Parenting H

Category: sweet moments

We were outside tonight, bumping up against the hour of H’s bedtime routine. The coming together again after a short separation, the warmth of the sun on our skin, and the softness of the early evening light tugged at us to stay, so we did, stretching our good fortune by unraveling the garden hose and playing with the cool spray of water showering from its nozzle. H held the hose as I turned the spigot, and he caught me with the first spray.

“Mama get wet,” he laughed, as I ran to get out of water’s way.

“Yes, mama got wet,” I said, laughing, too. The sticky, sweaty heat of the day had given way to a gentler warmth, but still the water felt refreshing and nice on my bare arms.

H turned his attention to the hose, shaking it up and down and turning his body this way and that to direct the flow of water. His mouth and eyes were open wide with delight.

“Mama get wet some more,” H implored.

“Yes!” I agreed.

I counted one, two, three, and ran through the misty spray just as if I were 12 again and on the front lawn of our house in Fisk, running through the sprinkler on a hot, humid Wisconsin summer day.

I ran through our makeshift sprinkler three, maybe four more times, and something about our laughter mingled with the water droplets and the warm Seattle summer air and being out later than we usually are pulled me into a deep nostalgia for my own childhood. I was transported behind the shed, one of the juiciest, most daring places to hide during games of Ghost in the Graveyard that lasted well past sundown; to the metallic, fresh smell of summer rain hitting the gravel on our driveway; to the seat of my blue Schwinn bike, pedaling with Jenny S. around huge country blocks that penned in fields of corn and alfalfa; to the railroad bridge we sat on, drawing on its concrete supports with chalky rocks and dropping stones into the water below; to a time when I was young and carefree and unmarked by the inevitable pain and suffering that visits us in life.

I stood back out of the water’s reach and studied H playing with the hose. A deep longing to memorize the moment came over me. It is a familiar desire I have, the desire to somehow capture in a jar the quality, presence, and sights and sounds of an experience so that I might have some tangible reminder of it forever.

My jar, if I had it, would tell you this: There was the comfortable warmth of a mid summer evening, and there were rhododendrons, an oak tree, and dirt and asphalt. There was a woman that, when she thought of it, felt surprised by somehow having reached middle age. There was a young boy with a hose. He was 33 inches tall, wearing a red hat snapped up on the sides, its red string pulled taut under his chin. His collared, short-sleeve grey knit shirt had a blue line drawing of a fire engine. The blue, yellow, and green plaid shorts he was wearing did not quite match his shirt, but he pulled it off with aplomb anyhow. Light grey socks cuffed over once peaked out of lime green and midnight blue shoes strapped on his feet by velcro. They were size 6 1/2. He was filled with playfulness and joy, taking delight in the simplest thing, a garden hose, as if it were the only thing to do. He was in the moment. It may very well have been the only way he knew to move in the world at that time. He was perfect.

Through the spray of water between him and me I saw a rainbow that danced as H moved the hose, growing larger and smaller depending on the water’s relationship to the sun and the tree branches behind us.

My jar, if I had it, would contain a beautiful summer moment, perfect and complete just as it was, the kind you want to linger over and then savor long after it has passed. My jar, if I had it, would be one I would take down from the shelf at the end of every day.


“Oh, baby,” I say as I pick H up to rock him. We are in bed, heading into what I sense is the final stretch before sleep.

“Oh, baby,” H repeats.

“You are my baby. You will always be my baby,” I say, gently laying him back down on the bed and kissing his nose.

“H always comes back,” he replies.

“Yes, mama always comes back,” I say. It is something I have said to him often, almost every time I have left him for any length of time over the past two years. I think this is what he means to say to me now.

“H always comes back, too,” he says, and I realize he said what he meant to the first time. He is telling me he always comes back.

I wonder if he can see right through me, right into my heart. I wonder if it means it comforts him to hear those words from me. I wonder if he knows that it might comfort me, too, to hear those words from him. I wonder how I got so lucky to be parenting this gentle, sweet soul.

H and I are in the bath, chatting about his upcoming birthday.

“H is almost two,” I tell him.

“H almost two,” he tells me.

“H is almost two,” I say.

“Mama almost two,” H says.

“Mama is almost two?” I ask.

“H almost two. Mama almost two, too,” H clarifies.

