Fragile and Brave

I have a picture of you from daycare. You are sitting quietly, legs stretched out in front of you. You are holding a board book, eyes down inspecting it. Your cheeks are so beautiful I can feel them just by looking, smooth, soft and pink with warmth. Your narrow shoulders are somewhere under the hood of your sweatshirt, a book open but ignored between your legs as you investigate this other book that has captured your curiosity. You’re wearing jeans and there are books scattered around you. You’re probably an old 2 year old in this picture, or maybe a young 3 year old. You are fully engaged, busy doing and uninterested in the person standing in front of you, probably unaware of their presence, who took the shot. I love this picture and it can make me cry.

You are the youngest and I can’t stop seeing the vulnerable in you. Sitting here with the picture and without you I can’t for the life of me imagine you look any different than that picture. Cherubic and intrigued. Tiny and determined. But you have grown. A lot. I still see the baby in you and always will. 

You still tell me about ‘tomachakes’ (stomach aches) and love ‘Sharlie’ (Charlie) and I don’t really want you to learn you are mispronouncing these things. I don’t want you to grow up. 

There are selfish reasons that mostly live in my subconscious. For one, if you’re getting older than I’m getting older. You don’t need to really know this for a good long time now, but I’m not going to be here forever and when I see you lost in discovering I want to freeze the world and stay in it forever. I didn’t have heaven until I met you and Charlie. Mommy made me come to life in a way I hadn’t, but the concept of heaven was one I rejected for lack of imagination. To be fair, who could conceive of something so wonderful and extraordinary as you. My heaven is here and now. 

Another reason I prefer you stay in this moment forever is so that I can always be what I am to you right now and you can always be what you are to me. We have challenging moments for sure, but they are fleeting. They revolve around simple challenges. This simplicity is balanced by an extraordinary frequency. You can have 5-8 crises before breakfast and without fail, whether we do so well or poorly, we get through every one.

Thirdly, I fall asleep next to you. You don’t like to fall asleep. You love to sleep, but the falling part, you are a resister. You get this from me. Each night, when I see you are tired, when we’ve been lying in bed for a long time I’ll inevitably say, ‘just close your eyes, buddy.’ Without fail, at least to this point in time it’s always met with your response of, ‘But it hurts to close my eyes.’ I could stop asking, but I just love the answer so much. You’ll start to drift and most nights you’ll pop your head up and say one last, half conscious crazy non-sequitir just before rolling over and falling asleep. Something like ‘I can’t sleep in parking lot frogs’ or ‘I look just like Fawzy.’ In case you’re wondering years from now what those things mean, well, I have no idea on the frog thing, but the ‘Fawzy’ thing is how you pronounce ‘Quazi’. He’s a character from Octonauts and your mispronunciation is adorable. I prompt it like five times a day. 

What I really don’t want to change is the you in this picture. You are a perfectly fine with the contradictory nature of life that becomes something so scary as an adult. You are exquisitely fragile and profoundly brave at the same time all the time. It’s amazing to see. Your brother was the same way, but you learn, you will learn any day now, to be self-conscious. You will wonder how other people will react before pursuing an interest. You will stop crying when mad and sometimes even try not to laugh when something is funny. You’ll toughen up and as a result you’ll be more cautious. That’s the confounding conundrum you’re going to wrestle with in the years ahead. It’s okay, you’re supposed to. But what is going on right here and now is beautiful and not be dismissed hastily. 

Being simultaneously fragile and brave has served you extremely well to now. It’s made you explore nature intuitively and voraciously. Left to your own free will you’d spend hours a day trying to find and transport every imagineable living creature from the dirt back to the house to show us. You explore whatever sparks your curiosity and you do it with abandon. You are excited when you see things you love, so excited you barely keep in your skin and you show it with squeals. They are pure joy and they are infectious to all who hear them. When you are upset, regardless of any reason or the presence of any others you let that be known too. Your emotions come out when they are felt and it’s incredibly healthy. In a sense you taught me these things. Charlie did too, but he’s teaching us other things. He’s at the tip of the spear, bringing us to new experiences all the time. He’s a boundary breaker and we can’t really enjoy as much of that process as we can with you. He’s desensitized us and you are showing us how to live an experience, not just survive it. 

