There are moments as a parent when you wonder why in the world you would ever have taken this on. It seems too much, both from a risking-your-heart standpoint, and from an oh-my-god-I-had-no-idea-how-exhausting-this-would-be standpoint.
But then there are those moments when you could almost drown in the love for your child. Or, as my husband and I refer to it, that moment when you wish you could unhinge your jaw and swallow your child whole.
The other day I participated in that classic mom past time; I drove for my 9 year-old son’s school field trip. We visited a local lake for a lesson about our county’s watershed and to remove French Broom, an invasive species that causes all kinds of problems in the rainy season, but that’s also dangerously flammable in the fire season.
I was excited to go for a lot of reasons, but mostly I just wanted to spend time with my son and maybe learn a thing or two. But I gotta say, what happened in the middle of the weed pulling took my breath away.
My son and I were pulling broom in different sections of the hillside, so at one point I decided to go over and check out what he was up to. When I came upon him, he was working like I’ve never seen him work before. He had a giant metal “weed wrench” and had somehow become an expert on getting the largest broom plants up and out of the ground. His cheeks were flushed red, his head sweaty, and his face beaming with pride. He and his classmates had worked out a division of labor all on their own, and they were working like a well-oiled machine. Some kids pulled weeds, some collected them for their group’s pile, and others moved the smaller piles from all across the hillside to the huge central pile in the middle of our worksite.
My boy looked so happy, so comfortable in his skin, and I saw in that moment the man he will become: responsible, strong, a great leader and team player, someone who takes pleasure in hard work and pride in a job well done, someone with an understanding that laughter and lightness makes the work easier.
And that’s when I wanted to swallow him whole. In one gulp.
In looking back on that moment, my hope is that he will feel what he felt on that hillside all the time. That he will feel that kind of confidence, that kind of joy, every single day and be spared from any pain whatsoever. That’s what I hope.
But what I know is what we all know, that the good times are made even more special by the difficulties we have to bear. The joy I saw in him that day was fueled by tough things he’s already experienced: change, disappointment, false friendships, regret, and loss. It’s those experiences, and the accompanying pain, that gives him the strength to be who he really is, more and more with every passing day. He knows there’s heartache and that he can survive it, so he instinctively savors life’s joys and successes. And, on that particular day, he was totally reveling in the pulling of those huge weeds and the fun of working with great friends.
This experience is what yogis (and a whole lot of other people) call living in the moment: breathing through hard stuff because you know you can handle it, and gleefully taking pleasure in the good times because you know how precious and fleeting they can be. It’s an idea that is so simple in principle, and yet sometimes, so incredibly hard to do. That’s why we practice, and why we learn from the masters. Even the ones in third grade.
I am beyond proud of him, and I will continue to watch with awe and wonder, and to learn from him every day.
And I will do my best to not gobble him up. As hard as that will be….