Sylvan stands on top of a rock on top of “a mountain” proudly announcing that this was the first mountain he had reached the top of while being six. This event being categorized as his first summit as a six year old was true, but the definition of mountain was being applied liberally. The landscape feature we are standing on top of is the same as the view out of our dining room window, or rather the view we used to have before all we could see are walls of shiny metal on the new townhouses, and that feature is aptly called Waterworks Hill. “Let’s walk to the top of the Mountain”, sounds so much more exciting, as does: “We made it to the top of the Mountain”.
He holds my hand the whole way up and then the whole way down as he plans our first whole family expedition to Mount Everest. “That is half way around the world in Nepal,” I tell him, “and cold, with ice fields, steep slopes and a lack of oxygen. We need to train.” He contemplates all the good hang gliding launching spots in his view shed. “Yes,” I answer him,” you can get hurt hang gliding.” He laments the emptiness left by the extinction of the pterodactyl. “They would be VERY cool to train and fly.” He wonders which animals came before the dinosaurs. “We can look up pre-dinosaur fossil beds, but those organisms didn’t have skulls like animals today”. Who was the first person and how if there was only one first person did they ever have babies? “ No one has figured that one out exactly - and the whole process of becoming a person took a LONG time”.
It has also been a long time since we spent impromptu time outside. Ivory broke her collarbone sledding and finally got the go ahead to venture outside again, but in the meantime fluffy layers of snow have compressed to spotty sheets of ice. But beyond her ill timed injury, family life has fundamentally shifted into a new phase. With two school age kids we simply see less of each other. Adam is laid off less during the winter and two summers ago I accepted what began as a very part time job and the at the same time decided to run for public office. I now serve on the Missoula City Council representing Ward 1 and that very part time job morphed into just barely part time and in the corner of my dining room are still boxes of mugs to be carved when ever I have a chance to sit down.
Today we both needed a reset, some fresh air and sunshine.
We reach the almost level decommissioned road that connects the trail on the ridge with the switch backs that will take us back to the parking lot and I finally broach the subject of school. “How was school today” , I ask. He immediately becomes sullen. “Bad. Always bad.” “Did something happen that made you feel left out?” “Do you play with other kids?” “Maybe the other boys are shy?” He gives a dry kind of laugh, the kind that for a moment makes him seem 60 not 6: “They’re not shy! They call me names.” “What kind of names?” “I don’t know. I don’t remember. Let’s play I spy. I see something shaped like an N.” I look down at our neighborhood sprawling below us: “a big N or a little n?”. “Little.” I squint against the setting sun, bright briefly between the gray clouds, “The fence around the softball diamond.” Two sides are visible against white snow while the third is obscured against the backdrop of a plowed road. It looks just like an n. “I spy and orange house.” “I spy an S.”
I don’t blame his teacher for not noticing. After all, for a barely six year old, Sylvan has his kindergarten shit together. His classroom is rowdy and, typical of a kindergarten class, the kiddos have a wide range of skill sets and behaviors. She has her hands full. But he notices that she doesn’t notice these little interactions and that really gets to him. “But,” he told me on Monday, “ the kid that tipped me out my chair and gave me a very bloody nose, that kid got a referral, and referrals are the worst. He didn’t even get a timeout.”
We keep walking.
I don’t blame myself. I have spent the last year trying not to feel guilty; about not being home after school every day; about sneaking out early to get additional hours of work in the morning so I can schedule a studio day into my life every few weeks; about the evening meetings that pop up in my new life and interrupt family dinners; about how lacking my garden was last summer; about feeling guilty; about being grumpy because I feel guilty; about having to justify why I work so damn hard… There are days we undeniably fall short. We forget to practice spelling. The clean laundry piles up for days. We come home tired and cranky. But at the same time, nothing has really changed. Life moves on in a constantly new normal. Adam and I stay up late, icing the damn rocket cookies Sylvan had his heart set on for his birthday.
I take them to his classroom. One of the boys sitting on the rug in front of me tugs at my pants: “these cookies are good, but next time, can you please bring cupcakes?”. It strikes me as inexplicably funny.
We switch hands. Sylvan is so busy looking at everything but the trail in front of him that he is constantly slipping and sliding of the trail. “I spy something blue”. “I spy something green.”
I spy it too.
The junction of the trail we are walking on and the switchbacks down the hill look like a flying dinosaur with its wings outspread.