It’s impossibly hard to sit on the edge of my son’s bed, delighting in the trilling word games that are the genius of his growing mind, his language acquisition, his exploding consciousness, and feel the hard stone of the climate crisis sitting in my stomach. We play together with lion’s roar, stinky toes. He mouths rhyming words silently as I repeat them to him again, again, again. He beams with pride. I sniff him, inhale him, brush lips on his temple and hair. I tell him I love him; that he is precious to me. “Precious boy,” he replies.
We all are mortal, each of us. So it has been since the dawn of our days, so it remains for we who stand here on the brink of this great unraveling. My love for my child is no less, no more (though of course infinitely, incomparably, unbearably more) than that of any, every mother who has come before or after me.
Still, the joyful worlds I weave for him, of lush forests and creatures of the jungles and savannas, feel like lies. When my mother read me stories in my youth, did she confront the same sense that they were untenable, unreachable? Did the simple, pastoral landscape of Frog and Toad feel achingly ancient, lost to her? She is gone; I cannot ask her. But I wonder.
The magic of my son is my gift and my burden. His coming hardship, his living in this too-hot world, is an agony for which I have bargained with the devil. “Please, allow me this child.”
I fear that my bargain was too selfish; that he will pay its rising price. Yet we laugh together with such true, pure, mystical glee. Please, God, let that joy be tender for the debt.
I labor determinedly in our garden, seeking to re(dis)cover lost knowledge and skills. Each seedling’s struggle through soil to light is a celebration. I want to save him. I want to save myself. I pray I cultivate in him this wonder, fleeting or hopefully durable. Wonder is the only thing for which I feel honest hoping in these days.
I have traded my life for his. Each parent, all parents, only lucky enough to do so. Have I also traded his life for mine? For this, the love that bursts inside of me? This thing, so sweet, so crippling, so precious, that he has gifted me.
Before my mother died the cancer in her abdomen became like a stone. A heavy rock setting inside her. Each morning in the last weeks of her life she and I would rest beside each other in the pre-dawn birdsong and she would love me, her only daughter. In the fleeting moments before her pain took over she would breathe me in, brush fingers on my temple. I would call her Mama.
We are mortal. We are doomed. But I will take my child out each day and live. I will cultivate. I will seed wonder, tend our garden with him alongside. I will eventually tell him we all will die, or he will discover it himself and, with luck, I will comfort him through its dark revelation. I will be sure he knows the gratitude I feel for his unwitting agreement to pay the debt of my love for him; of my bringing him into this unimaginable world. Forgive me, I will ask. I love you so much.