The day after our zoo trip last week, I walked through the living room and discovered this on the coffee table:

It took me a second, and then I realized that is a giraffe nibbling at a tree, and the white and blue bands represent the protective wire and stripped bark that usually appear at that spot on the trunk.

C really, deeply loved the giraffes this time.

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The new treasures around here are the boys’ train coloring books from Oma and Opa. A few mornings ago, C asked me how to draw an engine like the one in his book. With my hands busy making breakfast, I told him to look at the picture and draw what he saw. He produced the engine on the lower right in the photo above. I thought this was amazingly good, and he was satisfied for about a day; then he decided that his drawing was lacking in realism. So I showed him how to sketch a simple reproduction of the coloring book image. His first attempt ended in tears. On the lower left of the photo, you can see the progress of his next attempt: the third engine satisfied him enough to add a tender and then the rest of the train. Since then he has been drawing these everywhere, branching out into different angles and executing a large turquoise masterpiece on the driveway yesterday.

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In the last days my thoughts have circled obsessively and anxiously around this budding artist– this boy who scampers down the sidewalk after his siblings, hurrying to be the first and forge the way. I find it exruciatingly hard to make decisions for our children, with the sense that the entire futures of these precious and unique people are sitting in my two hands. How do we know what is best? We want to foster his strengths–the creative mind and dazzling spatial intelligence and astonishing powers of memory–and give them room to flourish. We want to support him in the areas where he needs to grow–communication, flexibility, physical strength and coordination. We want to guard him from all hurt and harm. We want to make decisions in light of the long term, with a vision for all the years to come for him and not just today. We aren’t making decisions for ever and ever; we’re making short-term choices with a far-distant goal in mind. What steps are directed toward that goal? It’s not life or death, and we can certainly change course as we go, but to this mama’s heart it feels like everything depends on us getting it right.

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Yesterday I caught him reading to his younger brother, his best pal. Of course they’re reading the train coloring book.

I’m not ready for changes. I’m not even ready for them to be as big as they are right now; I wish I could go back and do so many of the days over. I wish I could go back and be more patient, and play more games, and take them sledding and swimming more often. I wish I could go back to the long-ago days when C was a baby and I was convinced I had to clean my whole house every week, while he was awake–and so because he played so happily alone, I let him. I know that wasn’t all we did; I also remember sitting for hours with him in the crook of my arm, reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems and setting them to little tunes I invented. But I always wish I could go back and do a little more.

And, knowing that it’s impossible to go back, I wish I could freeze time right now. I would like to pause here, in these late-summer days with the windows flung open to the pleasant air, and the happy voices of my three little people floating through the house. I want to keep jumping on the trampoline with them, and keep taking turns being batter and pitcher (while laughing secretly at the catcher who crouches immediately next to the batter and the batter who scampers off to retrieve the ball he just hit), and keep admiring the chalk masterpiece of the morning. I want more days just like these, to enjoy everything as it is now.

I know they need to grow up, as they are, slowly and yet lightning-fast–and that it’s good. I know there are things they need to learn, and that for some children that learning has to look different than I expected. In my imagined parenthood, everything was going to be easy–childrearing, education, family life. And it isn’t.

But it does involve lego giraffes, and hand-drawn steam engines, and brothers reading together in the afternoon sunshine. I am trying to believe that the future will hold good things, too, and that our big boy will know we are choosing our steps for him with much love, even on the other side of these decisions.

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