I can honestly say that you’ve impacted my life more than I ever could yours. You’ve shown me the value of being unafraid. You’ve pushed me to challenge my fears to explore my world like you do yours. Thank you. 

I feel extraordinarily fragile these days. I also feel brave and curious. All these things were pushed so far down before I knew you that I often felt nothing, which was perfect for keeping invisible, but terrible for feeling alive. Living is pursuing your curiosity and finding your emotions and wrestling with all of it all the time. Living is not fearing feelings, but feeling them, saying it and processing them fully and with the help of those you love so you can put them down and not be ruled by them. Living is something you can only do if you are fragile and brave, just like you.  

Our Kindergarten Dilemma

I’m stressed. We’re stressed. It’s mid January and I’m stressing about how we’ll handle things come September.

I have a fairly Idyllic situation. I drive both my sons, Charlie and Teddy, five and three respectively, to and from daycare every day. I’m able to do this because I work where the best daycare we have ever seen happens to be. Every day has challenges, some have really big challenges, but in all it’s a pretty great trade off. 

For every time I snap and growl aggressively at one of them for not listening to me about opening the garbage can full of salt for melting the yet non-existent snow or have to carry a kid into the building who isn’t yet ready for the ride to be over, squirming and fighting to run back to the car I get ten chances most dads don’t. Most parents don’t for that matter. 

I get to see them throughout the day as I bump into their class heading here or there. I get to poke my head around corners when I know they’re going to be somewhere and watch them making friends and being three or five and breathtaking. I have a relationship with the people that take care of them all day that is just a tad more than it would be if I were to drop them off and leave for the day. Hell, I get to relax my shoulders all day knowing that they are right around the corner and I can see them whenever I want. 

Still, I’m stressed. Tense. 

It’s time for us to sign Charlie up for Kindergarten next year and we don’t know how we are going to do it. While we live literally across the street from where he’ll be going to school, we both work a half hour from there. On top of that the kindergarten that’s offered is of the half-day variety. Meaning we’d have to come get him by 11:30. So this kid, who’s thought of ‘school’, which is how we refer to the daycare, as something that runs about 8 hours a day every day for several years now has to go to ‘real’ school, where its serious. And where it lasts a couple of hours. 

Logistically this causes a good many problems. How are we supposed to get him from there, again a half hour away, back to where I work, which will give him free aftercare, five days a week. I can’t take that much time every day. For Karen it would be twice as much time as she works about a half hour away from me. 

We’re investigating everything but nothing seems simple. The local place that could do aftercare costs $900 a month for 2 days a week. There’s another program that is held where we took him for a few months  for daycare before I took this job a couple years ago where they might be able to take him and we might be able to remain solvent, emphasis on ‘might’ for that last part. But he cried literally all day every day there. He’s so comfortable in his school now and the thought of that is traumatizing to us. We could and will if we have to, try to pick him up everyday. It will be a very stressful year but of course we could figure it out. The consideration at the top of our list is to move out to where I work. This is for kindergarten. Public school, half day , no wait list or crazy application process kindergarten. 

I’m tense without a solution. I’m the ‘don’t worry, we’ll figure it out spouse’ in my marriage and even I’m fretting this one from here, 8 months out. Who knows what we’ll end up choosing and who knows if it’ll work. 

Truthfully these are wonderful stresses to have. He’s a lucky kid (at times) for having parents this concerned. The stress is endurable and the solution will be whatever it is we choose. We’ll see how it goes and if we need to change course midstream it wouldn’t be the first time. Woudn’t even be the fiftieth time. We’re actually getting better and better and switching saddles whilst wading in low waters.

I’m not bothered by it, even if I am a bit annoyed from time to time. Because I remember ten years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I can tell you what was on TV and what it was I was doing on Tuesday nights at that time. It was a flash. All of it. It was a blink of an eye. Ten years from now I’ll be starting the conversations with him about college. If that’s the direction he goes. If not I’ll be talking to him about a thousand other things and I’ll be looking back on all the time we spent driving back and forth from wherever he may end up in September and back to work with me. I’ll be remembering it with a full heart and so much wistful nostalgia for a time that was the fullest of my life. A time I thought was stressful but was actually the most joy filled days I’ll ever know. None of it lasts forever anywhere else but in my mind and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to be stocking my memories so generously.