Ben didn’t love the monkeys or the penguins like we thought he would. He was unimpressed by the lions sleeping only feet away from the thick plated glass. He stopped for a mere second as the baby giraffes slowly rounded their jaws, enjoying their lunch. Ben was most interested in the train.
With the purchase of our ticket we were awarded unlimited rides on the trolley-esque train which went around a lake, past a faux Western city and behind the ostrich cage.
Pockets of children swarmed each area. Screaming, kicking, cackling, sugar-charged school children on field trips beat Ben to each exhibit, each bench, each photo stop. But they couldn’t jam in next to us on the two-seat booth of the train. And we couldn’t hear their excited voices over the wind.
Ben curled up against me, his legs like a frog’s, his arms pulled to his sides and his head on my chest. It was just like he did when he was only a month old and I’d sit on the couch waiting for something to happen, for him to cry, for me to panic, for us to trudge our way through the needs, for me to feel like a mother. Here, now, Ben freshly two years old and on the train, I am steeped in motherhood. With Ben pressed against me I hold the back of his head and comb my fingers through his hair. I dip my nose down to the top of his head and smell his shampoo, sun block and the scent of toddler boy.
My husband is beside us, video recording our ride, making sure Ben is okay. He fully allows me to enjoy this moment, uninterrupted. I hold my son knowing there won’t be many times like this. He will get older and want to be in a separate booth from me altogether – or not even on the train at all. It’s as if I knock the wind out of myself, realizing this. I remove my hand from the back of his head and worry that I’m coddling him too much. That perhaps all of my sentimentality that is seeping into his skin through my clothes, soaking his demeanor, making him a mama’s boy. No woman or man will ever make him happy enough because I am too much.
As if Ben could hear my thoughts, he takes his arm and reaches for my hand to replace the empty spot I’ve left on his head. The day will come when he won’t want my chest to burrow into, or my soft belly to rest his body on. There will be plenty, so many days of him not wanting my input, not needing my kisses for his boo-boos, not laughing at my silly faces to make the tears dry. But that day isn’t today, he told me, “Not yet, mama.”
The train slowly passes joggers and strollers on a walking path around the lake and the other children on their field trips wave. Ben and I cuddle in silence, looking at the bright green trees of budding spring, the thickets of barbed branches on the forest floor and the sound of the small train engine moving us forward.