When they've finished reading, Olivia's mother gives her a kiss and says, "You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway." And Olivia gives her a kiss back and says, "I love you anyway, too." ~ From Olivia, by Ian Falconer
I know every word of Olivia by heart, from years of bed-time reading when Gray was small. This particular conversation between Olivia and her mother comes to mind every so often as I spend time with my son, who is now ten years old. I can't get away with girly books at bedtime anymore. We've moved on to Captain Underpants, Big Nate, and The Mysterious Benedict Society. On his own or with his dad, Gray reads adventures and mysteries rather than picture books, everything from Treasure Island to The Call of the Wild. But I will always love Olivia.
In our case, the "wearing out" described above by Olivia's weary mother is not to be helped. Gray is, after all, a boy, and I am absolutely, one hundred percent not. We are both artists who like to read, but there are thirty-five years and a gender gap between us. When we are alone, one of us inevitably has to step up, be a Good Sport, and oblige the other's entertainment preferences. Usually, that somebody is me. I am the mature adult, after all, and I want Gray to love his mother and look fondly back on all the fun times we had together. Surprise: he doesn't enjoy folding laundry, or watching me grade papers. He doesn't even like Scrabble. (Can you imagine...?) So I acquiesce to his boyish taste, which is sometimes amusing, sometimes an exercise in patience, and always wears me out.
I have no complaints though. God knew what he was doing, entrusting this particular male child to my care. Compared to other boys his age, Gray is fairly calm. He's a golfer, not a linebacker. No question there. He loves being outdoors but is equally happy hanging out inside, where he can be found reading, or designing yet another of his fictional cities. Yes, that's right. Since the age of six, Gray has designed civilizations. For each, he draws a color-coded map (to scale), and elevations of some of the city's more attractive architectural sights. He designs currency, front and back, to be printed at the mint, which is located on quadrant four on the map, with a little neighborhood nearby to house all of the mint's employees. He plants trees for them, because engravers are visual people. Sometimes he writes a story or two about the citizens of his townships and burgs. Currently he's half-way through the fourth chapter of his illustrated novel, a project he revisits between designing cities and bridges and skyscrapers and currency and etc. The whole thing is very Orwellian.
Despite these strange talents and tendencies, Gray is still every bit a little boy. He is silly. Always. Even when the situation calls for dire seriousness—like every other morning, when we just barely make it to the bus stop. "You're gonna be late!" I prompt, grabbing his book bag and running toward the door. Meanwhile he comes round the corner with his shirt purposefully on backward, a calculated effort to make me laugh. Like his father, Gray is a comedian. And he needs to run around every so often to blow off some of that youthful steam that little kids—boys, in particular—seem to bottle up.
Recently on a Saturday we can't find any playmates, and Fred is away. I have work to do at home, and I'm tired, but promised earlier in the week to take Gray and the dog for a walk at Fort Pulaski. He gets in my face, all big blue eyes and freckles, reminding me, "You promised." So, we go. As I trudge along behind, watching boy and dog bound ahead with gusto and joy, I thank God with every step. The fresh air is good for all of us.
We make our way past the fort, across a hilly expanse of grass to the mile long palm-lined path which leads to a tiny lighthouse. The Cockspur Light is just off shore, surrounded by brackish water. Brave adventurers swim over, at risk of shredding their feet on the oyster beds below. Fred has led expeditions for Gray and the dog to the lighthouse several times. No chance of that today. (As if.)
In its final quarter mile, the path emerges from the palm forest onto the open marsh, a breezy mix of tall grass, hermit crabs, and scrub brush. Footing can be unsure, depending on the tide. Walking farther is possible today, but the way through the grass is extremely muddy. I crinkle my nose. "I don't think so, Gray; not today. It's too messy." He groans as if I have just cancelled Christmas. "But mom, we came all this way!" More big blue eyes, more freckles—this time annunciated by a bouncing rat terrier. "Okay, okay. You go, and take the dog, but I'm not dressed for the mud. I'll stay here and watch you." I sing out to the back of his glistening red head, "Be careful!" He and Chip are already zipping off toward the water, making their way through the mud and grass without hesitation.
While they are away, as I watch them, I pray for Gray: I thank God for this joyful person and his boundless energy, and for all that his future holds. Whenever I pray for my son I ask that, no matter what he faces in life, he will always move closer and closer to God... that he will never drift away.
As I pray I come upon some beautiful wildflowers mixed in with the muddy marsh grass—a tiny bit of femininity in this very boyish place. I take it as a hug from above, and think what a lovely end this discovery will make, for the essay I will one day write about this afternoon's walk.
Twenty minutes later Gray and Chip return, covered in mud and muck. I take the dog's leash intending to lead him tidily through the palm-lined walk back to the parking lot, not noticing the clay on the leash until it has marked me up and down with a hundred wet, muddy lashes. I look as if I've been sitting at a potter's wheel all afternoon. After all of the trouble I took to remain pristine, suddenly I'm as much a mess as the dog, and my sweet little mud-covered red-headed son. I laugh at myself, knowing I should have gone the whole way with them. And I'm worn out, but I love him anyway.
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. ~ Psalm 127:3-5 NIV 1984