Where once he lay quietly while staring at me and discovering this world, he wiggles and lurches and almost tumbles off. I wrangle clothes on him and stand him up on the changing table to pull his pants up. Before I am even ready, he lunges into me, wrapping arms around my neck. Squeezing me, he exclaims joy in his indecipherable words straight into ear with his wet kiss staining my cheek.
I set him down on the ground and he bounds towards the toys. He plays with abandon. As I move rooms to continue the morning routine, he follows me. He brings me objects of interest – balls, trucks, airplanes, and markers left on the floor by brother who is furiously composing his next book (Mater Tales, part 4). Desperately trying to speak, he waits for me to confirm the objects’ name and respond with his ritualistic, “right.” A verification that he’s on the right track. Or perhaps a quiz to make sure mommy still has it to together.
When asked his name last night at dinner, he replied, “Brother.” My heart melts. The first book I read with that newborn body laying softly on my chest narrated the brotherhood of Tom & Nathan Coulter from Wendell Berry’s Nathan Coulter. Nathan repeated referred to Tom simply as “brother,” thus beginning our language we used for the newly formed brotherhood of oldest and youngest. Andrew Root always speaks the truth – our identity comes most profoundly not in our interests but in the relationships that form us. Our youngest carries my maiden name out in the world and receives “brother” in our home. As Brandi Carlile so achingly sings, “always remember there’s nothing worth sharing like the love that let’s us share our name.”
Before long, he demands to be held. Leaning in, he presses his little rowdy body against mine and I give thanks for this affectionate cuddler. Ever since that first day I held him, he has always been one that leans in and loves with his whole self.
He becomes a two year old on Sunday and continues his grasp at independence. Two years of studying his big brother, he is ready to be fully alive in this beautiful world. To watch him hear news of loved ones’ visits, carry fruit snacks to the car each morning, wrestle on the couch with his brother, or eat ice cream for dessert is to know the look of Delight embodied.
Having watched the oldest move through this phase, we have more awareness of what we’re headed into. He wants to do things on his own before he is fully ready. He not only wants what he wants, but he now cares how the act is performed and who does it. Under his life’s tasks, I’m pretty sure “Director of Harston Household” is one he takes seriously.
As he grows, I know that we walk down the bittersweet path of letting go. His dependence on us is still real and strong, and yet each day passing, we are preparing him for life ahead of him out on his own.
He is in his own life, with his own spirit, headed in his own direction.
We stand as trail-masters and life-guards. We watch and help, seek and find, affirm and correct. We practice daily the human task of stumble, rise, stumble, rise, stumble, rise.
“I would want a boat, if I wanted a
boat, that bounded hard on the waves,
that didn’t know starboard from port
and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed
dolphins and headed straight for the
whales, that, when rocks were close,
would slide in for a touch or two,
that wouldn’t keep land in sight and
went fast, that leaped into the spray.
What kind of life is it always to plan
and do, to promise and finish, to wish
for the near and the safe? Yes, by the
heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want
a boat that I couldn’t steer.”
– Mary Oliver
If anything, toddlers are boats that cannot be steered. As it begins, it can cause me fleeting wishes to return to the days when he stayed still in my arms and was content with simply observing it all. And yet, here we are, out in the sea in the boat that we cannot steer.
May we strive to neither be parents that only mourn the loss of days gone by nor yearn for days ahead. Instead, may we be good stewards of the days as they come – leading us straight into the rocks that bruise us but also out into the wide open to unknown skies.
And may he, in his own day and time, look up to recognize that joy is found in recognizing our place in the boat and giving thanks for the One who sits alongside us no matter where we may roam.
Beside the still waters and through the darkest valley, our youngest one sails along with the One who directs the winds, saves us from the greatest storms, and sends us out empowered to love in truth and action.
For this little boy, for this grand life, for this wonderful world, and for these life-giving truths, I pause and give thanks.