With Bug in the tub, it seemed a shame to let all that water go to waste. Off went the socks and up turned the jeans. My grandma would call it a “hot soaky.” I called it Yes.
Oblivious to my freeloading feet, Bug dipped into little meringues of shaving cream decorating the rim. He dotted his arms with it and donned fancy white hats and matching gloves before spreading it in whorls on the tile walls. I dug out the old Gillette Trac handle made obsolete by the march of progress and removed the last rusted blade. In Bug’s hand, the flat head became a squeegee, a paintbrush, a snow shovel.
Bug glanced at his toothless razor, the foam, my legs. The troika of temptations coalesced into their one true destiny. His eyes brightened with the dawn of revelation.
“Mommy, I have an idea!”
Spa day over in three… two…
“I can shave your legs!”
Bug took the lather into his palm and smoothed it down my calf. With uncharacteristic focus and gripping the Trac handle with two hands, he opened wide, straight(ish) trails through the white. “Feel how soft,” he said, touching the damp skin beneath.
This was over a year ago. Our bathtime routine took a 180, and sea monster battles gave way to regular mock grooming sessions. In terms of life expectancy of kid innovation, a year is the outer limit. The next idea has been right there waiting to pop. So, why does it take me by such surprise? Tonight, I hand Bug the cruddy Trac handle, he gives the foam a halfhearted swipe, and the light clicks on. “You know,” he says, eyeing the razor and then me. “I could do it for real.”
“Oh.” Not a chance. “You know, I don’t think so. You don’t need to be using blades on me.”
“But I could! I know how.”
My naked boy sprawls now, taking up the tub. I can still feel the wriggling fish of him against my flesh. As an infant, he was startled by the water and loathe to inhabit that terrifying echo chamber alone. I ladled him into the bowl of my lap and kept him afloat in the warm eddy there, nursing him through the shock of immersion. He clung, mouth and claw, his eyes anchored on mine as his jaw worked in defiance of the disquiet.
Now, he rolls like a walrus, laying all the way back with his head under. He listens for the hollow tones. Then, he sits up and takes another crack at it. “I’ll be careful, I promise!”
My son, using a razor on me? This kid laughs when I stub a toe. When overexcited, he cries, “I’m gonna smack you in the face!” Or he pretends to throw a toy at me then giggles when I flinch. Bug is too enamored of his power fantasies. No, I don’t want him anywhere near me with a sharp object.
Suddenly, my hot soaky seems scant protection against a chilling insight. I don’t trust my son. Fancy that.
This seems a rather dangerous state of affairs, and it extends well beyond us. Boys become men. He has to learn how to handle his ever-increasing capacity for harm. Isn’t it my job to help my boy become trustworthy? To harness his hunger for power and focus its generative force?
What if I give him the chance to make the choice himself?
Never let them see you hesitate. Into the half-beat, his desire surges. “I’m old enough! I’ll be really, really careful.”
Okay. Here goes. “You know, you work hard at lots of things and I see you getting better at them all the time.” I stand and back the 4-blade Cadillac out of its valet spot by the shower-head. “This is a big job, but maybe you can handle it.”
I hand him the pink razor and we look together at the tiny teeth. He touches them with a fingertip. Then he scoops up a handful of foam and lathers up both sides of my leg. I roll the jeans even higher to make way for his expanding canvas. With intense concentration, he places the razor against my skin and begins to slide it down, down. He takes such care, the blades barely touch my skin. I lay my hand on his and show him how much pressure he can apply. When I let go, he presses in, glancing up at me before continuing. I nod. He is a Zamboni, not missing a single stroke. He even rearranges me, having me place my foot up on the wall so he can slip underneath and shave my calf from below. I call him Michelangelo. He pats all around and says, “Okay, other leg.”
My son doesn’t draw a single drop of blood. When he puts the razor down and helps me rinse, he has me touch my legs again and again. “See how smooth?” He crows. “They’re so soft!”
They are, as is his touch. My boy took an opportunity to hurt me and used it to care for me instead. He made a promise. For him to fulfill it, I placed a portion of my welfare in his hands. Apparently, this is how promise works.
What a tricky thing, love. We walk this roiling deck all the time. Hold off or venture? Guard or lay bare? When is it safe to unbutton the collar and open the throat to the whims of another?
It’s not never. It’s not always. It probably isn’t even when we think it is.
It might be when we catch ourselves tipping at the warm edge of a revelation. When we find our old tools cannot prize open the curtain separating this place from the next, and a sharper edge is required.
When we know there is peril in placing such power in untested hands. When fear beats a tattoo against the taut skin of old scars and yet underneath it, a whisper (has it been there all along?)
When we tune to its key and let the dangerous thing pass between us. When we choose.
Here, we say.
Yes. Like this.