Last night after his bath, while I was trying to finish the last few pages of a book, he climbed in my lap, nudged the book away, and put his impossibly soft hands on my face. "Mama-mama, I want ca-ay."
For the longest time he called me Maw, but now it's Mama-mama, as if the moment he learned to say the full version, he liked it so much he had to do it twice.
He knows I cannot help but kiss him when he climbs in my lap, but he will gladly pay in kisses for the chance to beg for cake. I stole my kiss and made him try to pronounce his request correctly, emphasizing the end of the word, "I want cake. Kuh, kuh. Cake."
"Cay," he repeated. I made him try again. "Cay-kuh," he said at last, drawing the word into two syllables.
"Good," I said, "Now put it all together. I want cake."
"I want cay." He pointed toward the kitchen, nodding happily.
Sighing, I agreed. "Okay, little man, you can have some cake."
He cried, "Yaaaaay!" and slid off my lap, shouting the news to his brother, "Neeto, ca-ay! Come on, ca-ay! Yeah, ca-ay!"
At our church, Palm Sunday means the preschool children will be dressed in their almost-Easter finest and led into the sanctuary waving palm branches. They will be arranged on the steps of the stage, and they will mostly not sing the songs they have been preparing for months. They will squirm and become fascinated with their palm branches and wave to their parents out in the audience. About half of them will deign to perform the hand motions, and a few will loudly belt the songs while the rest sit down or start to cry or try to wander up on stage to join the praise team.
Five years ago, at our first Palm Sunday, we were surprised by the sudden, small-town-church style interruption of the normally glossy services. The kids just seemed to arrive onstage, and we spent the first few minutes scanning their faces to see if Nico's class had been included in the show. When we confirmed that our oldest was not in the group, I commenced the ritual I have kept up during the Palm Sunday performance every year since then: I smiled so hard I started crying.
I know, it doesn't make sense. But that first year, Lincoln was only about six months old, and I still kept him with me during the service because I wasn't ready to share him with the nursery just yet. In those days, we were still reeling a bit from the Down syndrome diagnosis, and we just didn't know what Lincoln would be able to do or when he would get around to it.
It was such a bizarre feeling, especially in those early days, to be excited about watching our oldest son accomplish something while simultaneously wondering when, if ever, our youngest son would reach that milestone. On that first Palm Sunday, as I held baby Lincoln in my arms, I felt both the anticipation of watching Nico on that stage the next year and the aching worry of whether Lincoln would ever be able to join the chorus himself.
This year, I was crying before the doors even opened to reveal their sweet little faces. I could hear the impatient shuffling outside the sanctuary door, the army of teachers handing out palm branches and loud-whispering to those who tried to break ranks and let the line dissolve. I could hear the high-pitched voices murmuring in excitement. And this year, I knew, Lincoln was in that line, a palm frond in his sweet, impossibly soft hands, his own husky voice pitched in with that of his classmates.