"Mom, can we go to the park with the barns?" Ethan asked from the backseat. "Northwest Park?
Northwest Park is a gem. There's a playground there, and also nature trails and a nature center; a pond with frogs and turtles; the animal barn. We hadn't been there since the fall. I turned the car in that direction.
Once there, I followed Ethan and marveled. I marveled at the way he stopped and looked in the pond for fish instead of racing by. I marveled at the way he was able to tell me the scores of birds nesting in the rafters of the barn "are hurting my ears" -- rather than just refusing to walk in or trying to run away. I marveled at the way he actually wanted to feed the animals.
Two years ago I'd plotted with one of his therapists how to actually get him into the barn and to stop and look at the animals. Last year he'd go in but only wanted to look at the animals' food and water, not the actual creatures. Sometimes these days with Ethan I feel perfectly blessed to enjoy the kinds of activities most people get to do with their two-year-olds. We may be a little late, but I wouldn't miss it for the world.
We went to the nature center. I couldn't forget the day two years ago when all he wanted to do was play with the door that led to a play room off in the corner. This morning, he grabbed two puppets. I was Squirrel and he was Frog. He wanted them to fly. He wanted them to go play baseball, "and if Squirrel gets a home run Frog will give him a prize." He said Frog needed to go to the doctor because he got bitten by a dog. He wanted them both to move to new houses. He generated the ideas on his own. These were not little games we had played; exact repetitions of what he'd heard.
Outside the nature center, a sight stopped me short. The ground was white. My first thought was that the park employees had been doing some sort of sheep-shearing demonstration for a group of school kids. I thought the fluffy stuff was wool. It covered the ground outside the building and spread into the grass, collecting in mounds at the bottoms of trees. The patches of white reminded me of melting snow. I knelt down and picked some up.
They were puff balls. Thousands upon thousands of those white puff balls that had been blowing off of trees, making people sneeze; those same puffballs that Anna liked to pick up and blow and wish on like dandelions gone by.
Thousands of wishes, gathered in one spot. They smelled so sweet.
On the playground, the trees were snapped and scarred. I'd forgotten -- we hadn't been there since the October snowstorm. I'd remembered reading the park had lost hundreds of trees. The small ones surrounding the play area seemed to be clinging to life, having lost so many branches. For a moment I stared at them at them with a heavy heart.
But the essence of the park is still here, I had to remind myself. Not all is lost. It's still beautiful.
"I want to do the monkey bars," Ethan announced.
"Go ahead and try." The monkey bars were just right for a kid Ethan's age, set close to the ground. He grabbed them and hung there. I could see his little fingers slipping. In a moment, he dropped into the wood chips, laughing.
"I want to try again!" He raced back up. I thought of Anna at just his age, maybe six months older, conquering the monkey bars for the first time. She was so darned proud of herself. For a moment the words of OTs and PTs, the typed paragraphs on reports about low muscle tone and lack of coordination came swirling back to me, and I ached at the thought of him having to work so hard, extra hard, with his body working against him.
Ethan's legs were swinging back and forth as he stepped off the platform, hanging. He managed to move one hand and then the other to the next bar. Then dropped.
"You did it!" I cheered for him.
"I want to do more!" he announced. Back he went. The next few times, he dropped quickly. I could hear the physical therapist in my head. The low muscle tone makes him tire more quickly than other kids.
"Ethan, keep practicing, and I know you'll get it. Maybe next time we come," I said, trying to give him an out.
He had other plans. I watched him at the platform for the tenth time, scrapes and bruises all over his little legs from where he'd fallen on our hike the day before. Then he proceed to bite his lip in concentration, muster up the courage, and go all the way across to the other side.
You would've thought the Red Sox had won another World Series, the way I cheered and muffled him with hugs. I might have been more excited than Ethan was. He mostly grinned. But the grin said so much.
The day was getting steamy. We walked back to the car, pausing to say goodbye to the fish, frogs and turtle in the pond full of downed trees. We kicked across the gravel and I remembered to remember.