Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lo, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil because I have Spiderman on my shoulders

With the first civilized weather in over six weeks stripping ice from the streets and melting the small glacier at the end of my driveway, Zeke and I tromped a bit up the side of our favorite mountain, slick trails and rivulets of snowmelt be damned. It was not an easy task pulling him away from his place on the floor, enthralled by Spongebob Squarepants as he was, but once he realized we’d soon be stomping in puddles and running beneath pines, he was more than motivated to put the toons behind him.

For those of you who have never taken a 4-year old for a walk up a 20-40% grade, there’s only so far you can go before that 4-year old’s little legs lose its seemingly infinite store of energy. Legs that can’t seem to go anywhere without running as fast as they can, sizzle out quickly when faced with a steep trail; this is my third 4-year old and I can assure you that a 4-year old’s legs are only good for about 1/10th of a mile (give or take, depending on the trail) and then “carry me, Daddy” signals the start of those last wisps of steam on the uphill trek. As I’ve traveled this road of daddyhood, I’ve tried to capture moments in my memory of developmental milestones, excited as each of my children has moved from one stage to the next with a bittersweet realization that there’s no going back – who they were is no more. However, the encumbered hike is not anything that I’ll miss.

I picked Zeke up piggyback and continued up the mountain. There was a cave I wanted to show him, a place where boulders had tumbled down the mountain to create a huge room that would have been the pride of the Flintstones. We walked another quarter-mile or so with him sitting on my shoulders until we arrived at our destination. We’d been up that trail a couple dozen times, he and the girls, but never stopped in the cave where I did mushrooms years ago and saw electric butterflies leap from a fire made of scrub oak twigs and pine branches.

Zeke stomped around in the cave, crawled up on rocks, stuck a bent stick into the eye of a raccoon skull as I caught my breath. The cool air relieved the sweaty spots where he’d sat on our way up to this place, craning my neck back and forth in the dark, musty air, checking out the graffiti and the smoke streaks up prominent bulges of granite poking out like bellies in their ninth month. I sat down in the dirt and crossed my legs, listened to my son’s voice amplified among the rocks, “daddy, this is soooooo cool, it’s a Batman cave, I have a skeleton,” balancing the animal skull on the tip of his stick. Once I found an arrowhead just outside this cave and I think that would be cooler than his find but I don’t tell him that – let him have his moment.

The seat soon turned back to cold and I returned to the sun, stepping out to listen to the water rushing beneath us, snowmelt cleaving the mountain, an inexorable folding and spilling more boulders. Zeke came out, too, still holding his stick and the skull that bobbed at the end of it, his blue jeans almost completely brown with mud. “Daddy, it’s scary in there,” he declared, “I don’t like it in there without you.”

“I don’t like it in there without you,” I thought, said, looked at him and smiled. “I don’t like going anywhere without you, mister.”

It was worth carrying him up here, seeing this place again. I’d been in here once seeking answers and though I’d had a good time, the answers I thought I’d found disappeared as soon as I walked down the mountain, dew on the windshield scraped away the moment I turned the key. There would be no carrying him down and in fact, he ran and slid, ran and slid, kicked pine cones, called me slow-poke. He was anxious to get home. When I asked what really scared him, he said without hesitation, “I was afraid the rocks would fall down.”

The creek told me he was right but I assured him that the rocks wouldn’t fall on us. Not that I’d heard that from the creek below but because my son walks away from everything, good or bad, smiling, completely enthused with the world. My lucky charm, my leprechaun, leading me down the mountain and back into the warmth of the first nice day in weeks.


MizMell said...

What a marvelous memory you two have created! I miss the innocence of youth--facing anything, good or bad, and walking away smiling, completely exhausted.
What is it about maturity that makes us "fret?"

vicki said...

Can I be straight with you? Yes, I can- we've been friends and at this long enough, that I can.

When you leave a comment at my place I love it- both because I love that you've come to visit and also because it's like a little note to me that says "I've written about my children..." And I'm like that elusive brown trout who only bites at stoneflies (forget those ugly earthworms) and I come.

And you ALWAYS catch me, hook, line and stonefly. I love these posts. They are the very definition of mature love, of the joy of parenting and, I think, ultimately, of you.

Your bi-line reads "no regrets, only rug rats." Once I'm here I always amble to the post below and the post below that and so on. I think the no regrets part is truthful but you write (and feel) the anger and frustration and hard times of single parenthood more than anyone else I read. And it's hard, harsh stuff. I used to think this was mostly your problem (and I still think it's partly your problem and you know that) and I didn't want to involve myself with that part of you. I just want you and your beautiful, gentle, funny, loving daddy part.

But that's not real and that's not being a truly good friend. And it's also not honest. Reading the post below about your dealings with those folks who I knew as the "Friend of the Court" (and I always said, "well, they surely aren't MY friend and they aren't the ex's friend and no way are they the friend of my children, so I guess Friend of the Court is apt")- reading that post is a painful reminder of how hard single parenthood is.

Now that I've gotten beyond that, including that miserable unhelpful bureaucracy, I think it's hard to be reminded of it.

In conclusion, I confess to being a fair weather friend (unlike faithful Mamacita Jane, who sets a good example here, there, everywhere but mostly in her own life for the balance between joy and rightful indignation at life's stupidity-plus she does incredible mixes) and for that I apologize.

All of that is a very long winded way of saying: I love this post. Every single sentence, every vision and feeling it conjures. You are an excellent writer and a better father. And you too, grasshopper, will survive the bureaucracy of single parenthood and know the pleasures of watching your own starter people find their way in a confusing and often difficult world.

Thank you for this beautiful entry.

Eileen said...

Dear, lovely Jim. As ever, the purity of the expression of your love for your children makes me weep.


Jane said...

This is as beautiful a piece of art as any I've ever seen in a museum.

Vicki, I love you, too.

Glitzy said...

What a lovely post. Very visual. Very sweet.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Lisa W. said...

I bet he'll never forget exploring that cave with Daddy. I know I wouldn't.

kenju said...

A wonderful post. Thanks to Mamacita for sending me here.

landis said...

A really great post, Jim. Glad the weather gave you a respite to have this experience with your son. And how right you are about those four-year-old legs on a grade!

Anne said...

There it is...the writing that made me fall in love with your blog.

I know I don't express that often enough; forgive silly ole me.

jerry said...

Great post, makes me want to have a boy. wait a second that is crazy talk. nevermind, this is a great post that was a joy to read, thanks for sharing.

~d said...

I love love love those perfect moments with our children. I love them! And yes, they make everything else (non-existent?) bearable? Worth it.
Hooray for Zeke to you have you.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I had a "moment" like this in about 1962. Only I had to carry the tad DOWNHILL!

I'm here from Vicki of Typepad.

Kathy said...

He'll remember that day forever. I love how you let him have his moment and didn't intrude with your experience. Reading about your parenting experiences gives me insight to how my husband deals with our kids. His moments are so different than mine are and I have to step back from saying, don't do that, because they deserve to have those moments, whether it would be something I would have done or not.

And the times I spent with my dad - on our our, away from my brother and sister (who had different interests than me), are so a part of me now, I feel them like they happened yesterday.