September 21, 2010. “Annie’s not real?” Peter asks. I don’t quite know how to explain, my previous 1,000 attempts haven’t done the job. “No Honey, she’s acting. It’s pretend. Like when Sophie was in her play over the summer. She was pretending, right?” We watched the first part of Annie last night and Miss Flanagan’s rendition of “Little Girls” gave Peter nightmares. “So Annie’s a robot?” he continues, undeterred. The inflexibility of his thinking frustrates me and I struggle to remain patient as I think of ways to help him understand. Peter at 9 still is unclear about the distinction between fantasy and reality, fiction and fact, film versus life. If someone on TV, or even on stage, is a real, live human being, rather than a cartoon character or puppet, he stolidly clings to his belief that they are “real”, and therefore in many instances, an immediate trigger for his countless fears. Carol Burnett’s rendition of Miss Flanagan might have hit too close to home for Peter’s fragile sensibilities to assimilate. We don’t really know what our children consciously remember of orphanage life, if anything, but the preverbal memories are undoubtedly there, lurking in the corners, ready to spring at the slightest provocation. Peter later tells me, on the way to the public library, that he wants to watch the rest of the movie tonight, if there’s time, and that he’s not afraid anymore. “Why not?” I ask. “Because that bad lady only gets mean to girls,” he answers. It’s a valid point and I tell him so. “Plus,” he adds, looking at me over the top of his glasses like a mini-version of his father, “she don’t talk Russian.” That’s when I realize I’m not reading too much into our son’s distress. He really did make the connection between his past and the movie. Despite Annie being my favorite Broadway show when I was eleven, perhaps it isn’t the best choice for our family right now. On the way home I distract him with chit-chat about which of his newly borrowed books we’re going to read first. He’s dead set on reading a Magic Tree House book that’s well beyond his ability so we agree to read it out loud, together. I don’t hold much hope for making it through the book – Peter’s not one to read (or listen) to a chapter or two a night and then continue the next day where he left off, but we’ll give it a try nonetheless. Pat’s in the city today and I want to make sure I have a quiet, snuggly evening with the kids. Sophie’s been out of sorts about Peter staying home from school and getting my attention all day and she could use some reassuring. On the way home from the library this afternoon, Peter comments how Pippin, our little terrier mutt, loves to sit on my lap while I drive, preferably with my left arm draped around him. Then he exclaims, “Mommy, I wish I was Pippin’s size!” When I ask him why, he says because then he’d be little enough to sit on my lap all the time and be carried around. “Wouldn’t that be nice, Mom?” I’m so struck with the pronouncement that I have to fight back tears as my eyes meet his through the rearview mirror. Not so many years ago, that mirror was the only medium through which Peter could tolerate eye contact. I used to catch him staring at me in the car, his head whipping around, his gaze growing vacant, the instant our eyes met. Then slowly, slowly, and with the mirror to cut the intensity, he began risking a brief moment of eye to eye contact. Today, nearly 6 years our son, Peter not only looks at us directly, without the crutch of a mirror, he pines for those intimate moments -particularly with me, he either never had or was never able to tolerate. There was a time I pined for them too, but not anymore. Today I look at Peter and see my son, a loving, beautiful boy who greets the world with an easy smile and ready heart. I never allowed myself to even dream that he would get to this point, that he and I would make the progress, as mother and son, that we’ve made. So it’s true. I’m through mourning the loss of the infant I was never able to hold, nourish, and protect. That child is gone. The boy in the car, the one wishing to be small again, that boy is my son, my Peter. So tonight I plan to hold him tight, for as long as he can bear, so that together with his sister, he’ll know that intimacy, protection, and a mother’s embrace isn’t just for baby boys and furry friends. They’re for Peter too.