All at once, he flopped onto my lap. He's not a snuggler so all 5 seconds that he decides to cuddle have to be taken full advantage of. I squeezed his little body quickly, expecting him to jump up and run off again, but he didn't. He snuggled in, his head nestled into my neck, his arms wrapped around my arms, relaxed. I breathed in his childhood scent: dirt, sweat, firework smoke, with a hint of fruity shampoo. I remembered holding my little brother like this when he was about the same age; five years old. They smelled the same.
After a few minutes, which is a snuggling record for my nephew, he turned his face up and whispered sweetly, "Aunt Jessica, can I play Angry Birds on your phone?" I laughed. "No. You can watch fireworks, silly. You can play Angry Birds later." I thought he might leave, but he didn't. He stayed in my lap. He was stinky and sweaty and for lack of a better term, gross, but I didn't care. I loved every short-lived minute he wanted to spend on my lap, every second we were engaged in a play boxing match, every fit of laughter. He was practicing the early stages of independence but was still cool with and maybe even in need of snuggle time with his Aunt.
While we were celebrating our nation's freedom he was discovering his own personal kind of freedom. It took me back to 4th of July celebrations of my past. It took me back to evenings with our friends, running around the blankets and chairs we were supposed to be sitting on, drinking kool-aid, and with every BOOM! of the fireworks pretending we were in a war. I remember returning home, late at night, satisfied with the knowledge that we had pushed through some of the parental boundaries to our own kind of temporary kid freedom, but also hoping my mommy would be in soon to tuck me in.
It was when we would arrive home, to our clean house, that I first noticed the smell that now makes me so nostalgic. It was evident upon peeling off our grubby clothing in preparation for bath time that we had been active, that we were dirty, and that we had absorbed every last vapor of the fireworks. I wonder if all childhoods smell the same: dirt, sweat, firework smoke, with a hint of fruity shampoo. The scent of freedom and innocence.