"Hi mom." he says giving me a squeeze, his lunch bag bumping against my hip.
"Hi Joe!" I practically shout at him, thrilled to see him so unexpectedly in the middle of his day.
"I love you, ma. I miss you." he says with the same sweet smile he had as a baby and the same huge, round, sky blue eyes. I make a mental note of his face at this exact moment, sun shining on his white/blond hair, and can't help but see how close he is to catching me in height.
"Aww, honey! I'm so happy to see you! Thank you for coming out here to say 'hi'. That is so nice! I miss you too!" I tell him as I try to convey just how delighted his little visit has made me and just how much I treasure these moments I still get from my big ole fourth grader. I squeeze him again and again, even kiss the top of his head, amazed that he is not embarrassed by the affection in front of a crowd.
He buries his head into me and hugs me hard one last time.
"Okay. I'll see you later, mom. Love ya!" he calls over his shoulder as he makes his way back into the school.
"Have a good day, honey! Love you, Joe!" I call back to him.
He turns one last time on the way up the steps, turns around, and waves. Still smiling.