He sidles up to me and takes my hand as we walk along past the reclusive tiger and the shaggy sloth bear. The sun tosses freckles across my son’s nose, and the air hugs us close.
His palms are rough from dirt-clod making and fort building. They are sweaty and sticky with boyhood, and I try not to wonder if he washed his hands after touching the snake.
He is seven, and the babyhood has stretched right out of his face. He tells me he knows how to spell “Mississippi.” It’s a secret he’s been saving for just such an occasion. “Oh yeah?” I taunt. “Show me.”
And he does.
“M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.” Micah flashes the toothy smile of a second grader whose teeth are too big for his face.
My nose stings with the sudden urge to spill hot tears all over the pathway through Asia because it’s almost over—this salty-sweet season of his childhood is almost over. I squeeze my son’s hand tighter and look down into his thinning face and wonder if this will be the last time, the last time he puts his hand into mine and skips along next to me with cheerful acquiescence.
I won’t let go for anything in the world, snake smell or not.
We walk past the tree house playground. It is Way Past Naptime and the toddlers are eating wood chips and hurling sippy cups and using their words to communicate just how unlikely it is that they are going to leave willingly. The mamas are running on fishy crackers and juice pack fumes and looking every bit like they had no idea what they were getting into when their husbands said, “Honey, let me give you a massage.”
I want to stop and tell them that it is worth it. They are knee-deep in planting season, now, and torn up like a field in spring.
It is hard to imagine it will ever be any other way.
But I am just a few warm months further into the season, and those muddy, upturned fields are greening with the evidence of a work well done. I hold onto my son’s sticky hand and know that by the grace of God, some of the things I planted are growing. (And by the grace of God, some of the things I planted are not). Beautiful leaves are unfolding where furrows once lay, and I have the hope of a harvest in fields I once fought to win.
It is so worth it.
It is hard still; of course it is hard. The labor doesn’t stop when the babies are birthed. It just…changes. There are weeds to pull and plants to prune—but I look down at that boy by my side and realize we are working together now, most days. The child who once would have gone to the cross over apple juice is now my companion in the sowing.
This is the sweet middle season, when my babies are not quite babies, but they’re not quite grown. It is the respite between tantrums and dating. My kids don’t need me as much now, but they need me enough. I can sleep for eight hours straight because they’re not driving yet. They can do their own laundry, and the house stays cleaner even if the fridge is emptier.
They are learning to pull their own weeds and plant their own seeds and work with me on becoming who they were meant to be. We stand side-by-side in the same field, more friends than anything, striving for the same beautiful unfolding.
Oh, yes. It is worth it.
I watch a mama wrestle her child down from the curly slide. She is up to her boots in the mucky part of motherhood, and I know she feels it. But I want to tell her that she is almost there–almost to the season where she can see the worth of her work. One day soon, she will look down and realize she isn’t dragging anyone along behind.
She is walking side-by-side with her child, right through the sweet middle. And she won’t let go for anything in the world.