. . .for all these things, we account the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality. . .  In Noah’s flood, he despised Noah’s Ark; and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.

Chapter 105,  Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish–Will He Perish?

My opponent has my nose.

No, he does not have me by the nose; he has my nose,

and his father’s hazel green eyes and thick unruly brows.

And by opponent, I do not mean in the battle to eat humus or change his underwear, though we have gone head to head on those issues at times.  I mean my opponent in arm wrestling.

We’ve been doing this forever– since he was an infant and we lay face to face on our bellies, blocks scattered across the carpet around us.  I would sometimes feign a struggle against his wee strength before reassuringly crushing him with a smile.  Scooping him up, I’d roll on my back and hold him over head, letting his laughter spill down on my face.

He would challenge me on weekends, cocky off a basketball win in second grade, or sure of enhanced strength as he surpassed his big brother in height during third grade.  By last summer we stood eye to eye and he would steal my flip-flops as none of his shoes still fit his mens’ size 11 feet.   My own flip-flops were dwarfed, but enough for the boy who preferred to be barefoot anyway.

He grew more reserved with his hugs, turned sideways, kept them brief as he headed off to school each morning this past year.  A low-“love you mom” tatted out as he walked away.  But on the weekends he would leap off the couch as I passed and block my path: “Arm wrestle?”

This alone has remained consistent: I never ever let him win.  His brother has protested that this is cruel of me, but Wyatt stopped him.  He knew the value of a real win– the weight of a passage that passes between our clasped hands.  He wants no pandering nor feigned win.  He wants victory hard-won.

He has been pestering since mother’s day for the latest rematch, but my body knows—this boy, now two inches taller and a scarce ten pounds lighter will most likely win the next match.

“Not unless we have someone to film it,” I have told him.  He smiles, knowing this isn’t just an excuse, though he teases me that it is.  He knows I suspect my last victory has passed.

It is a Tuesday night, three shy of June, and my son throws down the gauntlet once again.  I hand the camera to his brother and say “Okay. Let’s get this done.”

We take our places at the table and hand to hand pour our strength into the match.  I push and feel his strength meet me, and remember pushing his ten pound body into this world, carrying his sleepy body, heavy head dropped on my shoulder, carrying it up a total of how many hundred stairs to bed.  I think of the night as his temper escalated in an argument with his brother and I tried to explain what he was feeling only to have him turn on me and rip me through with the words “You don’t know what I am thinking.  You are not inside my head.”  I recall excusing myself and lying face down on my bed to cry, knowing this is the inevitable separation—not when they cut the cord, but when the boy says “I am not you,” and pushes away.  I remember too how less than three minutes later, without ever lifting my face from the pillow I was tackled with a hug, a low mumbled “love you mom” and then he disappeared again.

Eleven years—almost twelve, I have prevailed.  This Tuesday night, I feel the shift.  It takes less than two minutes but long enough to make his arm hurt.  In his moment of victory he does not gloat, but a smile spreads across his face and as he rubs his arm he confesses it was his hardest match yet.  He had beaten every classmate, and quite a few in the grade above him, but never has he passed this bench mark and he knows it.  He does not dance around or jump in the air with fist punching glory—he sits and rubs his arm, watching me, a quite smile on his face, no rush to leave me.

In this moment we know, some day, he will be the one who carries me.  In this moment I know, he will be ready.

He may not yet be resilient enough or anywhere near wise enough to navigate this world without a parent’s guidance.  But in this moment he knows he is now stronger than the mother’s arms which held him, shielded him, scooped him out of the path of danger, lifted him so that his weary dangling legs could rest; he now holds the greater strength. There is a certain loss even in victory as the victor is pushed a little further out into the world, having surpassed a primary defender to step closer to being on his own.  It is all part of the ongoing dance of letting go.  And really, if I must have this dance, his hand is one that fits mine so well that even when we do let go, we carry each other’s moves, and as I recede into the shade, catching momentary glimpses of my terrifying mortality, my son and I will always find a dance to share, his strong arms ready now to catch me when I fall.

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