I held my breath as I cut the pieces for Seb’s fish shirt, hoping I’d bought enough fabric. He’d chosen it so eagerly, selecting something which would be just right for family camp. And it is. It will be perfect for a weekend of pirates and creatures of the deep, as well as for the rest of the summer.
But it’s just right for him, too. For the boy who likes to swim against the tide a little, to be the odd fish out from time to time. This is the boy who wants to make a giant squid costume out of papier mache and paint it gold, because they are gold, Mummy. Really. There will be ten trailing tentacles, plate-like eyes at belly button height, and armholes to accommodate all the dancing he’s going to do. My little fish is most certainly the orange one.
He left me in no doubt about the details of the shirt: it is exactly the same as that of two years ago, only bigger. A grandad collar, with no buttons to snag on pesky branches. Straight sides to accommodate too many ice creams. And tabs and buttons at the elbows, to keep his sleeves out of the way while he’s hammering new bits onto his den, or copying out constellations.
I find a great deal of joy in a job well done, and even more in one so well received. He put it on, beaming, and the shirt I thought had plenty of room in it had only a little. He grows while my back is turned. Ten, already. Ten.
I wondered whether he’d still wear it next year, at eleven. Whether he’d prefer something else, by then, something striped or checked or even plain. Who knows? Not I. All I know is the pleasure on his face as he hops around, declaring it his favourite ever.
He’s grown out of everything but his school uniform, this spring. Ten was the height of Ben’s phase of wearing everything out: holes in knees and elbows and many random rips besides. There is nothing to pass down. So Seb will need something more to wear at weekends and through the long summer holidays. I didn’t need to think before offering him another.
The trick with Seb is to let him choose, because who doesn’t want to wake up on an spring morning with a favourite shirt flung ready over the back of a chair? They’ll become his second skin, a creased and grass-stained part of his everyday adventures. One on, one in the wash, over and over again. Little boys have other things to think about than what to wear, like where to find the biggest mess of frogspawn, and whether the latest Just William is back on the library shelves. But when he does stop to wash his face before tea, and catches a glimpse of himself in the little bathroom mirror, he’ll recognise himself, just the way he is in his mind’s eye.
He went for bears, the second time around. I cut the pattern a little larger, and managed to squeeze a size eleven out of just over a yard. I’m feeling optimistic, you see, encouraged by his hearty approval of the first. This time it’s bears to wear in the woods, out ranging, searching for blackberries in late August. Bears to wear fishing with his uncle in the Lakes, to scoop pike out of the water and into the bows of the boat. Bears to come snuffling around me in the hot July kitchen, asking for honey sandwiches for tea.
One day he’ll outgrow such things; I know that. But now? For now, he loves them, and I love that he does. I must have stitched that sentiment into each and every seam, judging by the way his face shines when he wears them. Once these days are past I’ll cut them up and make a quilt for him. Something new from something old – something very, very him. Not yet, though. Not just yet. We’ve the whole of the summer before us, and the next, and maybe even the one after that. Here’s hoping.— March 24, 1931