5:00am, 29 August 2012
Broadcove Beach Campground, Cape Breton, NS
We had arrived the night before, at dusk, in the onset of pouring rain, to select our campsite and set up our tents. During the night, I could hear the sound of retching, but it sounded like it was coming from the campsite beside us. I figured if it was one of my kids, they’d let me know.
I underestimated the independence and fortitude of my 10yr old.
At 3am, I awoke and, thinking it chilly, left our tent to make sure the older boys were warm enough in theirs, only to find he’d been the person throwing up for hours. I settled him back in with an extra blanket, told him to come let us know if he needed us, and returned to my tent to lie awake for the rest of the night, worried and wondering if he’d need me.
10 years is a funny age. He’s no longer a child, wanting to be cuddled and held, but he’s not yet a teenager demanding complete independence of me. He needs me and he doesn’t need me, and his desire to stay close wars with his desire to go the other direction on a daily basis. Tall and strong and so very bright, I can still see the uncertainty in his eyes as he pushes childhood behind him. He is stubbornly self-sufficient and wonderfully adaptable.
By 5am, he had given up on sleep and was sitting at the picnic table, wrapped in a blanket. Everyone else was sound asleep — only the sick boy and the worried mom awake under the brightening sky.
I got dressed and crawled out of the tent.
“Would you like to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic with me?”
We walked hand-in-hand down to the bench at the top of the cliff: just me, my oldest son, and our blanket. Echoing the many times I’ve comforted him and held him close over the years, he crawled onto my lap and I wrapped us in the blanket. We talked about so much, but mostly about how finite is our experience of various things in our lifetime.
As a parent to three now, this comes home to me frequently. “Is this the last time this baby will ever nurse?” “Is this the last time this boy will crawl into my bed to cuddle?” “Is this the last time he’ll hold my hand on the walk to school?” We try to catalogue these moments, as parents, but they’re much less tangible than the “firsts”. There’s no spot in a baby book for “the last time he kissed me goodbye in the schoolyard.”
We talked about how many times we might watch fireworks in our lives, or travel in a plane, or eat a coconut. The possibility to do these things is always there, but how often do we actually do them in one lifetime? The idea of infinite opportunity conflicting with finite experience grabbed his imagination. As an exercise in making lemonade out of an otherwise miserable experience, watching the day break over the water was a success.
The only thought in my mind, however, was this was the one and only time in my entire life that I will ever watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean with my eldest son at 10 years old — a child teetering on the cusp of being grown up.
We sat there for about half an hour in the early morning quiet, watching the horizon lighten, then pink, and then break over the ocean like the yolk of an egg. It was glorious. It was magical. It was heartbreaking.