Presence

In the warm late spring evenings, I watch my two year old sleep, an arm draped lazily over his cherub face, the ocean of his chest as it rises and falls, the rolls of his thighs - the only reminder of his babyhood as the rest of him morphs into a long and lean boy before my tired mama eyes. He has light in his eyes, this boy, a bright and piercing spark of life, of aliveness, a call to those who surround him to be here, now. To drink in the richness of life with him, to scream and to yell and to laugh with abandon. 

My older son has a more quiet calmness to his spirit. His eyes are vast and deep, inquisitive and full of knowing. He’s wise, this one, full of existential wonder, my little soul traveler, intertwined with the fibers of my being. This one has traveled with me through life, tucked into my heart, born in a snowstorm, a living part of myself. He made me a mom, came rushing into life with force and intention, born into his dad’s arms, his eyes looking right at mine as he was laid upon my chest. An instant knowing, a divine connection between the two of us, both astounding and familiar all at once. 

Incarnating does not come easily for this one. Unlike his brother’s easy and free spirit, life can be arduous and overwhelming for this child of mine as he comes to understand the rawness of being alive, embodied. At the same time that existing is rich and full for him, it’s equally painful, and painful for me as his mother to witness him struggle, to tread lightly as I parent this conscious and marvelous creature. 

This season of life is hard. Sometimes the hours will stretch on for miles, bleak and flat with an unreachable horizon; sometimes entire months will float by effortlessly, like a milkweed tuft carried on a late summer breeze. As mothers we are not separate from our children’s pain. We suffer with our children, perhaps even more than our children, as we feel biologically driven to protect them from pain but logically understand that there are times and places where we shouldn’t, or can’t, protect them. My children are young and their suffering is somewhat controllable – I think about the future, about a time when they will be out from under my wing, alive in a big world, activating their own agency and it scares me. I’m scared. I feel their babyhood slipping through my fingers and while part of me celebrates these milestones, their growing independence, my growing freedom, another part of me is trying to prepare my heart to break.  

Practice non-attachment, my husband will say, a statement much easier said than done. I try to be in those moments with my kids, to be present with the emotions that arise. I can’t pretend to enjoy the monotony of patting my two year old back to sleep each time he rouses, but I can be present, there with him in the darkness as he fights sleep, moonlight seeping in the cracks in the shade, instead of wishing the time away. And those moments that are challenging with my four year old, where I wish he was just different, easier, like other kids – I can practice being with him and respecting and loving him for the unique person that he is here and now. Because these days will pass, and part of me will always miss the simplicity and beauty of mothering young ones, where my breast or a hug is enough to solve all of their problems. 

A friend of my husband’s lost a son to a drug overdose. I met him on a chilly Saturday after a parade, my kids approaching naptime. Stress was creeping up my spine as I tried to control them in a small and quiet hospital, the two year old running up and down the halls, the four year old touching everything, asking questions about everything. This man didn’t regard me the way that people often regard a parent with overly energetic children; he looked upon them softly, tenderly, with love, as if remembering a time when his own children were innocent and young and held so close. It spoke volumes to me, reminded me that the challenges that my husband and I face with our kids are also gifts, that our boys still openly love us, that they bestow abundant grace upon us despite our faults and falters, that, like a string of beads strung round my neck, they are still cinched so close to my heart. Like the spring lilacs that open to share their brilliant fragrance and dainty purple blooms, these days will be brief. The flowers one day will drop off the branches to make way for new growth. And while I’ll be thankful for the newness that this change ushers in, I’ll still wish for the sweet, uncomplicated scent of those fresh purple lilacs on a warm dusky evening after a spring rain.  

Elissa Koop, The Village Journaist