A Child in the Garden of Eden

January 16th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Early-morning dictation.

Certain moments strike an intensity when it comes to raising children, similar to mini maelstroms at points in the day like mornings before going to school (pre-coffee is dangerous for anyone crossing my path, although I’ve become a lot better since I have a cup before the others awake), or the after-school confluence of our children having some down time before the chop-chop rituals of doing homework, practicing on an instrument, eating dinner, bathing and getting ready for bed. Despite any planning ahead of time, there’s always the wildcard of one of us having a meltdown for whatever reason. (Except for my husband, who is way too cheerful in the morning and is conveniently tucked away in his studio come mid-afternoon.)

When you think about it, it’s such an awesome responsibility, being a parent. It’s something we don’t necessarily take for granted, but accept by default, and oftentimes we don’t really fathom what we’ve been handed: a human being, utterly helpless at first, totally dependent on us. We are entrusted with guiding that child through his or her monumental, mind-formulating years. Holy moly. And to think that the weakest of humans, ones considered the dregs of society, those you wouldn’t even hire to mow your lawn, can easily be some kid’s parent. And be good at it. How’s that for putting you in your place?

The other night, in my sleep, I was handed a new baby, a dark, curly-haired one this time around, and I was immobilized. At that moment, in my dream, the implications, the repercussions, the depth and breadth of raising another child left me frozen.

Good thing I have a better grip of the responsibility during my waking hours. But there have been moments when the weightiness of it all nearly struck me down. Or so it seemed. As women (I can’t speak on men’s behalf, but you’re welcome to comment), we take on more and more and more, and we handle it all with relative grace. Pretty amazing. We’re sort of like the French mastiff (we have such a dog, Emma, who is nothing short of incredible), who has a strong instinct to protect its adopted human family, yet there’s no clear explanation as to why. She just does it. We women, we’re like a dog on a bone. The bone is our home, our family. It’s just part of our character. My mother oftentimes says to me that I need to slow down, that I need to take some time for myself, that I’m taking on too much. Then I look at her, and see what she has weathered through (rearing me, for instance), and I just shrug her off.

We are human, though, and there are instances when things just break down and have to find some sort of release. Or relief. I think back to a time when we were living in Bali, and, at age 43, I had given birth to our third child. Soon after, I had a second strain of dengue fever, knocking me out just at the worst time. I was the single source of nourishment for my baby (I was in the throes of lactating), we were in the process of packing up our lives after 12 years in Asia and moving back to a place where my three children had never lived. Life was definitely shifting in a major way. At that point, probably because of my frustrations from my illness and everything else piled on top, I felt myself slump.

Actually, there were moments when I thought I was going to die. Really. What made it even more frustrating is that the doctors couldn’t find anything fatally wrong. I had to turn to someone besides my doctors and my husband. So I started talking to my friends and realized that life’s intensity was getting, well, too intense. And I had to take a step back and regroup before moving forward again.

I did, and I came out of my funk, both physically and mentally. I was up for another challenge. This relatively painful process made me realize that there were so many other women who had been through their own major shifts in life, and had to cope with it in different ways. I know some of you know what I’m talking about. And I can now understand, and sympathize, when someone seeks therapy, or takes an antidepressant, or goes on a retreat to get away from it all. You can only take so much before you ask for help. If you don’t, you’re at a greater risk.

Change, or going through dramatic moments, isn’t a bad thing. It’s just life. These moments are life-altering, these challenges are maturing, and they also have shifted my view of life and my understanding of the universe.

I digress. Or perhaps not. What I’m saying is that the intensity of life is what makes it so worthwhile. I thrive on it. At the same time, I have been savoring those moments when we can just hang out. I’ve been trying to do a bit more of that lately as my children grow up at a rapid pace. I’ve been told by a number of my “older” friends that before we know it, our children will be adults and out the door, ne’er to look back. At least not in the same way as they did when they were our little ones.

That brings me to little Francesca. Sometimes, when I look in the eyes of my 4-year-old girl, she looks back at me with an understanding and a connection that transcends age. Her eyes radiate a wisdom that calms me, comforts me, that makes me take a step back and linger in the magic that connects all us humans. It is those moments that reassure me that there is some higher level of being that makes each an every one of us special.

Where is this leading? For me, back to our road trip and a six-hour drive southwest across Utah, from the Arches to Zion National Park. At Zion, we sat among dramatic rock formations and sand dunes. We took a long walk through the crevices of vertical slated rock, towering so high that the sun’s rays never reach the ground. We were in the Narrows, known as one of the most unusual hikes on the Colorado Plateau. That’s because a lot of the trek is in the Virgin River, and for a good chunk of the journey we waded in water that spanned from canyon wall to canyon wall. At one point, the water came up to my chest, and the little ones rode on our backs. We were ready for it, wearing swimsuits and carrying small life vests. We were warned about flash floods that could fill up the slot canyon and trap us, so I couldn’t help but keep a close watch at the water level as we waded through.

John giving a lift through a segment of the Virgin River.

This part of the trip has become a maturing and enriching experience for Francesca. She has become assertive, focused, wanting more adventures. At first, she was inhibited and needed me or John to hold her hand tightly as she carefully walked across rocks smoothed over through the centuries by the currents.  By the middle of the three-hour walk, as I reached for a stumbling Francesca, she defiantly says, “I don’t need any help!” Well! I have a feeling that this is the first of many times she will be saying that as she matures. I was thrown forward to when she is 12 and uttering that same phrase as I try to pick out her outfit, or brush her hair, or walk her into school. And forward further to age 16, when I guide her on how to drive, or how to choose a boyfriend. And forward again to leaving for college, when I offer to help choose her major, to set up her dorm room, or to pay tuition. I just hope we’ll continue to be travel buddies and explore the world together.  And if she asks for help, I’m right here ready to jump in.

"Stand back....I don't need any help!"

I watch her now maneuver through the Virgin River’s knee-deep mild current, a determined look on her face as her blond waves plaster against her face from the splays of water. I see myself through her, a little girl, and savor the moment of being that young again.

Every once in a while, we pass by other visitors hiking the riverbed. But for the most part, we are alone and the coolness of the rocks and shade and brief sprinkling of rain make me not want to leave. The moments pass, then give way to something even more incredible. Francesca looks up. I follow her gaze and time pauses for us. What a vision. Lush plants grow on the crevices of the steep cliffs, and trees fringe the tip-top edges of the plateaus above. A small waterfall cascades done the steep incline nearby. It was as if Eden had opened its doors for a moment.

We later stop at what is called the Emerald Pools, the last one was on the third level. The children throw dampened sand balls at each other in a cavern where caverneers descend from cliffs. It got darker, and after snacking on pretzels, Skittles and water, we descend down ledges and uneven rocks back to where we began. We had flashlights, but the small beams of light barely made a dent in the darkness, and the trek back became a slightly harrowing experience. As we walked further away from our little oasis, I could see the flashlights of the last two caverneers only just halfway down the cliff, calling to each other.  At that moment, my little Francesca turns back to me, pauses, and then grabs my hand, holding it tightly. She’s my little girl again, albeit wet, exhausted, enlightened.

The Virgin River in its beauty.