Last Sunday we all got spring fever. Jonquils were nodding their bright-yellow heads in a barely warm breeze, the sweet smell of honeysuckle was heavy in the air, and the sky was a pure, vivid blue. Just as I have for the past dozen years around this time, I loaded up the car, packed sandwiches, and took my sons to a public but unpopulated trail that winds along a rushing mountain stream.
The first time we hiked this little trail, my 15-year-old was a toddler, and our now-11-year-old rode in a shoulder pack on my husband's back. Robby, our middle son, had played in a sun-warmed puddle on a boulder while his big brother slid down a sloping, mossy rock into a pool of surging and churning water, over and over and over.
This was the first year I didn't carry anyone. My "baby" is 7, and my oldest son had other plans, something that seems to happen more and more often. Now, maneuvering my way down the ancient boulders heaped along the stream, I miss him.
When I reach the water, I lie back on the massive, smooth stone - the same one I'd sat on to watch my oldest son slide into rushing water years ago - and squint up at the still-weak sun. I listen to my younger sons skipping rocks and talking about finding walking sticks and their favorite paint-ball guns.
I close my eyes and just listen.
After lunch, we creek-hop: leaping over rushing water, jumping from rock to rock, and climbing over logs that straddle the creek. My youngest son, Mikey, doesn't take my hand, although I know he is tempted to - I can tell by the way he looks long and hard at my outstretched arm before he leaps over the watery chasm alone. He jumps, time and time again, growing more confident each time his shoes don't hit water, until he no longer notices my hand.
Robby stops suddenly on a low, flat rock that has water gurgling up in its cracks. Silently and without explanation, he begins to plug a crack with moss, and Mikey immediately follows suit. They are busy, working, while I contemplate the time and our schedule.
For some reason, I don't rush them along, but sit down on their rock, my back cradled by a hollowed stone. Robby begins to hum as he packs down moss, and Mikey hums as well, another tune, as he walks back and forth to the woods to gather moss for his brother. No one speaks. I think about the last time I watched them play, really watched them, and I can't remember.
Robby jumps up as suddenly as he started this procedure, signifying the end of something, and we continue up the creek. Gradually we spread apart, some of us leaping rapidly over slippery, oblong stones, and others calculating the distance and the chill of the water before we spring from one dry, high rock to another damp, slippery one. I approach the falls but cannot hear my sons' voices for the roar of swollen, rushing water. Rob has already climbed to the top. I can see his bare arms extended over the boulder in victory, but I can't see his head.
Mikey is waiting for me at the rectangular boulder just below the falls that is as big as a house. I jump over to the long, square stone where he is huddled, lost to the light of the sun. Even when I can touch him, I have to lean my ear down to his face to hear him over the thundering water.
"I want to go to the top!" he shouts, his words vanishing in the mighty din. I hop to the nearest rock and try to steady myself. It is small, and rather slick. I hold out my hand over the churning water, not knowing if I will be rebuffed. Mikey reaches out for my hand, and as he bravely leaps, I pull him over the rushing water. I spin around, and he is behind me. I cannot see him, and I expect him to immediately let go of my hand, but he holds onto it tightly.
I can tell without looking at his face that he is not ready to let go.
Again, I close my eyes. I feel the mist of the falls and his little body tucked against the back of my legs. I want to remember this - all the energy and fear and trust in that sturdy little hand, because I know he will let go before I am ready.
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