With biting air and ice and snow smothering life outdoors, my son learned to navigate on foot and wobble safely around sharp corners in the warmth and safety of a plush, carpet-covered living room. He mastered the art of jumping couch cushions and squatting so severely low to fetch a fallen Cherrio.The simple task of walking thoroughly tackled, the Smallest Man developed a knack for stomping, trotting backward laps around the furniture, and dancing funky enough to put Soul Train to shame. He grew into his legs and (very quickly) his personality which screamed JOY! and ZEST! and a number of other things so sunny they kept the household heated from seasonal freeze.
Now thawed and flexing, we winter birds stood still in the local park. The children squealed and scattered as children do. The mothers stood at a distance: far enough to enjoy some grown-folk chatter and close enough to reach out a quick arm and scoop a fallen child from the dirt. Pleasantly ordinary was what came to mind as I watched this typical playground experience unfold. I glanced down at the boy. All the lightning speed I’d witnessed flashing across the floors of our home had frozen now, leaving a very still, very quiet human in its place. Don’t you see, little boy? Don’t you see that this is just a plain, old swing set? This is just dirt, and peeling paint, and metal playthings?
I would like to think that as adults, we know a thing or two more than a one-year-old. I can successfully buy groceries. I can properly calculate the proper postage required on an envelope I addressed in cursive handwriting. I can grow and birth and raise a baby. I can display my superior responsibility with telling acts of tossing out expired milk and stopping at red lights. So as I watched my son overwhelmed at the sight of monkey bars, my first thought to make him understand the boring simplicity of it all and that there was no need feel so flustered. My second thought was that mother knows best. And my third thought was that best might mean nothing.
He stepped away from me. Staring up at the sky and then back to his feet, where clunky shoes felt foreign and heavy. As the wind blew he held out his palm and swayed his head with the breeze. He creaked in a slow, mechanical circle to get a look at the world beyond our milk-stained sofa. In the distance he heard a dog bark, and as if trained for this very instance, took off in a new direction to scout the source. He picked up speed, barreling in his twenty-pound sneakers towards the fence. He stopped, panting and still muttering his version of the word dog, and turned around to smile at me. When he smiles, he means it; from the squinted eyes to the over-sized front teeth, that smile could hold the world.
As I chased him, I felt a burning balloon in my chest. It was the feeling of leftover pregnant heartburn, I think, and maybe happiness. I faced my son and tried to swallow the air growing in my middle. I knew better than to confuse the grumpy, weekday workers by opening my mouth and letting a fluttering swarm of happiness and gratitude mix with their contentedly angry air. You can’t go changing things all the time. I also had the worry that if I moved or eked out the smallest of smiles, this feeling could be lost, and I would immediately and forever want it back.
In books and lectures from those cubicle-dwelling holders of Responsibility Cards, the world might like us to believe that our ability to launder underpants and rent a vehicle are stamps of productive adulthood. As parents of babies or dogs we are the authority of right and wrong, good and bad. We nurture and provide. We cook and clean. We fax and Blind Copy. We are epic failures in feeling overcome. I cannot stop to stare at a this tree, sir, because I have a baseboard to bleach and other such fulfilling objectives! I was ready to pounce on my kid with twenty-three years of jaded advice, and now I’m starting to see that he might be better suited to take the role of teacher.
This little child feels the wind, smells freedom, and would walk a thousand miles for the most pleasurable opportunity to more clearly hear a dog bark. This little child is strong and able, but still possesses the lovely knowledge that it is most definitely better to always look up as things seem to remind you of their relevance from this position.