in his enormous eyes and he muttered to himself.
"Tre?" I whispered, stepping into the kitchen. He swung around, startled. Those tears spilled down his cheeks, little rivers now that they'd started.
"I can't do it," he gasped, sobs punching him in the chest, "I keep trying but I hurt my hand and I can't."
I gathered him up and sat down on the floor with him and together we dripped tears on each other, on the floor, on the whole world.
"Tre," I finally said, "do you know what your job is?"
"WHAT?" he breathed, as though he'd been dying to know.
"Your job is to be a kid. And do you know what a kid is supposed to do?" He shook his head. His eyes were so big. "A kid is supposed to play. And read. And learn. And climb trees."
"And ride bikes?"
"And ride bikes. And my job is to be your mom. My job is to take care of you. And take care of the stuff, like lunch, and laundry, and this wall. You be a kid, and I'll be the mom. Okay?"
It became a litany of sorts, whenever Tre weighed himself down with wanting to fix things. "What's your job?" I'd whisper, and eventually, he'd grin back at me, and slip back into his own day.
Today I looked at my son, my broad shouldered man of a son. He's taller than me, and that straight brown hair now hangs in unruly curls that usually obscure his big brown eyes. He talks about following his heart, but his heart right now is unruly, and I'm afraid. I remember what it felt like, when I knew what to say to him, knew the words that would reach him right where he was.
Do you know what your job is? I ask.
But today I ask myself. And today I don't know the answer.