Max in the middle
On Max’s second birthday, we gave him the family tricycle, which was first put under the Christmas tree by my grandparents for an almost-2 Noah, and then resurrected for Rosie when she hit the two-year mark. This is one of the advantages of having kids 3.5 years apart—toys can be regifted with the recipient being none the wiser. “Look at your new tricycle! Hang on, let me get that spider nest off it real quick.”
Max is more physically … something than the other two kids at this age. Aware? Astute? It may be just because he has two siblings to observe and mimic, or it may be a trait associated with the genes for blond curly hair and blue eyes, but I’ve seen him sink a toy basketball into a wall hoop mounted six and a half feet off the floor three times in a row, swish, swish, swish. And when we presented him with the trike, he climbed right on and attempted to pedal. He would have been successful, too, if it weren’t for a missing inch of leg. Instead, he sat on the top step behind the seat and scooted himself around the house at his pleasure, cornering his ride like a pro within the afternoon.
Today as I sat semi-working, semi-cooking (waiting for water to boil), Max rolled past me on his chariotrike. Every time he crosses my path when he’s riding some toy through the house, he stops and says, “Hey, Mama.” And every time, the familiarity and contentment that radiate through those two words fill me from head to toe with tingly pleasure, like I’ve been lowered into a nice warm bath. “Hey, baby,” I always reply. (Once, I said, “Goodnight, Max,” as my answer, and that displeased him greatly. “No! Hey BABY!” he reminded me. And so forevermore it shall be.)
After our usual exchange, he held out his hand, palm up, and he lowered his voice to a whisper, “Wook,” he said, hushedly. “Wooka DAT.” I peered at his outstretched hand, but couldn’t see anything, awe-inspiring or otherwise. He’s been known to pick up microscopic pieces of detritus off the floor and carefully transport them to me so I can “fro it inna trash can,” which I dutifully do, but this time I didn’t see so much as a speck. “Oh!” I said. “Look at that!” He looked down intently at his fingers with a reverent gaze.
He is settling more and more into himself these days, like 2 is exactly the age he wants to be right now. Rosie always (has) had an air of impatience with the limitations of her years, and Noah, the scout of the Ellis children, maintains a hint of timidity as he charts new responsibilities and experiences on which his siblings have yet to embark. Max, though, Max is all about the here and now. He arrived into a mix, and the mix is what he loves. If the gang’s riding scooters, he’s gliding right alongside. If chase is the game of choice, he’s always in third, only a slight pause behind runners one and two. When you ask him how old he is, he says, “I be TWO! I be OLD.”
Except he’s not old to me—he’s Just Right. My baby, but not a baby. Funny and stubborn and round-bellied and captivating. And captivated with the two kids whose shoes made the first scuff marks on the well-loved tricycle he uses to follow them from room to room with hearts in his eyes. Max in the mix.
So when he presents me with his invisible offering atop dirt-lined, still-chubbed fingers, I accept it solemnly. “I got it,” I whisper. He nods, satisfied that I recognize the importance of what we’ve both held there between us.