My son has pockets full of sand. He knows twenty-five ways to fold a paper airplane. At bedtime, he turns somersaults across the mattress, over and over and over.
“It’s time to sleep,” I say, and he says, “Okay,” and he does. But in his dreams, I know he’s still tumbling.
My son used to play chicken with the boys next door, all three a whir of prepubescence. Ropy muscles and long limbs—tangled in bicycles, bruised laughter, and each other.
Or they’d grab their toy arsenals and battle away entire afternoons—a wreckage of boys in the streets, in the sun, sweat and summer.
At bedtime he tells me his legs are in pain. A kind of ache, deep in the bones.
“You’re just growing,” I say with a smile.
He says he doesn’t want to. That it’s all going by too fast. I sit beside him, and he turns his face away. He says, “I wish childhood didn’t have to end.”
What I want to tell him is that it doesn’t have to, not really. That he can choose to stay young at heart, but I know that’s not what he means.
When the boys invite him over now, the streets stay quiet. Hours later he returns, not sweating, not disheveled. “What did you do?” I ask.
“Just watched TV.” His voice has the lilt of someone bravely trying to hide disappointment.
Sometimes he says, “I think I would have liked the world the way it used to be. Before computers and televisions. Before cell phones.” I study his faraway eyes, clouded with nostalgia for a childhood that has not yet ended but that he knows cannot last.
Is it a blessing or a curse to feel so deeply you mourn every future loss?
At the end of the day, I collect dozens of paper airplanes strewn across the house. He’s started folding aluminum into their wings for better flying and more permanence. At the end of the day I turn out his pockets and listen to the sand rain down.
Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the author of The Fourth Wall. Her work has been published in Mothers Always Write, Brevity Magazine, Motherwell, Hunger Mountain, Superstition Review, Literary Mama, Hospital Drive, YA Review Network (YARN), and a few other places. Links to Elizabeth’s work can be found on her website, elizabethmarianaranjo.com.