quinn’s thirty-seventh month ~ into the heathers of the waters

~written november 2018~

stories scribbled on a scrap and tucked into my back pocket have resurfaced after many moons. stories of a bright-eyed, just-turned-three-year-old who delighted in having the puffins at the aquarium splash water onto his soft cheeks. stories echoing in the silvery voice of a smaller boy than the one before me now, of a voyage in his “magical” cardboard boat, painted entirely by him. stories that somehow skipped swirling down the drain along with all the blue paint he applied to his own body, that were tied like a knot into the long rope of life by his small hands so they somehow did not slip out of my own grasp forever. stories of crisp early spring beach wind rippling the tops of the tidepools, carrying the smell of fresh salty adventure and the sound of a mama’s singing mingling with the rhythm of waves collapsing on the sand. stories of a boy venturing into personhood, while a mama ranged into a similar territory of re-establishing her own identity.

the sun was warm for the last day of february, and the light sparkled in the droplets liberated from the water’s surface as he splashed through the tidepool, naked from the waist down. pausing to get ready for the next one, he shouted, “into the heathers of the waters!” and splashed in with total abandon. having inquired about the heathers of the waters, i knew that they were, “the heathers of the wind!” oh of course, those heathers.

abruptly he reached his thermal limit and announced, “i’m too cold!!!!” so i stripped off wet clothes and zipped him inside my jacket. wrapped around me wearing just his fleece, he snuggled down. popping his head back up out of my jacket he told me, “when i get bigger i will put on a big jacket and when you get little i will put you in it and carry you.”

“oh wow, sweetie, it means a lot to me that you would do that for me.”

“yeah, that means a lot to you!” he confirmed, confident in the way our two beings still shared a great deal of overlap, his voice muffled from within the womb of my coat. then he requested, “sing me a quiet song about the indigo girls.”

his very particular wording of requests was characteristic. waking up in the morning, he would let me know if he wanted milk in the bed or in the happy spot, or sometimes even more particularly, “i want to lay across you and have the big milk.” there is empowerment in knowing exactly what one wants and having the words to tell about it. a once-disempowered mama could take note.

three was a time of still needing to figuratively crawl back inside the womb and reconnect with mama regularly, interspersed with bouts of shoving off the mama dock and paddling the canoe of his person purposefully away with equally great frequency and intensity.

holding out a long string onto which two balloons were tied, he asked me to tie these two balloons onto a rope.

“i don’t understand, they already are tied onto a rope,” i said.

“no, i want you specifically to tie these onto a rope,” as opposed to the string. sometimes string could pose as pretend rope, but apparently not in this specific application.

requiring intense connection and reassurance in between any time we spent apart, he was coming to grasp object permanence and be able to trust the steady endurance of my love for him. as i was putting him down for his nap one day i heard my own words echoing back, “i love you so much! even when you go to work, i love you so much!”

in his own small ways, he would assert his right as a person. strangers would ask, “how old are you?” and he usually declined to answer. sometimes, i would ask if he wanted to tell the person how old he was, to which he’d often respond no. sometimes i’d then ask if i could tell the person how old he was, and sometimes he’d say no to that, too! i know people are more accustomed to having a parent prompt or compel a child to respond politely and provide the requested age information, but it’s an area i found i could support his choices and his development as a person with boundaries without terribly alienating anyone, and i respected his space in these matters.

just between us, mr. his-own-person would frequently tune out my voice when whatever i was requesting of him did not strike his fancy. in moments when i did have his attention, i would explain that when i said something to him i wanted him to look at me and say something to me, to acknowledge that i was speaking to him. then one day when he was ignoring me by default, i think he began to sense that i was on the edge of becoming testy, and turned to me and announced, “i recognize your knowledge!”

asserting his place in the precarious alliance between his dad and i was another matter entirely. during one disagreement i had with my coparent, quinn said loudly, “all of us are shouting but some of us do not understand.” in an area where many children feel completely powerless (their parents’ struggles to communicate), quinn was determined to have his say. and his say was both profound and sobering.

from there, the heathers of the water ripple outwards in an ever-widening circle of recognizing the personhood of others. this awareness expanded dramatically for quinn this month, when we donated our tent to shelterless earthquake survivors in haiti. parked at the post office while i added tape to the box, he started having cold feet, “i don’t want to give away my tent.” i told him that it was okay if he was not ready to give away his tent. we had gone over why i wanted us to give away our tent, explaining that we had our orange house, and a tent, while some people had no house and not even a tent to live in, and that i thought it would be nice for someone to be able to use our tent as their house for a little while. i validated that it’s really hard to give stuff away, while internally resolved not to force him to give it up if he was truly against it. i asked if we should we do it another day, but all of a sudden, he looked up at me and said, “i want to give away my tent.”

we got out of the car and he reached and took it out of my hands, so he could carry it in to give it away. i nearly bawled in the parking lot. we sent our tent off “on an adventure.”  wanting him to feel that giving results in abundance, not deprivation, we planned to get ourselves a new tent. rather than sacrificing out of guilt that someone else has to go without, i wanted to help him realize that putting good energy into the universe results in even more good; i wanted him to feel the universe is generous and kind when he is generous and kind. we went home and painted four pictures of the new tent we would soon have, complete with owls landing on branches outside our tent. when he told me, “i want the guy to turn the boat around and come back so i can get my tent back,” we processed some more about how it would go on a truck to massachusetts, then on a boat to haiti where the people needed a place to live so they wouldn’t get rained on and bitten by mosquitoes. he moved on to thoughts of anticipation of the adventures in store for him with his new tent.

“i will stay in it all by myself, alone, while you go to work, and i will be in the desert and an owl will come and say who are you? ‘my name is quinn,’ said me.”

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