And this too shall pass, for better or worse.
Yesterday my kids drove me crazy. They argued and whined and then I went to bed feeling bad about not playing trucks for long enough and about not making time for a silly game before bed. Instead, I rushed them to their bedrooms so I come back downstairs and cower on the sofa reading scary news headlines on my phone.
Today my kids did not drive me crazy. I read eight books to my son instead of the usual two or three and then I laid with him, stroking his hair as he fell asleep. I read to my daughter and talked to her as we laid in her bed looking out the window, watching a plane in the sky and wondering who was on it and where they were going.
Parents exist in a hurricane of emotions. Fear and hope hang together like low clouds on the horizon. Occasionally they’ll be blown away and the sky will open up to reveal pure adoration or acute frustration. Joy and sadness rain down at the same time, as firsts and lasts go flying by, faster and faster each year.
This winter, our family maintained a breakneck pace of skiing, working, dance classes, play practice, meetings, parties, playdates and ice skating. And now we’ve suddenly been met with a giant pause button that has tipped our lives upside down.
After a week at home, this morning I woke up feeling like we needed an outing. With the usual children’s museums and libraries off the table, I suggested a hike in the mountains. My husband, a paramedic, has been at work most of the week and I needed something to take my mind off wondering when he would be able to come home again.
Hiking isn’t fun and anyone who says it is is lying. It’s enjoyable — pleasant even and sometimes breathtaking or exhilarating. But it’s not fun. Skiing is fun, jumping on a trampoline is fun. Dancing with your friends is fun. Walking on an uneven trail to an unknown destination with a squished sandwich in your bag? Not so much.
I had forgotten about all of this, which is why I spent the morning giving my kids pep-talks about how much fun we were going to have.
Three hours later, we were about a mile into our hike when the muddy trail turned to a snowy trail. Then snow turned to ice.
“You said this would be fun,” they wailed at me.
We were slipping, falling, and grabbing on to tree trunks for balance. The wind whipped up and on the north side of the mountain there was no sun.
I coaxed, I wheedled, I prodded. I doled out gummy snacks as if they were the last food on earth.
My son lost it first. “I’m not going to make it…I’m not going to make it…” Vultures circled overhead as I reassured him he would definitely make it.
A handful of other hikers passed us, briefly breaking our six foot circles of social distance as they easily trod by and gave my sad kids words of encouragement.
After two miles, which were actually about 9 miles when you factor in the crying coefficient, we made it to the top. We tucked into a little rocky outcropping away from the wind and ate peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches.
When we were done, my son, who is three started muttering a word over and over under his breath.
My daughter, who is eight and claims to speak a private brother-sister language with him was as confused as I was.
“What is he saying?” she asked, squinting at him as he said it on repeat, getting a little bit louder each time.
I shook my head. Neither of us had ever heard the word before. It was several syllables long, started with a P and sounded like it had magical powers.
“Who taught you that word?” I asked.
“Nobody,” he said, pausing his chant for a moment. “I taught it to myself.”
“What does it mean?” I asked.
He mysteriously looked out at the rolling hills in the distance and started chanting it again. The syllables were enchanting and soon my daughter and I joined in.
We packed up our picnic and started heading down, the chant rolling along and driving us forward.
The afternoon sun had melted a thin layer of water over the icy trail, so it was even more slippery on the way down. At times, we had to sit on our butts and slide, grabbing trees and kicking off rocks to prevent bumps and bangs as we went.
The going got tougher and the chant faded away. The gummy snacks had long been eaten and the trail felt like a slog. We were wet from the ice and tired from the hours spent in the wind and cold.
My son’s whimper turned into a cry. The wind whipped his tears away before they had rolled halfway down his cheek. I wondered if I was a terrible parent for making my kids endure such a tough hike or if I was a great parent for making my kids endure such a tough hike.
We stopped to take a quick break and I put my warm hands on his cheeks. His crying slowed and in gasping breaths, he said, “Mommy, I want you to put your warm hands on my bum.”
You could use a computer algorithm to predict all of the things you would possibly ever do in a lifetime. It could list a million scenarios you might someday find yourself in. And then when you become a parent, you will find yourself doing things that aren’t even close to anything on the list.
Which is why I found myself in the middle of the woods, in the middle of a global pandemic with my hands down the back of my son’s pants, gently holding his icy little butt cheeks, trying to warm them so we could get down the mountain to the car.
“Is there a word for what I’m doing right now?” I asked my daughter.
Without skipping a beat, she belted out our chant from the top of the mountain.
We all laughed. I took back my hands, and we had an arduous, trying hike that was definitely not fun back to the parking lot.
When the car was in sight, everyone’s spirits lifted and we started laughing about the events of the hike. We talked about the slippery ice and about the pocket knife we found on a rock at the summit.
I piped up, “And of course we can’t forget about…”
I tried to summon the imaginary, made up word we had chanted and shouted endlessly. It was gone.
Pa-gru-grue? No, that wasn’t it.
Pandalootyloo? No, that wasn’t it.
The word was gone. None of us could remember it, not even my son, which is why I haven’t been able to type it in this story. We chanted it, screamed it, repeated it in funny voices and creepy whispers. But just a couple of hours later, we couldn’t even remember what it was.
It reminded me that everything is fleeting. The beautiful, wonderful moments, like when my son wrapped his arms around me as I warmed his butt with my hands and the awful moments where both kids were crying and my feet were wet and cold are all gone.
It’s a comfort and sorrow to consider, especially right now. A month at home without school or work as a distraction feels long. So very very long.
But I’m going to try to make it through by remembering that it will pass. And I need to do my best to hang on to the special moments and let the hard ones fly by.
I think there’s a word for that.
Too late, it’s gone.