Rode the skylift and I turned around
Last September, when I was still grappling with ye olde job search and Noah was on fall break from school, I arranged childcare for not-yet-2-years-old Rosie, packed a bag of apples, pretzels, cold water, and Oreos, and set out with my freshly minted Kindergartner toward Stone Mountain.
He had never been to the top before, and I was feeling a little bit responsible for the fact that he had started classes without checking that particular item off his pre-elementary-school bucket list.
With the amount of time we had allotted ourselves, I knew we would have to make a choice: ride the skylift in order to afford ourselves a long session at the top and leisurely stroll down? Or: Hike slowly up, take a brief look at the tiny houses in the distance and then coast down on steel cables in a window-filled box with the feeling of accomplishment in our tired feet?
I wasn’t sure what was more important to Noah—the climbing or the view—so I posed the question to him as we drove the long circuit around the wide base of the mountain.
He weighed the options carefully, as is his custom, mulling over which would satisfy him most on this much anticipated day of unsplintered maternal attention and child-led activity. Undecided, we stood for a full minute outside our car after we parked, staring up at the giant granite generals carved into the shady side of the mound. “Whoa,” Noah whispered, peering up with his head tilted back and hand shielding his eyes from the sun.
And then he broke out into a full-tilt run toward the skylift.
We stood in a line that contained only us, craning our necks up into the blue hoping for a glimpse of the vessel that would carry us to our apex. The operator, a young guy with dreadlocks, made small talk with Noah and answered his questions about Just How Fast Does That Thing Go Anyway and Has It Ever Fallen To The Ground with grace and ease and just enough joking to make Noah laugh and then pause to look up uneasily toward the approaching cable car.
Once our sky chariot arrived, we climbed aboard and were sealed in. Up we soared, up above the turnstiles and trees and gum on the pavement, and into the cloudless sky. We were all alone up there, the dreadlocked operator, Noah, and me, and everything was quiet, save the clunk of the passing cable poles and the occasional burst of exclamation from a mind-blown 6-year old.
At the top, there were blue skies for miles, no crowds, and even a shady spot or two under which to sit and have a snack.
We explored and climbed and pointed out ant-like cars in the distance. There were just a handful of visitors strolling the summit with us, and it felt a little like we were the only people in the world, surveying our tracks of land with noble posture.
I remember watching Noah that day, a bubble of pride under my breastbone. He loved Kindergarten (unsurprisingly) and the transition from preschool to public school had been seamless. He was excited and motivated and eager to experience all the new things Kindergarten had to offer—Spanish words and rules for discipline and grilled chicken sandwiches in the lunchroom.
At the same time I remember feeling distracted by my own job search, even a thousand feet above the ground. I felt weighed down by the constant anxiety of needing money but also desperately hoped I would be able to hold out until the “right” job came along. Constant reevaluation of talent and ability does a beating on a person’s self-esteem, and the niggling fear that I didn’t really have anything to offer the world was worming its way slowly into the forefront of my mind.
I took my love and I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
And the landslide brought me down
Noah tooled around on the summit, meandering toward my vicinity and then skipping away while I watched him, his never-not-bruised knobby knees peeking out from shorts in a size I couldn’t fathom he’d ever be able wear back when he was chubby and milky.
Oh, mirror in the sky–what is love?
Can the child in my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’…ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know…..I don’t know…
Kids, those jerks. You spend so many years feeling almost crushed with the weight of their need for you, and then one day you pause and look up and they’re tripping down the sidewalk away from you, toward a school with newfound friends and expanded horizons and assemblies where they stand with hands over hearts, pledging to a flag in a foreign language you’ve never learned and will likely never know as well as they do now at almost six.
And if that weren’t enough, they’re positively giddy about it: about big-kid life, about new people and new rules and that heady feeling that comes with the privilege of deciding for themselves what kind of milk they’ll have with their lunch each day. (Chocolate. It’s always chocolate.)
All of which, of course, means now they need you less. Or differently. Less and differently.
Which also means: You did your job well.
Well I’ve been afraid of changin’
Because I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder; children get older
I’m getting older too….
Maybe it’s corny, but I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that only four days after that day trip together I found and applied for the job I have now, a job I enjoy. And last week, as I walked to pick up Noah from his last day of school, I thought about how different things are today than they were then. He now walks among a school full of friends, confident and assured, poised for all-out kid-dom. And I work full time, away from him most of the day and in an environment where I feel fulfilled and valued.
Physically, we are more separated than we’ve ever been (save my months in medical school), and yet I know that we are both right where we need to be. And to get there, we both had to face the unknown, screw up our courage, take big breaths, and jump. (He went first.)
So, take this love…take it down.
Oh, if you climb a mountain and you turn around
and you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills…
well, the landslide will bring it down;
The landslide will bring it down…
To my almost-first-grade boy: Thank you for taking me to the top of the mountain.