B Edward M. Cohen
Five year old Noah saw an old man in the market, he tells me, his body curling into an
imitation. He nods his head, pretends to be walking with a cane. The old guy was walking up and down the aisles, muttering, “Mine eyes! Mine eyes!” The memory makes him cackle.
I am not sure what this means but I’ll ask his mother later. Maybe she’ll know. Maybe not. . Ten minutes go by and, in the middle of another conversation, he mutters, “Mine eyes! Mine eyes!” his body curling, his voice crackling with make-believe age, and he giggles to himself once again. It doesn’t matter whether I understand or not. He enjoys the story.
He also loves to sing Allouette. He announces, “I can speak French, Grandpa!” Then he sings, “Allouette, gentil Allouette. Allouette gentil ploo merai!” He doesn’t understand a word. He is just mouthing sounds which his father probably taught him but he proudly sings the refrain over and over.
The most impressive thing about him at this age is the way he relishes private jokes, sets his own goals, pleases himself with his accomplishments, figures thing out, gets lost in his private fantasies.
We are spending the afternoon at the stream. His parents have rented a cottage near our summer home for the month because they can thereby get a vacation with free baby sitting: a treat for us all. They bring him over every afternoon and he has fallen in love with a nearby stream. We spent two hundred bucks on a membership in the town pool, figuring he’d meet other kids there, take swimming lessons, but no, Noah prefers the stream. The water only goes up to his waist so he can just wade in and sit and splash but the current is really strong and he loves to let the cool ripples rush over him. He has started to build a dam; flinging the rocks around, piling them up, then breaking them down, dousing his head under the waterfall he has created, singing Allouette to himself.
He used to be totally dependent on adults for information and stimulation. He soaked up whatever we told him. He wanted to hear the same story over and over. These days, when we walk to the stream, he talks to himself, repeats his favorite punch lines, does not care if I get the jokes or not.
In the fall, he will be going to a real school instead of the pre K he has been in for years. He will be learning letters and numbers. He will be losing old friends and will have to make new ones, travelling on the school bus. His parents are nervous, but not Noah. Now I know why; just when he needs it, his inner self is growing strong.
We walk home from the stream, he in his baggy bathing suit, hair golden from the sun, and he shows me his Karate poses, copied from television. He sucks in his tummy and I begin to see the outlines of muscles, like the very beginning of a scrawny pre-adolescent. He says, “I have to keep my knees bent like this for support!” God knows where he heard it but he seems to understand and is clearly impressed with himself.
I hope I never forget the way he is this carefree summer since there are so many hurdles ahead which he doesn’t even know about. He has been so happy in his current school, has been there for so many years, the darling of the teachers. This will be a great disruption in his life. To us, it seems frightening. Not to him. Maybe he is aware of the tension around him and, without even knowing, he has taken this summer to marshall his inner resourses. With the sense of self he is building, he will handle whatever awaits him. He knows it. We will learn. We have to, he is signaling. He will not be held back by our old-people concerns.
I know separation is a part of parenting but does it have to happen so soon?
This coming weekend, his friend, Andy, is visiting from the city so his parents tell us Noah will not be coming over until Monday. We will miss him terribly. After only these few weeks, we cannot remember how we used to fill the afternoons. And we are reminded how brief this period will be. Soon, too soon, he will be busy with soccer games and music lessons and boy scout meetings. There will be very little time for visits to his grandparents.
Maybe, every now and then, he will need to replenish his spirits by returning to the stream and, if so, we will be here.
Edward M. Cohen‘s novel, $250,000, was published by Putnam’s; his nonfiction books are published by Prima, Prentice-Hall, Limelight Editions, and SUNY Press. He has published over 35 stories in various literary journals, and his articles have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Child, Parenting, American Woman, and Out. Cohen has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NY State Council on the Arts.
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