this life is precious
Col and I are walking down the hard-packed trail, bits of spring pushing up through dry oak leaves. I am answering his two-part question. First: when were you embarrassed as a child? Second: when were you not embarrassed as a child?
Scrapbooks of embarrassing moments fling open in my mind (Hello elementary school! Hello entire life!) when Col sees the snake—greenish brown like the very colors of a Colorado spring—crossing the trail.
He grabs my arm and says, in italics, “this is very, very special.”
We pledge not to move, to outlast the snake while it effortlessly impersonates a statue – a statue flicking its red forked tongue. “That gardener snake is smelling us,” Col shares from his collection of 9-year old wisdom. “It’s a garter snake,” I correct him, regretting it a nanosecond later, wondering how I became stodgy spokesperson of the “accuracy at all costs” club.
The snake slithers off the trail, showing us, with its forever-belly, the exact contours of the land before it dives under a pink boulder.
I almost didn’t come here with Col today. Rose has horse camp every Friday, and I could easily deposit Col with a friend and begin bailing out the sinking raft of work deadlines. Also, asking Col and I to both define “hike,” is like trying to find common ground between Elton John and Mitt Romney. Col trolls along at the pace of say, an entomologist seeking out a rare species of ant, then spontaneously plops down to build a rock replica of Washington D.C. I like to get my middle-aged heart-rate revved up. But, unlike much of Congress, we’re wild about each other.
I’m not sure what from our Friday hikes will sift through the sensory onslaught called “life,” and lodge in the scaffolding of Col’s memories. And really, it doesn’t matter. The mother in me likes to code “significant family moments” like a neurotic medical biller, comforting myself with the proof that We Did Cool and Meaningful Stuff! As a Family!
Dan and I spend long, fraught evenings dissecting our children’s educational paths (How do we encourage engagement with learning? Times tables! Ack!) and budding character (How do we help kids take responsibility for their actions?), while our kids simply board the family bus, eyes shiny and trusting. Someday they’ll be shocked to learn that adulthood isn’t synonymous with certitude.
And today, much as it might feel good to plow deeper into the fields of my to-do list, much as Col would not dock me “motherhood points” for dropping him with a friend, I am really here for myself.
I’m here to assure Col that my childhood contained embarrassing moments too, and to listen to his uncensored thoughts while still granted access. I’m here to notice what snags his attention today: a heart-shaped rock, a purple leaf, the pair of ravens playing in the wind currents.
Col is too young to understand the currency of memories, how they keep you company as you age. Nor does he know about the clenching muscle of the heart that wants to grasp the ungraspable, to preserve the ephemeral, to slow down the fast march of childhood. No, he—and most children—simply live it, as carefree as the ravens that swoop low to check us out.
We take this same hike every Friday. We notice which plants have grown since we were last here. We go to the same creek and shore up our Washington D.C. rock sculptures. We haven’t seen the snake again, but we walk past the large pink boulder with its secret hole, and we remember how we stood there in the spring sun, together, with no particular agenda other than to watch life unfold in the present moment.