A couple of weekends ago, I took the kids to Caddo Lake for a weekend with Grammy and Grampy, camping in an old farm house with a great view of the cypress trees and sunset on the water. It was a nice time to reconnect and allow the stress to melt away a bit. I was there for a few hours before I felt I was taking my first deep breath of the summer.
I forget exactly what happened to bring about this conversation, but anyone who knows my son, Harrisen, will understand. Mom and I began discussing how blessed I am and how special and sweet both children are. We talked of their spirits and budding souls, and the conversation wound around, as conversations tend to do, to Harrisen and his tenderness.
Since he was a tiny baby, he has been a gentle soul. There is something incredibly tender and achingly sweet about his nature and spirit that make you want to grab him up and protect him from a sometimes cruel and hateful world. He has an innocence that is not found in many children these days, that is not solely due to my refusal to have toy weapons or anything harsher than LPB on the television. His sister does not have it. Evangeline, though 2 years younger and not yet three, juts out her chin and dares the world to cross her. She has a toughness about her that leaves me shaking my head already. Evangeline sees danger as a challenge. Harrisen sees danger as a confusing darkness he does not understand.
Harrisen tries so hard to please and takes to heart lessons, advice and direction. He admonishes his sister's devil-may-care approach with a sweet concern that likely stems from his lifelong lesson on being a big brother that he could likely quote word for word: "Evangeline is your baby sister. Your job is to help take care of her, protect her and love her." This is a job he takes very seriously.
Harrisen takes pride in his accomplishments and comes, wide eyed to you for acknowledgment and acceptance. He is mannerly, gentle and easily upset. His boy-like roughness is not hard like a kick or sharp like a poke, but rather like a pile of warm, snuggly puppies rolling around in a wicker basket.
When Harrisen is corrected, his eyes get big and soft, and he tucks his chin. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes he gets mad...but he always comes back, and in a sincerity that outpaces his years, asks for forgiveness. He seems to sense the importance of relationship and closeness and nurtures it with all of us. In some ways it makes him seem like a baby, while in other ways, he seems to be as wise as an old man. In some ways it makes him seem vulnerable, and in another way, it makes him seem (sometimes) stronger than me.
These are all qualities I love and cherish in my son...my first-born....my long-awaited. These things I am proud of. These things make him different from many of the other boys I have known. I find joy in his very unique self.
But, rocking on the screen porch of the lake house, Mom and I wondered aloud to each other, "Is Harrisen tough enough? Is his tenderness going to stand in the way of his growing up to be the kind of man he needs to be?" As mothers do best, we worry. We concern ourselves with bullies and harsh realities and inevitable heartbreaks.
About this time, Grampy walks up with a styrofoam container of worms and a fishing pole. He announces to us in his typical spare way, "Boys are goin' fishin'." Harrisen puts on his green monster life vest that he isn't too grown up to be embarrassed of and practically flies down to the pier.
We rock. Back and forth.
A few minutes later we hear a commotion coming from down on the pier. Seems my sweet boy has caught his first fish!
Some time later, Harrisen and Grampy come bustling up the path with a small igloo cooler containing four fat bream. Harrisen beams. He opens the cooler and asks Grampy if he can hold his fish. Grampy shows him how to put his thumb in the fish's mouth and pinch it tight so we can take the requisite photographs. Evangeline reaches out with one girly finger to touch the slimy scales and runs away shrieking. Harrisen is totally unfazed. He is totally digging holding this flipping, flopping, slimy fish. I am impressed. My son is doing something seemingly effortlessly...something I would only be capable of under penalty of death or mortal embarrassment.
He spends a few more minutes picking the fish up, dropping them in the grass, putting them back in the cooler and generally pestering them half to death when Grampy says, "So, Harrisen...what are you gonna do with your fish? Do you want to clean them and eat them, or let them go?"
Harrisen says, "I want to clean them!"
Visions of Harrisen adding dishwashing liquid to the cooler and adding tub toys for their enjoyment swirl in my mind. I know he does not understand the concept of cleaning a fish.
K: Harrisen, do you understand what cleaning a fish means?
H: Ummmm...I think so.
K: It means you have to kill the fish, H.
K: You will have to cut the head off and get the guts out. The fish is going to die. Are you ok with that, honey?
H: Yep. I want to eat em.
K: Ok. That's good. I just want to make sure you understand.
H: I understand. Come on, Grampy. Let's go clean my fish.
I sit down, woozy. The boys take off back down to the pier.
Mom and I resume our conversation...
M: Are you going to go take pictures of him cleaning his fish?
K: I'm not sure I can. It kinda skeeves me out. I don't like seeing them die.
M: You need to take a picture.
K: I still don't think he gets what is about to happen.
M: Kate, I think he does. You spelled it out. He knows, and he's ok with it.
I haul my queasy self down to the pier and watch (and record for posterity) Grampy whack each fish several times with the back of a big metal spoon before he cuts off their heads. Harrisen says "bye" to each fish as they meet the buck-knife guillotine. He uses his chubby little fingers to dig guts out of their bodies. He holds each fish down firmly as he saws the scales off with the big silver spoon. His blond curls glisten with fish scales. He smiles. He is proud. He seems taller.
I can only witness something I can't fully understand. The man is hiding in every little boy. Even my sweet, precious, innocent and vulnerable little boy. This is something he did not need me for. He did not need me to scale that fish. The desire and gumption to do that was born in him...drug along on that Y-chromosome from the moment he was created. I feel a satisfying distance grow between mother and son at that moment. He has stepped through a door. I watch my four year old son do something I am unable to do. He has connected with something lying dormant inside of him, brought out by love and trust for another man who showed him the way.
This is how men are made. I pray that, along with many loving and kind men and women in his life, I am helping make a good one.