My three-year-old son, Ethan, is upstairs. Sing-song voice. Singing

to himself. Can't make out the words. I love my son. I just love to hold

him, tennis-shoed feet dangling at my thighs. Sweet, soft cheeks, wild,

fly-away, bed-head hair. Blue eyes that stare, laugh, scowl, tighten into

tears, turn-away. He falls into me in total three-year-old trust, and I

feel his full weight on my chest, his head on my shoulder, his lips in the

curve of my neck.

Mama, can I hit you? he sighs.

Not again, here we go. Ethan loves to hit me. Actually, he loves to kill me.

I kill you, mama. Die, mama, die.

His eyes sparkle and his body springs back to life in my arms.

How strange it is to raise a boy. I never had a brother. This boy thing.

Now, he is standing at the top of the stairs, holding a long cardboard

tube right at his crotch.

Look at my big penis, mama!

He waves it from side to side in a tribal, rhythmic dance. Head tossed

back. Laughing loudly. Staggering around at the top of the stairs, like a

drunken sailor with a big hard-on.

Look at my big penis, mama. I kill you, mama!

He begins to descend the stairs in big slow steps. The tube is now a

sword. He wields it high above his head. He is so sublimely happy.

Ecstatic, really. This game gives him such joy, it is clear I must play.

Sometimes I die, sometimes I don’t. It depends on my mood, and if I

feel like falling down at the moment. Of course, there are rules to this

game. No real hitting. I am very clear about this. Very clear. But, this

killing stuff is very tricky. While I know that by dying, I am letting him

know that his fantasy cannot really kill me, I can take it, I can take him,

and by playing and surviving, he cannot kill still makes me quite

sad deep inside.

It kills me, this game, because, in life I would kind of die for him and

this scares me. Sometimes, my hold on myself feels so tenuous, so fragile.

Like the thin string of a balloon in my hand on a windy day.

I am quite good at dying, taking the hit. Saying yes when I mean “no”

for you, saying no when I mean yes. I am the lifeboat, keeping my

mother afloat as my older sister steals the car, slaps my father hard in the

face, drops out of school, moves out at fifteen. My mother, a child in

search of a mother that left her at the age of two. Mothering the mother,

finding her empty eyes only in acts of sacrifice. The self, like a

shipwreck, breaks and sinks, lost from view, in a foreign ocean, abandoned,

left for dead. A lifetime of swimming on the surface in circles, smiling

lamely. Lonely in my own skin- at times it can be thrilling to hide, but a

heartbreaking tragedy to realize one day that you have never really been

found. Children are born, and you find yourself holding on for dear life.

Or you die sink or swim in your own uncharted waters, and let them grow.

I don't want to be like my mother. The question is, can I give my

children what I didn't get and not hate them for it?

Ethan is now poised to strike.

Gentle, Ethan, I whisper, gentle.