"Okay, buddy, now you're going to be starting kindergarten when school starts soon, like a big boy," I began to explain to him, hoping something I said would click and help ease the impending transition.
"Yeah, Kiedis go kindergarten. Kiedis go big boy kindergarten!" he said excitedly, bouncing up and down on the couch cushion he was barely perched upon.
"Yep, that's right. But Kiedis, hey calm down a minute and listen, okay?" He nodded and stopped bouncing, leaning into my right side and obstructing my view of my phone. "In order to go to kindergarten, you have to wear special clothes, okay? And they're going to look exactly like everyone else's clothes."
I tried to see his face, leaning way over to my left in order to see his face. His eyes were scanning the small screen, which had Old Navy's mobile site open to the uniform page. I tried to not let my tension show, my concern that this would be too big of a change for him, having been able to wear normal clothes to school up until this point. I watched him as he searched the page, expertly flicking the screen to scroll up and down, perusing the options.
"It's called a uniform," I said softly to him. "It means you're a big boy ready for kindergarten."
He looked thoughtfully at the miniature webpage, taking a full beat to consider his response.
"Hmmm, how 'bou dat one?" he said as he pointed to dark blue chinos. I cringed.
"Well, dude, those are great, but there are very specific clothes for your uniform you have to wear, okay?" I searched his face again as he began to chew on his bottom lip. "Remember the big kids in the hall at your old school, how they all wore khaki pants and dark blue shirts?"
"Well, you're going back to that school, and you get to wear the same thing now, because you're a big kid."
He continued to chew his lip, scanning the page open on the screen of the phone. He scrolls to where the section of khaki pants and shorts are. He points to a pair of plain, no-frills shorts.
"Hmm, dat one?" He turns to look straight at me, big green eyes searching my face for a social cue in reaction to his latest attempt.
I could feel the muscles in my shoulders and chest release.
"Yeah, buddy, like those. Do you want to get those?"
"Umm, YEAH!" He jumped up from the couch, fists pumping in the air above his head as he jumped up and down, triumphantly.
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and then we sat together and picked out polos and pants and shorts together. He spied red jeans he liked and I obliged because they were on sale and he's outgrown most of his jeans from last year as it stands.
Then, he gasped.
"Whaaaaaat is daaaaat?" he squealed in delight. "Is dat a bluuuue turdle backpack? YESSS, is Kiedis blue turdle backpack!!!!"
I stared at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bookbag on the website, on sale with a matching lunchbox to boot. I had a quick decision to make -- spend more money on an unnecessary purchase when he has a perfectly good bookbag from last year and we haven't even bought school supplies yet, or indulge my sweet boy this one thing that may help him be excited for school after last year ending on such a terrible note.
I added the bookbag and lunchbox to my online cart and proceeded to check out.
I couldn't count the amount of times he asked about his new bookbag, telling me about how the brown truck would come with a box and then he'd have his new bookback and lunchbox. I was impressed by this, because he's merely observed that this is how it works -- that when we buy things we have to wait for UPS to bring them.
And then I got notification that the bookbag and the red jeans were coming separate from everything else and my heart sank, because I doubted he'd understand why those two things weren't with everything else.
However, when the brown truck came with the box, I hoped against hope that the lunchbox and the "big boy clothes" would be enough to keep him excited about all of the changes he'll face in just a week.
And my boy shocked me.
He wanted to put the clothes on right away, stripping out of his pj's and pulling things out of protective bags. He pulled the lunchbox out of it's plastic envelope and jumped around excitedly, asking me over and over again the names of the Turtles by their mask colors, something I gratefully could easily remember from my own childhood.
And suddenly, I had a kindergartner in my living room.
He wanted to wait until his dad came home to show him his new big boy clothes and fancy lunchbox, only asking a couple of times where the bookbag was and seeming to understand it was still coming, that the brown truck would come again soon with another box for him.
As he sat on the couch, waiting, I caught him starting intently at his lunchbox, a tiny pinched smile on his face, a smile I know to be his quiet, private smile ... his real smile, not the one that he knows to make based on social cues. I stood in the doorway between the living room and foyer, watching him and realizing he was saying something very quietly to himself.
"I so happy," he murmured, his eyes lovingly locked on his new lunchbox, dressed head-to-toe in his new school uniform.
"I so happy."
I dove into the foyer and through the dining room to the kitchen before the sobs escaped me, relief washing over my tired frame in a giant unexpected wave.
There is so much wrapped up in that tiny smile and quiet statement, so much more than I even know how to express. That he is identifying his feelings for himself and can verbilize them. That he is excited for school after the terrible year last year. That I did something right as his parent, however small, to ease this transition for him and make it something he wants to do instead of dread.
That he is happy, for however brief a moment.
I just pray, now, with every molecule of my being that someone, on that first day of school, also notices the new lunchbox and bookbag he's so proud of and acknowledges it, or tells him they think it's cool. Please, let some other child be kind to mine and validate his interests and choices so he doesn't feel alone.
Please let him make friends, help him find a place in this new phase of his life.
Because I want him to continue to know what happy feels like, when he thinks no one is looking.