We have been having conversations lately, my son and I. Last night while I was putting on his pajamas, it was about the man outside on the road walking his dog. A week ago it was about porcupines, the obvious “ouch” of their quills. This afternoon, we looked at the turning leaves. They were so red—this one line of maples—and when I said, “Aren’t they beautiful, honey, all bright like that?” he said yes.
“Yesss,” he said, drawing out the sibilance, nodding his head. He looked up at me. He was wearing a winter hat. He was holding my hand.
His father and I worry sometimes about him.
More precisely, we worry about my leaving in the morning, followed by his father’s leaving from the daycare door, followed many several hours later with one of us returning, sometimes both (but often not before he’s in bed), and how he interprets our comings and goings, how he feels about the drive away from home, if there is a part of him, come 3:30-4:00 in the afternoon, that waits.
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Sometimes, after I’ve returned from work and picked him up and squeezed him and whispered to him and asked him about his day and interpreted his new words and kissed him and kissed him, I say, “Are you OK? You doing OK, little man?”
“Yesssss,” he says, and I hold onto that, just like I hold onto his hand.
As he has grown, and as I’ve progressed through parenthood, I’ve watched both of us relax into the new selves we continue to become. As a baby, he needed the nestle of my arms to fall asleep, and the moment I tipped my body forward to set him down, he would feel it, tense up, resist the change, and cling.
Tonight, all smiles, he requested his bed and his Monkey and Morty and Blanket. He didn’t even need me to sing our special song although as I tucked his blanket around his body I sang it anyway. And I think about how I was those first months—questioning everything, hours on the internet searching out the answers, puzzling over a little red dot an inch above his ankle.
I still worry, but he knows now about shaking off a bump or bruise because that’s what I’ve taught him, and I suppose, inadvertently, it’s something I’ve relearned, too.
We are resilient.
Someday, I will be able to explain to him about work in a way that is more than a one-syllable word, this thing I leave for. I will be able to talk with him about my students—Reuben and Reed, Zoe and Madeline—about the way certain ones are curious and others funny and others afraid, about the way my heart is somehow big enough for these rooms of people.
“I may come home tired,” I will say to my boy, “but isn’t it something remarkable that I never come home less?”
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I’ve asked myself: Can I do both well? Mothering and working, giving and giving and giving, and getting back.
Let me tell you: The answer to this question isn’t on the internet.
We are each being pulled and stretched and pressed and bent.
How can this not be our daily experience when life is so big? When there is so much to want—not things, but much. I will flail a little bit, dip my toes in the chaos. I’m convinced that if there is a truth to find, it is there.
This afternoon, the wind picked up the maple leaves—those bright and brittle stars—and sent them flying frenetically, unpredictably, beautifully down the road.
“Do you want to chase them, love?” I asked. And off he went, joyous, running and running, bending himself into the future, despite all the times before that he has fallen down.
Originally published on Teaching with Heart, Fire & Poetry