"OK," I laugh, "But I won't be able to do this for you when you're in college."
"Got it," he returns. "That, and the laundry, and making sure I eat right..."
As I pull the pages - there are so many! - I see that he has already surpassed my level in chemistry. His handwriting is compact and neat. Each answer is circled.
This isn't the way it used to be. His homework in elementary school was disastrously messy. Even the paper on which it was written was bent or curled, sometimes ripped, if in fact he had remembered to do the homework in the first place.
But then not much is the way it used to be.
In the car we are talking about clever ways to get away with things. I can't remember why. But in the course of chatting I yelp, remembering. "Hey! You know what you would love? There's a Roald Dahl story about a woman who --"
"The lamb," he interrupts.
"Yes!" I confirm. I am taken aback. How did he manage to pick up where I left off? "You read that story, about the woman who kills her husband, whacks the back of his head with a frozen leg of lamb, and then cooks and serves it to the police when they arrive to investigate?"
"Yep, one of my favorites," he says.
"Huh," I reply, and fall silent, thinking about how, of all the stories, he and I found this one, and responded to it in kind.
He has become so tender with our cats. Is this because he knows that he will miss them?
I keep making the mistake of suggesting colleges for him to explore. Invariably these are colleges I would like, or would have liked. He looks tolerantly at me, head cocked, answers my ideas with statements like, "But I don't much care how strong the writing program is," or "Yeah, I'm not sure that a close-knit community is what I'm after."
When did he become so wise, and so diplomatic?
I marvel at the person who stands before me - a nearly full-grown adult, a near man. I wonder how that happened, even as I know exactly how it happened. I ponder the chinks in his armor, so unrecognizable to me -- well, they are his chinks, not mine. I have to remind myself over and over of this, and even then I'm surprised. Often, maybe always, these days: surprised.
I finish extracting his latest problem set from the notebook. I tidy the stack of papers and staple it. I hand the packet to him. We roll eyes at each other, acknowledging how silly it is that I am doing this for him.
"Thanks, Mom," he smiles. "You're so good at it, you know." And then he winks at me and heads off to his class, and to his future.