Today, I made moon sand. Pinterest claimed it was a simple project, and they were right: 8 cups of flour and one cup of baby oil yielded a soft, yet malleable substance perfect for shaping with cups and spoons of various sizes, kind of like damp beach sand, only not damp. I mixed it in a plastic storage container with low walls and took it into the backyard shade. It was a perfect, sun-dappled September afternoon. I sat on one side of the tub and positioned Jake on the other, and demonstrated how to pack the sand into a cup, and turn the cup upside down to make a little tower. I assumed he would follow suit as best he could, quietly engaged in this perfectly prepared sensory activity, manipulating spoons and cookie cutters as he honed his fine motor skills.
A strong dislike for getting hands dirty. A strong propensity toward flinging things, like moon sand, across the yard, proving surprisingly adept at using spoon as catapult. Tossing cups. Crushing cups. Holding cups over mouth to yell gibberish and sound like Darth Vader. And then, roughly twenty-three seconds into this Pinterest win of an activity, the neighbor’s cat appeared on the scene and pretty much ended it.
“Kit cat,” said Jake, and he was off, chasing the cat to the fence that separates our yard from the neighbor’s. The cat took one look at Jake, then leaped over it. “Kit cat,” said Jake, squatting, taunting the cat through the fence slats with a tablespoon of moon sand, which he eventually dropped, causing me to have to reach through the slats and retrieve it. After a second failed attempt at interesting him in the project (he preferred to take the lid on and off the container), the lawn company showed up to aerate the yard. This was the highlight of the day, and quite possibly the highlight of Jake’s entire life. First, there was the truck.
“Big car,” said Jake.
“Big truck,” said Mommy.
Pointing, insistent. “Big car.”
“Truck, Jake. Say, truck.”
Silence. “Mow-a.” Pointing at aerator. “Daddy mow. Mommy mow.”
Jake has seen his dad mow the lawn frequently, and his mom mow it once, and has almost had a full bodily attack of sheer, excited, small-boy pleasure. Is it the sound of the motor? The turn of the wheels? The utter ridiculousness of an adult with a push toy? We may never know. But whatever it is, Jake is enthralled, and he can’t stop talking about it. Today, he ran back and forth on the front walk, keeping pace with the good-natured lawn guy pushing the aerator, shouting “Daddy mow” and waving frantically, as eager as a paparazzi tailing Britney Spears. He eventually wore himself out to the point of hysteria, and had to be taken in, kicking and screaming, to keep him from throwing himself in front of the aerator like a sacrificial lamb.
Now, as he sleeps, I am counting my blessings. It is mid September, and I get to be home on a Wednesday, with the singular goal of watching over my son as he explores the world. This is the first year in almost a decade that I haven’t been standing in a classroom in mid-September, readjusting to long school days, watching the honeymoon behavior slowly start to wear off. Last week was the first week of school in Virginia, but I was in Virginia Beach, visiting my brother and his family as the first bells rang out across the state, and children flooded out of buses and into newly waxed hallways with shiny shoes and fresh haircuts. As teachers led icebreaker activities, I went to the beach with my niece and my sister-in-law, and learned that Jake is terrified of the ocean, but that he loves looking at the seagulls and driving his truck on my towel, and that my niece, at 9 months, wants nothing more than to shove handfuls of wet sand into her mouth.
All summer, my friends have been asking me what it’s like to be a new stay at home mom, and I have been saying that it feels pretty normal, since I have summers off every year. It hasn’t really hit me until now what a big change this is going to be. Last year, I felt guilty going to work, and spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be home with Jake. I never thought I would miss my job, but I do. I miss the intensity of teaching, the routine of it, the collection of individual dramas that pepper each day with humor and sadness and joy. I miss my colleagues and their first-week-of-school tales, the hilarious and the heartbreaking. And I miss the students, the lovable ones, and the ones whose names and stories are written on my heart. Ten years in the classroom won’t leave you short of stories. But for now, I gladly trade those stories for this one: my son, the backyard, a plastic dump truck, a rubber ball, the neighbor’s cat, and a lawn mower humming in the distance.