I know for certain now, that my son’s conversations will go on, with or without me.
My son and I discussed Donovan’s song Atlantis the other morning as we made our way to school here in Manhattan. We scampered, hopped, pantomimed, declared, performed and anime ran (bent forward with both arms straight back) our way to the subway. The subject of our ever so important discourse leapt quicksilver from Legos to Donovan to the Atlantic Ocean to Atlantis to myth and time and back to toys. When I first moved into our apartment, I was a little concerned about the length of the daily walk from 10th Ave to 8th Ave where the subway stop is. He was only five then. And the long “avenue blocks” seemed like quite a journey.
Now, three years later, we have created an entire walking, conversation and play ritual that grows and evolves further and further on any morning that we make the trip. Each store front, and school building has a ramp or a tree around which we circle or stomp. There are zig zags that correspond with specific sets of old blue stone pavings. We declare with great alarm the location of every uncollected dog poop. There are narrow places and wide places.
There are sections of “line up behind me” sidewalk, hemmed in by stoops and bus stop shelters, where older school kids pour past. When he was much littler, we had a code. I would squeeze his hand three times in quick succession and he would swing in behind me as I bulled through the press on the sidewalk, my bulk making a path for his little form behind me. Now he weaves his own way through the press, meeting up on the far side, never breaking stride.
At first, I always carried his back pack. Then at some point he began shouldering it himself. Books and homework and a lunchkit. Swim trunks, googles, pencils and a handful of Squinkies. Metro card, library pass, stray buttons and found pennies, rubber bands, and always a collection of drawings. All of these things left my shoulder and they won’t be coming back.
Last night, I walked behind him and his bonus Mom, Saliha, as the two of them took that same walk, telling stories, and moving to the same traveling rhythm on the very same blocks. They talked to each other. And for a short magical time, I became invisible walking behind them. I felt such peace and such joy to see him sharing his joyful discourse with Saliha. I got to witness, in silence, what it looks like when he engages in the magical walking conversation which we have all created with him. I caught a secret glimpse of the thousands of other conversations he has had and will have, with the world of other people; his Mom and Bonus Dad, his friends, teachers, people, all over the wide world. A world of conversations we have all helped him to create and love. So I walked behind the two of them, as they danced their conversational dance. And I saw the magic of their gift of story telling and interplay. I saw the legacy I have had a hand in creating for him. It put me at peace. I gave me confidence in his path forward in the world.
For a few more years, I will walk him to school. And we will talk, jump, debate, prepare, and compare. For a few more years, his hand will enter and leave mine twenty times a trip as natural as can be. When that hand will stop coming for mine, I can not say. But when it stops, (if it ever does) I will not grieve the passing of those moments. I make a conscious effort to hold and celebrate these changes each in their turn.
But here and now, I have these wonderful days,with his hand coming to rest in mine, warm in the chill of winter. Leaving just as quickly, to transmit a gesture, going up in to the air with a flourish, moving with a comforting rhythm all its own. I am at peace. Because I know for a certainty, from my winter night’s walk in the darkness behind him, that his conversations will go on, with or without me. That his gift of gab, and our special deeply personal way to talking and laughing and being is his gift now to give to others. I’ve seen him create these conversations.
And I also know one other thing. I know that I wouldn’t want to live right next to the subway stop for all the tea in China. And that’s a lot of tea…