I grab my little boy’s hand and guide him across the parking lot. He clomps along somewhat gracefully beside me, not resisting. His hand is tiny and almost weightless, and I have to squeeze it a bit to make sure he is still there. I pull him towards a local Starbucks, a place I have been many many many times to write, but always alone. It is a limitless day, shimmering and warm and without humidity. I notice our shadows on the ground, a mother and a child. I am a mother walking her son across a crowded parking lot. I am in charge of that child. I am responsible for his happiness, his nutrition, his words, his ideas of the world. Most of all I am responsible for keeping this child alive. The thought startles me, causing me to breathe in too deeply and I start choking on nothing, on air. It also makes me giggle. It’s ludicrous. Me, a mother. Someone let me be in charge of this spritely, golden-haired mass of fragile bones and silly smiles and sudden tears and daily exuberance. He already has a chipped front tooth from when he fell down our back stairs. I was right there, and couldn’t catch him. He looks up at me, and says in his gorgeously scattered and unclear chipmunk voice, “You ok mama? You choking? Need hug?”
Yes, I am your mother. Yes, I am choking on your beauty, your existence. And yes, I will always need a hug.
Later that day, at the Aquarium. After we have prowled the dark corridors glowing with fish and sharks and sting-rays, even two white tigers. After we have ridden the train and the carousel. My little guy points up at the ferris wheel rising up into the sky. He wants to ride the ferris wheel. I am surprised, thought I don’t know why. He is pretty fearless, this kid. I hesitate. I am almost 36 weeks pregnant. He is 2.5. Is this crazy? Will I be the girl on the news that everyone at home says what was she thinking? But I am with a friend who is a doctor. She has been on the ferris wheel with her 2 year old many times. She assures me it’s ok. The attendant promises to let me down immediately if I feel sick, staring warily at my stomach. I want to joke with her, tell her don’t worry I won’t sue you, but I don’t. But more than that, I think, I used to be fearless. I loved ferris wheels and of course the me that I know I am would jump on this ride and show my son the view from above.
We slowly swing up, up, up, above the ground, above the aquariaum and the freeway, watching the cars zoom below. It is quiet, and a gentle breeze soothes. This is beautiful. O is still, his grandmother’s blue eyes big and serene, taking it all in. He loves it up here. I relax into this moment. We go down and back up. Then up top. We stop. We are stopped at the very height of the wheel. Swaying back and forth. And it’s still beautiful. But O starts to want to move towards the doors, doors that are barely closed and certainly not secure enough to prevent him from slipping out. I tighten my grip on his hand, pull him close against me. I try to sound firm and calm, not scared, when I insist that he stay still. And we don’t move, we don’t move, we aren’t moving. Why aren’t we moving? My hands start to sweat, I feel something rising in my chest, something persistent that tells me to get the hell off this thing. Now. Yes it is beautiful. And yes, there is death everywhere. The bolts could come unscrewed. The wind could suddenly rise and dump us upside down. There are no seatbelts. Why are there no seatbelts? O could scamper over and try to get out and I have a huge pregnant belly and am oh so slow right now. His father would never forgive me.
I yoga breathe myself back to mild panic. It’s beautiful up here, remember? I look around, remind myself that I am not a fearful person, that there is scary stuff everywhere if you look for it. We are stopped just to load passengers, nothing is wrong and we will soon be on our way. I calm down, but I do not loosen my grip. I step outside myself a bit, and wonder. Why am I so fearful when I was once so fearless? Why the change? I look at the top of O’s head, his translucent hair glowing beneath my palm. It’s because before I had only the world to gain. Now, I have everything to lose.
The pod starts to swing more violently, but it’s just the wheel starting its slow and steady swing back down. Up and down, down and up. We get off, all is fine. I release O, and see my fingertips embedded in his pale skin. I have marked him, and will do it again. Is it my fear that is marking him, teaching him to be afraid? Or is it my protection, so that he feels safe in this world, safe enough to take chances? Two sides to the same coin. Fear. Protection. Beauty. Death. Up. Down. Every coin has two sides. Every move we make is a toss of the coin.
For this boy, for me, the world is oh so beautiful. And oh so dangerous. I wonder sometimes, is the beautiful so much sharper because the thread of danger runs so close beneath?