The air is crisp but not cold, the perfect in-between of autumn.
My seven-year-old son’s hand finds mine, like a reflex. I smile at the automaticness, the naturalness of it, then instantly wonder—how much longer will this last? How many more times will he hold my hand? 200? 33?
Leaves crunch under our feet, and my eyes take in the river we walk alongside. The smooth water reflects the pumpkin and lemon hues of the turning leaves—smudges of orange, green, yellow and crimson. I’ve forgotten how much I need the woods, the way my breath deepens, my heart slows and my mind calms when I am cradled by moss and sky instead of dishes and to-do lists.
These are the moments of parenting that we wait for, the sweet hours of grace that make all the hard moments worth it—the stilted sleep, the tantrums, the encroached edges of our patience. I am doing something I love with my boy, and it is worth the wait.
“Race ya,” he says, dropping my hand, then darting across a wooden bridge. His voice returns me to the moment. I jog across after him, our feet clapping across the bridge, but he’s too fast. “I win,” he says, a wide grin stretching across his face. Somehow, over the last year or so, he’s outpaced me.
His skin is lighter than mine, but still holds the easy tan of summer. I think of how alike we are: our intensity, our sensitivity, our single-mindedness. And how different—he is fast and physical and observant—I am slow and dwell in my own thoughts so often I could barely tell you what color our house is.
Minutes later, we come to another bridge, and again he’s too quick for me. Over and over again we race across the bleached bridges. “Be careful,” I want to say each time, but each time, he avoids tripping over snarls of roots.
He is growing up.
He is not the baby who cried and cried, the toddler who scooted instead of crawled, or the feisty preschooler. He is not even the kindergartner just learning to make letters into words, into stories. He is seven: he makes plays on words, he talks to adults with ease, he knows more about football than I do.
He is becoming himself.
We all do this, but never have I watched it up close like this before, never have I been both blessed and broken by it.
We stop for a few minutes next to the river, and he finds a tiny lavender piece of chalk perched on a boulder. He writes his name with it, then hands it to me. I write my name next to his. I wonder if this rock will hold this memory of us, this day, this gratitude, this rushing love, after the next rain falls, after all the leaves crush into the ground, then vanish, forgotten.
Back on the trail, he spots another bridge and sprints toward it. I start to run, my son’s backpack slapping against my shoulders. I feel my middle age in the pit of my spine, knowing I will feel it even more tomorrow. “Punk,” I say, laughing, when he beats me across the bridge again. “Punk,” he says back. We slow our pace back to a walk, saying, “punk” to each other over and over again, sliding into our own language out of the simple four-letter-word. We belong to each other, I think. For always, of course, but like this? This sweet, funny, racing across bridges, this seven-year-old version of him? This 42-year-old version of me? That is only ours in this moment.
I have never loved like this before. I am struck with the urge to tell him all of this, but there aren’t really words, so I tuck it all into my heart, I quietly beg my body to remember these beautiful, green moments deep in my bones, to remember the fullness, this season of love and sweat, that will never come again.
I want to tell him how we all shed ourselves over and over again, just like the sweep of trees above us, and that I will hold this version of him, the one who runs across bridges and has a whole conversation using only the word punk, who still holds his mama’s hand—I want to tell him I will hold him always. I will remember this for him, or at the very least I will write it down. I want to tell him that the trees make shedding ourselves look so graceful in the last cling of autumn, so luscious, that you don’t see the ache of bald branches where the leaves used to be. You don’t see how hard it is to let go, over and over again.
I want to tell him all of this but it’s not time.
Instead of words, I reach out my hand, and he takes it.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Providence Doucet/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman