Originally Published: March 21, 2001
Sebastian had been sick for 5 days - a gently rolling fever that reached a nasty high of 103 one Saturday morning, but retreated without fuss after some bubble gum flavored acetaminophen. He had no appetite, and certainly no oomph. He was feeling somewhat better on Monday, but was not quite in shape to go to school. He’d eaten so sparsely in the last few days, that even a quick trip to the grocery store exhausted him. He is not often off his victuals.
So he was generally in a weakened state when this small event occurred. He and I had just finished, yet again, a favorite chapter out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After we’d galloped through the breathless events of the Third Task and closed the book, my raspy voice croaking for rest, Sebastian headed to his room to play on his own.
A short time later, while in the laundry room, I faintly heard him calling for me. Through the walls, over the hissing of the washer, up the stairs and around the corner, a sharp pluck at some primal sinew told me this was not an idle cry.
He arrived at the laundry room door just as I came out. His cheeks were tear-streaked and pale. He looked up into my face and blurted out," Mom, I haven't played with Legos for a really long time!" He hung his head, helpless and bereft, and stood in front of me, expecting … something.
If he’d been older, or even younger, I might have laughed it off. But he is nine. The time is coming - soon - when he will leave his toys to his younger brothers and turn to other pursuits. His brothers will abandon them in turn, happily reaping the benefits at a yard sale, thumbing through the cash they get and thinking instead of big-ticket purchases, never again to be made thoroughly content by a few dollar’s worth of plastic and rubber.
I felt unprepared. It seemed too soon for both of us. I wasn’t ready, and I did not know how to respond, whether I should tell him that his concerns were well grounded, tell him to cry and to fear and to mourn his childhood that, from this moment on, would erode away from him, that this was the first step into young adulthood, a fearful place where everything gets turned upside down and where more questions will present themselves than answers. That he was wise beyond his mere nine years to see this terrible, wonderful moment for what it ultimately was – the first step away from home.
Whether he could have faced that truth, was not my dilemma as I looked at the face that looked at me. The truth was, I couldn’t face it. Not just yet. Not without a last stand. So I told him what I hoped was a likely version of the truth; that he wasn’t done with these toys yet. He'd been playing with Legos since he was four, hadn’t he? And now he was just, well, taking a break! Perhaps in favor of other building toys, or maybe a romp with all those Beanie Babies that had, of late, acquired a thin layer of dust on his shelf.
“But I haven’t played with Legos since October. Mom, it’s not just a break! I think… I think maybe I’m getting to old to play with them.” I held him as he renewed his sobs onto my shoulder, tearing into those primal sinews and leaving my heart and lungs hanging in shreds. He’d found the most likely truth himself, in spite of me.
He pulled away and walked slowly to his room. The floor was covered in Legos, but even I knew his little brothers had left them there. He sat on the bed and looked hopelessly around. “I feel like I’ve already built everything.” he said shakily. He pulled the back of his hand angrily across his eyes.
It was a moment when I had to compile everything I knew about my son in one instant. Every insight, every nuance I’d learned from watching him grow up to the nine-year-old who sat before me. He wasn’t ready to leave childhood behind – his sorrow told me so - but he’d seen a glimpse of what life might be like without the familiar comfort of his toys. He was mourning a loss that hadn’t yet happened but which lurked ominously just out of sight, like the monster that inhabited his closet a few short years ago.
“You know,” I said carefully, “if you were really too old to play with Legos, you wouldn’t be sad about it. You’ll know when it’s time to leave your toys, and you won’t mind, then. It’ll be a natural step, like moving on to chapter books and boxing up most of your picture books. It’ll just happen and you’ll be ready. I promise it won’t happen until then. Anyway,” I smiled at him, hoping I looked reassuring, “Didn’t I tell you that we’re never giving away these Legos? We’ve got thousands of dollars invested here. You better believe it, Bub, your children and your children’s children are going to inherit these. There’s probably a college tuition’s worth here!”
Sebastian sighed, but it was a very small one, and the hopelessness had left his eyes. I leaned on the door frame and looked over the Lego wreckage. I know you, I thought, as well as I know anyone, and this might help you. Might help us.
“I have an idea. Why don’t you build Hogwarts Castle out of Legos? Make it huge, the size of your entire table. Use as many pieces as you can, all your pieces, maybe. Make the turrets, the secret rooms, the staircases, the owlry, the great hall, everything. It could be amazing. What do you think?”
Sebastian looked at the table in question. “No thanks.” He said.
But I knew him, alright. The wheels were turning. Just a few more minutes and I would be sure. He swung his feet, looking at his socks.
“Mom? Do you think I should really use all the pieces?”
He never did finish the project – let’ face it, it was a pretty tall order – but he became happy again. Now, a couple of months later, he undoubtedly plays less with Legos and his other toys than he used to. But he doesn’t seem as sad about it. He is wistful, occasionally, but not so raw, as if he has mysteriously gained some perspective he can live with.
I am aware, now, of a slight restlessness in him, which I suspect will only become more pronounced over the next few years. It is subtle, a distant rumbling and tremor deep below the surface, but it is there and I can feel it. I know him. He is growing up.