“H is almost two. Mama is almost two, too,” I say.

“Mama almost two, too,” H confirms.

I think for a moment about telling H my actual age, but decide against it. Instead we carry on like this for a while, playing with words and enjoying the fact of being almost two, both of us. And then I realize that, in a way, he is right. I may have lived many more years on this planet, but I am, as a mother, almost two.

H is almost two. I am almost two, too. Happy almost second birthday to both of us.

H loves to feed the cats. More, he signs enthusiastically as soon as we walk through the door, meaning something along the lines of, “The kitties surely need more food.” Or maybe, “I want to give the kitties more snack. RIGHT NOW!” I hold him aloft at the cupboard, and he removes the food storage bin with eager nods. Sitting on the floor now, legs in a V, toes pointing up, H scoops cat food from the square bin into bowls, a few pieces in one and a few more in the other. The cats have not embraced H the way he has them, but one approaches warily and stops a good six feet from where we are sitting. We wait, H quiet and still. No one moves. Finally, I set one bowl to the other side of me and H and push it an arm’s length away. The cat comes closer to eat H’s small offering, keeping one eye on us the whole time. I can tell by the way she lingers and eyes us that she would like more, but she will not walk past H to reach the second bowl. We wait. H looks at the cat. He gestures wildly at the second bowl. The cat does not move, but she does not run away. H looks at the bowl, and I see the plan hatching in his mind. He picks up the bowl and places it on his other side, closer to the cat and as far away as his little arm will reach. He sits back and waits. The cat comes and eats. H sits still watching her.

I watch H watch the cat. This, this moment with this child, witnessing his enthusiasm and love and gentleness, yes to this. This, as we sit in a dirty, dusty basement with unfinished concrete floors, boxes piled on all sides, exposed carpet tacks everywhere, yes to this. This, as my life is shifting in seismic ways and falling apart around me, yes to this.  This life with H is a gift. Yes to every single part of it.

H made mud today. His ingredients were brown sugar and water. I was unaware of the project until he requested more water, and all there was to do, at that point, was to laugh and grant his wish.

H pulls his father’s books from the shelf and hands them to me. I read the titles.

Protein Biosynthesis. Gene Regulation: A Eukaryotic Perspective. Gene Structure and Transcription. Anorganische und Allgemeine Chemie. Protein Electrophoresis. Crystal Structure Analysis: A Primer. Crystallography Made Crystal Clear.

H nods with solemnity at the reading of each one before instructing me to add it to the pile of retrieved books on the floor.

Principles of Protein X-ray Crystallography gets an excited nod and a wa wa.

Future scientist?

One of my favorite things to do is lie in bed awhile after H has fallen asleep and listen to him breathe.

H is standing at his toy bin. He has one hand on it, but casually, like he doesn’t really need it there. He fishes out the musical turtle, leaning his buddha belly against the bin so that he can hold the toy with both hands. He shifts his weight back just slightly so that his body lifts away from the bin, and for three, maybe four seconds, he is standing unassisted. For three, maybe four seconds, my world stops. We are suspended in time, me and H, him standing, me sitting, my heart swelling, every cell in my body vibrating with love, excitement, and pride. The feelings ping around, crashing into each other and pushing against my skin, and the tension of it makes me feel as though I might burst. Then H gently puts his hand back on the toy bin. He lets go of the turtle, drops to his knees, and crawls away. My world moves again.

I am reading Horns To Toes and In Between to H. We come to the page about eyes.

“And we’ve all got two eyes that can open and close…”

H starts humming. I keep reading.

“And we have a fuzzy tummy that we all like to pat and a little belly button in the middle of that.”

Three pages later, H is still humming.

Puzzled, I turn back to the page where the humming started.

“And we’ve all got two eyes that can open and close…”

And then, in a flash, I understand. Open and close.

When we read Olivia’s Opposites, I say, “Open. Ahhh. Closed. Mmmm.”

H is making the sound of closed.

Later, I ask my mom, “All parents think their children are geniuses, don’t they?”

“Yes, Tracy,” my mom says, with a knowing smile and a nod. “All parents think their children are geniuses. Yes, they do.”

We visited the beach today. Our ocean was tap water in a blue Rubbermaid bin, and our sand was a mixture of olive oil and flour. We had a blast.