Brevity Fifteen

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By Nancy Linnon

He slid down the big Curly-Q slide today. It was starting to rain, a light drizzle rare in our desert town, but we agreed it didn’t matter. The feat was too momentous. He knew it, and so did I.

While kids his age and height (2 years old, 3 feet tall) have gone flying down such slides for months, Jake has generally held back. I’d stand at the bottom and yell up to him “I’m right here, love bug. Mama will catch you.” But he’d give me that look, the one that knew that safety at the end doesn’t mitigate the fall. So I never pushed it. He would go when ready, though privately his timidity pushed at my own vulnerability: It wasn’t wise to be so scared—as I had been since the day he was born: Not that something would happen to him, not that I would do something wrong, but terrified that I would not be able to mother at all. I was afraid I was not giving or selfless enough to be a mom, afraid that caring for him would mean I’d never again care for myself.

So today, after a couple of times down the straight-shooting orange slide, his announcement—“the red one now”—came as quite a surprise. But he was clearly ready; he hardly hesitated. Didn’t ask that I move around to the side so he could see me. Didn’t make sure I was perfectly positioned where he might land. Just sat down at the top, seven feet above the ground, pulled his legs around in front of him, and whoosh. I was prepared for big round eyes as he rounded the slope of the slide, arms flailing because he couldn’t keep his body erect, or a panicked “too fast,” or “scared.” But none of those things happened. With a light touch from me, he landed on his feet, happy. We were both so excited—mine demonstrated by a loud “Yeah!” and “You did it, honey! Way to go!”; his taking the form of a small squished smile that I glimpsed as I hugged him from behind, right before he hurried to the top again.

Just as Jake was about to begin his second descent, two girls from across the street—probably 8 and 10 years old—headed toward us with their dad. Jake spotted them and stood up from where he had carefully sat down.

“Hello everybody,” he said, his hands gripping the yellow rails of the play gym as he peeked through. “Look at me.”

I was sure his voice had dropped an octave.

Then, down he went again. Of course, the other children hadn’t heard his small voice, intent as they were on reaching the swings, their father intent on watching them. When Jake landed, he took a step toward them: “Look at me! Look at me!” I stood behind him, worried, that he might be crushed by no one seeing his accomplishment, that he’d start to think it wasn’t important. But apparently, my witness was enough, as he pivoted on his tiny Tevas and scrambled to the top, more sure of himself than I had ever seen him.

“Again, Mama,” he yelled, positioning his body for a third run.

Had he grown a micro-millimeter taller? Had some synapse in his brain connected differently today? Was it the clouds and the rain, or the gathering purple dusk—the time of day that he now announces is “mama’s favorite”?

What makes the intimidating not quite so anymore? What makes us move forward instead of cower? What is the moment that the scream of fear becomes barely a whisper, and we find ourselves doing what we never imagined?


Nancy Linnon is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher in Tucson, AZ. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Yoga International and is forthcoming in Mothering magazine. Her essay “Hair” was a finalist in the National League of American Pen Women contest (San Francisco branch). She is currently finishing her MFA in creative nonfiction at Antioch University in Los Angeles.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore

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