There’s a tingling nausea that accompanies me as I watch my son climbing trees in the yard. He is fearless, grabbing at branches that bring him higher and higher, stepping with abandon onto limbs without testing how much weight they can hold. He sits in a scratchy, twisted elbow of bark and surveys the neighborhood, calling to people who look around, confused that the mysterious voice appears to be from a sea of dense foliage. Swinging like a monkey he sees no significance in the fact that from his upside-down position his skull would hit the ground first, followed by the entirety of his body weight crushing his neck and spine should he slip and fall. He only brings his attention to the trip down when it’s time to figure a way out of the leafy wilderness, and in case of trouble I am his human cherry picker, plucking him gently to safety.
I know what a deep scratch from a thorn feels like, I know the sound a twig makes when it jabs into the center of an eyeball. I know the feeling of gravity yanking me towards the Earth with tremendous velocity and slamming me onto the lawn, a thick root criss-crossing my backbone and knocking the wind from my lungs. I know these things but can say nothing. It wouldn’t focus his carelessness or stabilize his footing, it would only take a perfectly nice Spring day and ruin it with a whiney soundtrack, and he wouldn’t believe me anyway. He prefers the punctured lung and broken bone lessons of things-learned-the-hard-way, like his mother.
I hold my breath, damning his ignorance but admiring his courage, trying to find that piece of myself that embraced the trip up because I didn’t know I should be afraid of the way down, before the uncertain notion of danger became all there was, and I stopped climbing trees altogether.
Maybe today will be his first taste of consequences. Maybe tomorrow he will tumble from an impossible height and take a step in his own dance with fear, and all I’ll be able to do is dry his tears and fight my urge to cut down every tree in a hundred mile radius. I know well the terrors of the journey, but I also know that getting to the peak is everything. Denying his drive to climb would steal his view from the top and my chance to watch him get there, and I will not relinquish those things to calm my squeamish belly or pulsing nerves and let fear enslave us both.
So, I clean his scrapes and pull bits of leaf from his hair, and watch from the ground as he defies gravity and reason and strives up into the unknown, without hesitation or trepidation, focused only on the sun on his face and the joy of the climb.