This morning was an interesting departure from routine. It was a pretty normal morning, with a lot of scrambling and carrying on and the short people having to be asked fourteen times to put on their shoes.
We skidded into the school parking lot with five minutes to spare, ejected the three older Denizens from the van and began the return trip to the Den. I had a list of stuff I thought I ought to get done – my new little friend wasn’t coming today (praise be) and I had thoughts of dirty kitchen floors and clothes needing putting away and ancient folders with receipts for meals long ago turned to dust needing their final closure.
As we pulled into the driveway, Captain Adventure voiced his opinion: “NO, Mommy.”
“No?” I parroted automatically. “No what, honey.”
“No go home. Go-go-go! Go van! Go out!” he enthused. Hmm. Problematic. But then, I did have some errands I’d been putting off, a deposit to make at the bank, and he needed t-shirts.
“Hmm, well, I need my glasses,” I prevaricated. All business, he unsnapped the top of his seatbelt and fussed with the bottom part.
“Go get glasses. Then go van!” he declared decisively.
He is a Leo. They are often bossy like that.
Anyway, we went into the house and I went into my bedroom and began to putter a bit. I put away a book that was on the floor, and I made the bed.
And then I turned around to find him thrusting my glasses at me (what the- where on earth?!), his eyes snapping and twinkling and a grin across his whole face.
“There ‘ee go!” he rejoiced. “Glasses! OK! Go van now!”
Uhhhhh…right. OK. Well.
So we got in the van and we headed out. The bank wasn’t open yet, nor was the thrift store. Hmm. Well, what the heck. Live dangerously. I headed for Starbucks, got myself a mocha and Himself a Snickerdoodle and a child-sized apple juice.
And then suddenly…I had the strange sensation of Responsible Behavior simply taking a hike.
We drove out toward Sonora, into the hills, looking for something interesting. A little over an hour and one sudden turn off the highway later, we were pulling into a little place called Knight’s Ferry, on the Stanislaus River.
Captain Adventure was entranced by the whole experience, which consisted of getting out of the van, greeting the local seniors having their lunch at the picnic tables and accepting their accolades about his Cuteness, and then exploring a tiny area of no more than a football-field. Blackberry bushes, he discovered, gave boo-boos. He didn’t like the look of the algae waving from under the deceptively mellow water at the edge of the river. He did like the way rocks splashed into the water, and thought mommy was the cleverest person, EVER because she could make them skip.
“Oh, dat wah-der!” he yelled, gesturing at the swiftly flowing river.
“It’s a river,” I corrected.
And then suddenly, it hit me. He’s never seen a river.
We took him and his sisters to the beach, once; I have the gray hairs to prove it. I cast around in my mind. Had I taken my son to Lake Tahoe? Had I ever taken him into San Francisco? My mind scrambled through my memories, looking for when he had been on a ferry, when he had eaten dim sum, when he had felt the icy grip of Lake Tahoe on his toes. I knew he’d never seen Yosemite – two of his sisters throw up from motion sickness no matter how straight the road or what medication we give them, so making the winding journey to that stunning display has been out of the question for years.
He’s never watched water flow like this. He’s never seen a blackberry bush. He has no idea that he should watch out for snakes in that growth, that on hot days rattlers like to curl up for a nap in the relative safety of their thorny embrace. They don’t like being abruptly awakened by a hulking creatures with appendages that look like another snake striking right above their heads. (Who would?!)
He doesn’t know that the juiciest berries always seem to be on the water-side, and that a kayak is great way to get at them – highly maneuverable, and not generally made of stuff that will pop if it encounters a large thorn or sharp rock.
He’s never slept in a tent, or gotten up in the dead of night to walk out into stars that seem so bright and so close you’d swear you could reach out and touch one. He’s never seen real snow, never had the dubious pleasure of hiking through it and finding patch after patch where a wee bit of snow is covering a big old hole.
So many things he’s never done, never seen, never tasted, never heard, never felt.
“Do you hear it?” I asked him. He was snuggled up in my arms, watching the water ripple and flow, the constant changing-sameness. He laid his cheek against mine and said, “Yeah. Hear it.”
The birds sang songs gentle and rough. Jays were scolding. Crows were cawing. Smaller birds chirped in the gaps they left. The water rippled and sang. Our rocks ploinked and plopped and skipped.
He learned that throwing a rock was better than tossing a handful of sand, especially when the wind is blowing toward you. He spit, rubbed his face, and laughed. “Oh no, mommy! Captain Adventure get dirty!”
Far too soon, it was time to go. I grieved. It seemed so unfair, to wait almost four years before showing him a river and then yanking him away before he’d even begun to become accustomed to its shapes and sounds and scents.
But we had to go. He had school to attend, and shortly after he started sisters would begin getting out. Even if I decided his chances of attending Yale wouldn’t be too badly damaged by missing a day of preschool, we still couldn’t stay much longer.
We had to go.
Why did it take this long for my boy to see a real running river? Why did I have to snatch him away from it so soon? Why is it that even when I’m being irresponsible, I still have Responsibilities?
I eased his outrage with a dum-dum and an in-flight movie. We pulled up to the park by his school for a little more running before he had to go serve his time, one last "hurrah!" before serving his time for the day. It was a mixed experience: he loves to run and play in the park, but it makes the whole going to school thing that much harder to swallow. In the end I had to sling him like a sack of potatoes and haul him, yelling and protesting, all the way down the block to school.
He wouldn’t look at his teachers or say any of the words he had been so gleefully shouting a few minutes before. But when I picked him up a few hours later, he ran out yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! I HAF RIVER TODAY!!”
Tonight he lay in my arms drifting off to sleep, one hand curled in my hair, the other grasping my arm firmly – it is important to make sure The Woman can’t sneak off, even though she always somehow manages it.
“I haf…river today…” he told me softly. “I haf…rocks today…I haf…birds today…I haf…ah-weh-nuh today!”
It took me a while to realize he was saying adventure.
Oh, baby. So many adventures still to have.
Just you wait, my little Captain Adventure. Just you wait, and see.
NASA, Cocoa Beach and points north
4 months ago