Six years ago — half my oldest son’s life ago, when he was going into Kindergarten— I wrote this story. It holds a special place in my heart and I’ve held it close for a long time. I’ve taken a look at it recently for a number of reasons. First, we returned to Whistler last month for our annual vacation and it continues to be one of my favorite spots on earth, and what’s even better, it’s one of my boys’ favorite spots now, too. They have their own special memories of it that we relive and laugh about each year. In a way, this story feels like a tribute to the place I love.
At 7:30 this morning, my son Rass stepped on the bus for Middle School after some tears, “I don’t wanna go. I’m gonna die,” and “It’s like I’m in Kindergarten again.” Last week, it was my nephew who started Kindergarten. I know my sister is experiencing all those emotions that go along with that milestone. As I’ve looked back at this story, it gives me a renewed sense of gratitude for the moms I encounter, the ones near and far, seen and unseen, who seem to show up during just the right season of life. Maybe they, too, would agree: with losing, there always comes finding. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time. And as I can now replace “Kindergarten” with “Middle School,” I’m reminding myself of that very thing, too.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was our first night of vacation in the glorious, breathtaking, feel-God’s-presence-town of Whistler, BC. With the Seahawks game on in the bedroom, the Mariners on in the living room and our nine-month-old eating Cheerios off the floor, I escaped to the condo’s one bathroom for a self-pedicure. I added a splash of fragrant body wash to the warm water and settled in on the side of the tub. Not bad. The water covered my feet and the sweet smell began to fill up the bathroom.
Ahhh….This is nice, I convince myself.
Rass walks in and plops down on the toilet.
“I have to poop,” he announces and starts his business, a foot from my makeshift spa chair.
I feel my relaxation dissipating.
“Mom, which sport do you like best?”
The quiet solitude evaporates.
“Um, I’m not sure….” I answer, trying to shift gears.
“But which is your favorite, there are only three: basketball, football or baseball. Which one?”
“Well…” I stall. “I don’t know, I like watching baseball with you and watching you play, but football is really cool, too.”
The odor begins to rise and pretty soon it overtakes the sweetness of my coconut lime foot soak.
“Is it diarrhea?” he asks, “I don’t want to look.”
My spa experience screams to a halt.
“Let me see…no…not really…”
I stand up, back to reality, and offer to help him wipe.
The next day as we sat around the living room, the packing, shopping, traveling, 4 ½ hours in the car and six-year-old comebacks of “never, fine,” and “that’s not fair,” finally caught up with me.
My tears come. Not the sobbing, loud kind, but the silent kind, like warm rivulets quietly streaking my face—the kind no one notices. And I don’t know exactly why I’m crying: if it’s because in this moment I don’t really like him or because I feel like I’m losing him.
Or maybe because I feel like I’ve already lost him.
The next morning we hit the Adventure Zone at the base of Blackcomb Mountain—a collection of games and rides, miniature golf, bungee trampoline, walk-through maze and trapeze. Rass wanted to attempt The Rope Zone, sort of an aerial obstacle course—a series of obstacles suspended ten feet in the air—a tightrope, rope-wall climb, a wooden step bridge. He got harnessed in and was reminded to keep his rope tether between his shoulders. He was instructed to yank it along with him from stunt to stunt. I saw the concentration on his face as he attempted to walk, step, focus and keep the harness strap close. Off he went.
He moves to the outer obstacle. It’s like a hanging bridge made up of detached wooden swings. The goal is to step from swing to swing, holding onto each rope, making it to the other side. Meanwhile, he’s teetering, bobbing and trying to keep his balance.
He gets halfway across, and I am standing below watching him. He starts to slip and nearly falls between the swings.
His tears come. Not the sobbing, loud kind but the silent kind that show fear, frustration and embarrassment. He does not want to lose control of his emotions up there. The attendant comes over and stands below him, too. She speaks gently, talking him through it.
I approach to stand beside her.
“You can do it, focus….concentrate…pull yourself up,” I encourage.
He continues to dangle and swing. He looks out of control. I know he can’t fall, but I want to climb up and do something. I want to rescue him.
His tears give way to determination and he somehow pulls himself up. He doesn’t let go, or lose his grip. He works his way through it. After he makes it back up to one of the swings, there is an unmistakable look on his face: pride. He has done it. He has conquered.
I am not up there with him, but in a way I am.
And while his face beams with pride, my heart swells with it.
Ready for more adventures, we waited in line at the ticket booth. A mom stood in front of us with her two boys. They were waiting to redeem their prize for the walk-through maze. Apparently the younger boy—who appeared to be about eleven—was not happy with the time it took him to get through the maze and in turn, the prize options available to him. He blamed his mom for his misfortune.
He stands in front of her, nearly nose-to-nose, looking her straight in the eye.
“Mom, you’re mean….”
She maintains her composure and speaks very quietly. She doesn’t lose her cool, yell or storm away. All I can hear is “I’m not mean” and she goes on to explain the reason for their performance and, hence, their finish time.
Coldly, he repeats it:
“Mom, you’re mean.”
She doesn’t flinch.
I’m amazed at her calmness. Does it crush her? Does it hurt? Or is this his favorite thing to say these days, a notch up from my-most-often-heard “I already know that?”
They approached the ticket window, got their prizes, and left to join the rest of their family. As they walked away, I felt somewhat reassured, realizing that the volatile yet loving relationship I shared with an independent, headstrong boy wouldn’t end—not even in Kindergarten. In fact, it was really just beginning.
The next night, after we lingered over a breathtaking alpine dining experience 6,030 feet up Whistler Mountain, we made our way back to the gondola for the trip back down the mountain. A twentysomething man was perched atop his mountain bike, decked out in full riding gear, helmet under his arm, talking on his cellphone.
He looks off in the distance, toward the highest peak, where the glaciers roll. Rugged looking, with longish hair, I imagine it must be quite a special conversation to interrupt an afternoon of some of the finest terrain around. He seems to be delighting in the conversation…pleasant, wistful, focused. I wonder if it might be his girlfriend who lives here in the Village? Or someone he’s just met at the mountain bike festival going on this weekend— “the largest one in the world…for sure”—the emcee has told us. As we pass him, I’m taken by the sense of freedom and adventure that this young man must experience. Surrounded by incomparable beauty on this clear summer night, I wonder who is sharing this moment with him?
“Bye mom,” I hear him say as we walk by.
I turn to look again.
Spoken with such warmth, caring and love, and so simply: bye mom.
Hope, in two words.
The last night of our vacation, we headed down to the pool. It was a warm, beautiful night. We were the only ones there.
As Rass cannon balls, swims underwater, practices tall arms and leaps for a plastic cup that his dad tosses, he couldn’t be happier. It’s joyful exuberance—something he has always displayed in the water, since his baby days in the bathtub. He’s energetic and enthusiastic, full of excitement and life.
He is here, in all his glory, the boy I recognize.
Despite his growing up and away, he is here.
I have found him.
And maybe that’s what I need to take with me as he begins Kindergarten. That he is in there, somewhere, underneath all the levels and layers. That as he learns different lingo, picks on his brother, makes new friends, tests and pushes his limits, explores and discovers, he is there.
All I need to do is find him.