DinoBoy and myself enjoying popcorn and goofing with the camera. This is the picture that choked me up.
The other night I cried.
It was a personal moment. The rest of my family was peacefully sleeping. I was browsing through hundreds of old pictures; searching for that perfect one for a profile picture for an upcoming interview. There were endless pictures of just my son and I. Some were selfies where we were goofing around making silly faces. Others were of just him, enjoying life; unhindered with no agenda. They were all taken while my wife was at work and we were on mini-adventures; whether at home or while out.
These were moments just the two of us shared; a still frame from a life still being lived. I pause at one picture. It is slightly blurry and not well shot. It’s fuzzy, much like my memory of the moment in time it captures. This photo is both flawed and perfect. It represents more than just the image it contains. It holds the power to conjure memories. Those of my son and I dancing in the living room, gazing upon the moon in wonderment, sneaking in a bowl of popcorn after my wife went to bed, our hikes through nature during the brisk fall in the Midwest. Moments when we could just stop and have a cuddle on the couch while indulging in cartoon.
It was then that it dawned on me. This chapter that I am recalling is complete. Written and concluded. That these free, unbridled moments when it was just two of us are now over. The world we used to enjoy as a duo has quickly evolved into a trio. Those quiet, intimate moments no longer exists with the same frequency. My attention is now divided between two children who need me equally, but in different capacities.
In that moment, the realization of how much I truly missed the closeness, that special bond and the undivided attention I had with my son became too much. The emotions flooding me culminated into a lump in my throat that could not be swallowed. Only tears alleviated them. It felt as if I was mourning the loss of a relationship. A relationship that is evolving so fast I failed to see it. A child growing so quickly I did not want to admit it.
The relationship with my son has not been lost. It is not fizzling. Rather it has matured. He understands. He is quickly becoming more independent. It was that independence that I mistook as a lack of connection. Our bond is still strong; still intact. The neediness is gone. The clinginess is fading. In its place is a new being. One that is needy. One that is clingy. One that needs that constant touch, love and holding. He sees this. He understands. He is not mourning this evolving relationship. He is embracing it. At times we both fumble in the moment, but he knows.
After the emotions run their course and I feel better for having them; I now know. I understand. It is now time for me to embrace it.
Down by the creek bed he crouched, grabbing stones without discrimination. He watched as they splashed with a kersplunk when they entered the water. Ripples spread to the tiny shore and he giggled at his accomplishment. Another rock was sought.
It was a very sunny Sunday morning and still slightly cool, requiring a light jacket. The air was clear and we were all alone in our adventure, basking in the moment.
There was an area of calm water that had a shore riddled with fragmented shale begging to be skipped. I was a bit more selective with my choices, picking only those with characteristics optimal for their skipping ability. Too square, too thick, too thin. Ah! This one. It fits perfect between my finger and thumb, perfect weight distribution, just the right circumference. It was beautiful.
This will be the stone I show him his first skip with. I placed the stone in my palm; eager to show him it’s capabilities. I stood and turned towards my son. He was still indulging in his circular pattern: find stone, throw it in water, listen to splash and repeat.
I watched. His blissful moment. There was no concern for the type of stone he selected. No worries on how it entered the water, just as long as it does. His concerns lie in what it can do, not with what it could do. It can splash crazily in the water. He couldn’t care if it has the potential to skip wonderfully to the adjacent shore. It was beyond his realm of current interests and abilities.
I joined him; with my perfect stone; and tossed it high into the air. It spun and twirled until it hit flatly against the water with a quiet plop. My son giggled, commented on its tiny splash and went for his next stone. There will be many future opportunities for that perfect skip. For now this moment is complete with a slash and kersplunk, it was his agenda.
We were driving home from date night out, my wife and I. DinoBoy (2.5) picked up from care and now in tow, we pulled into the driveway. Upon getting out of his seat he discovered the crescent moon; glowing ever so majestically in the sky.
“I see the moon! It’s right there!”
“Wow. I see the moon too. It’s high up in the sky, huh?”
“Yeah! So so so high!” he said excitedly while reaching up towards it.
My wife: carrying in the food from our date night – “Are you guys coming in?”
Me: “Hold on Mama, we’re enjoying the moon and stars.”
DB: “Ya. The moon mommy. It’s so so high in the sky!”
Wife: “Okay guys. Enjoy. Mama’s going in and getting off her feet.”
Me: to TB – “Can you reach it?”
DB: “I can’t, It’s tooooooooo high!”
Me: “If you could pull it down and grab it. What would you do?”
I could see the mental cogs turning. I knelt next to him and looked up at the same patch of sky, the same constellations, the same glowing moon and ghostly clouds. His mind drifted off into all of the possibilities that could be. He stood in silence, me kneeling by his side with my arm around him and his head resting on my shoulder. Wonderment on his face and awe in his breath.
Me: “Want to hear something crazy? The sun is what makes the moon glow!”
TB: “But the sun is asleep!”
Me: “You’re right! That’s what makes it crazy!”
These moments only happen once in our busy workaday lives and can be fleeting, but very magical; and if we don’t slow down and pause to recognize them, they may never happen at all.
When little hands won’t tug at my shirt to be picked up just for fun.
When a nose can be blown without assistance.
When scrapes and cuts can heal without magical kisses.
When little toes won’t tickle the small of my back throughout the night looking to get comfortable.
When I can walk past the front door without having to move tiny shoes that never find their way back to the shoe bin.
When I can open the fridge and not have to peer around a small, curious head for my next meal.
When an exhausted little person won’t rest his head sleepily on my shoulder, yawning contently in my ear.
When hugs become less frequent.
When my daily “welcome homes” won’t consist of unbridled laughter, ear to ear smiles and open armed embraces.
When dependency gives way to independence.
When I can sit in awkward silence and just be.
When there won’t be crayon markings needing cleaned off of walls from a budding artist.
When imaginary food won’t be fed to me.
When “Daddy” simply becomes “Dad”.
To the mother I saw at the Mall before I became a parent.
I was leaving a store and you were there. You had a kid in tow, maybe 3 years old. Your son, in the moment we crossed paths, was have a terrible time. Flailing about in your arms, he was struggling to cope with his emotions. He undoubtedly wanted something or wanted to go somewhere and you told him no.
His screaming did not deter you. A fist inadvertently hitting your head or shoulder did not cause your temper to flare. You stood there, in the entrance to the store we were leaving, patiently holding your child tightly. Letting him work through his moment.
Your love did not waver or become conditional should he keep in his struggle. You did not threaten or exert force to end his tantrum. You held him tight in your arms, showing him it was okay. Exhibiting a calmness during his storm. A lighthouse for him to find the shore.
To you I owe an apology. As our lives briefly intermingled, I gave you a look. It conveyed a message. Control your child it said. For that look, however fleeting, I’m sorry. My journey is now where yours was when we met.
Staying firm in your decision while still embracing love and a safe space for your sons emotions takes remarkable control and patience. You displayed that, even in the judgement of public eyes. For that, you are incredible.
I would like to not only apologize, but thank you as well. For setting an example that I so vividly remember over 2 years later. It’s these small, brief encounters that ripple through society and make all the difference. Thank you. For it is possible you might have subconsciously aided in my gentle parenting journey.