Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

The Dangerous Boy
by Christie Smith

I sensed he was dangerous the moment I laid eyes on him. It wasnít anything he did, or said. It was just a knowing I couldnít shake. The sunlight glinted off his brown hair in hues of red and gold. His sparkling brown eyes, punctuated by thick brows, were rimmed with incredibly long lashes. The kind most women would kill for.

Without warning, I had a vision of him with a beer bottle in one hand, a cigarette in the other and a reckless air. The vision became so vivid, it supplanted the reality of the nine-year-old who stood before me. His lip curled as he transferred the cigarette to his mouth and squinted through the smoke, a lock of hair dangling over his eye. The kind of guy the teenage me would have fallen for without hesitation, but not one the mother in me wanted either of my sons to become or have anything to do with. In an instant, the vision was gone.

My imaginings startled me so much, that I had to look at my son to confirm he hadnít aged without my looking. No, Richard still sported wide, innocent eyes and smooth cheeks. So how exactly, and when, did my sonís friends become dangerous? Overnight, it seemed. This dangerous kid with the dangerous name, Shane, was my sonís new best friend. Itíd only been a week since Iíd first heard Shaneís name. Now Iíd seen him three times in that short span.

We were at soccer practice and Shane had ridden his bike, by himself, to the park to meet up with Richard. That in itself was a rude awakening. Apparently, he traveled lots of places on his bike by himself. I heard him tease my son about not knowing how to get home from the park. "I know how to get to your house," Shane challenged. I overheard another exchange regarding bedtimes. I found myself speaking aloud in answer, pushing my sonís bedtime back by 30 minutes so Shane wouldnít think he was uncool.

Inside, I was thinking Wait a minute! What are you doing? Do you even want your son hanging out with this kid? Just when Iíd convinced myself, that indeed, I did not, the child in Shane surfaced, making a surprising display of politeness, helping me juggle sodas and chairs as I moved with Richardís team from one soccer field to another.

Wow. Iíd have pegged Shane for 13 any day. Richard, the smart, slightly introverted kid who is, I admit, a bit sheltered, seemed enamored of his world-weary friend. My sonís age means he must rely on me to approve/ disapprove of many of his friendship choices, but how long before that no longer applies?

I never dreamed Iíd have to start letting go on this level with him still at such a young age. Itís like looking into an abyss that you know you have to fall through, and youíve barely started the descent.

Iím not sure Iím ready. I feel like holding on to the edge for dear life, sinking my fingernails in until theyíre bloody, to do anything to stem the tide of time. Heís got body odor, already, my son, and Iím seeing other signs of encroaching adolescence. I know itís only a matter of time before hugs and kisses will be pushed away with disdain, and childish questions become brooding silences.

Iím doing my best not to cling too tightly, when all I want to do is curl my body around his, and feel his breath on my face like I used to when he was an infant. I want to cradle that beautiful face in my hands and memorize for the millionth time every freckle. I want to push the world away and enclose him in a bubble of safety that ensures he never gets hurt, never gets disappointed, even by me.

As I sat, thinking these thoughts, the sound of kids laughing and playing soccer around me, Shane sauntered back up to me.

"So will yaíll be here tomorrow, too?" he asked.

"Probably," I mumbled, knowing that yes, we will, as my other son has soccer practice tomorrow. With two sons playing soccer, weíre there almost every day.

"Hey Richard," he yelled. " I gotta go, see ya tomorrow!"

Shane hopped back on his bike, and I watched him ride away -- the dangerous kid who had ridden into my sonís life, uninvited by me. And I realize again that, indeed, time is precious and oh-so-short.

When practice was over, I hugged Richard a little tighter than I might have otherwise and silently thanked God that for now, at least, he remains my little boy that maybe, just maybe, I can protect a little longer.
Christie Smith is an overworked Austin mama of two extremely active elementary school-age boys. Between work and mommy duties, she tries to squeeze in exercise, writing, being a good citizen and occasionally a little bit of fun. She may be contacted at: