August 25, 2011
It’s 1:59 PM as I turn down the long drive to Justin’s horseback riding camp, and I’m sweating bullets because my son will be performing promptly at 2:00 whether I’m in attendance or not. I’m chastising myself profusely for succumbing to a “bargaining game” with my youngest before I left the house, a choice I made to engage in a ridiculous discussion as to why I had to leave him for the first time in hours, a decision which has subsequently almost made me late. I force myself to slow down as I enter horse country, remind myself that I am here after all, and that my inner compulsion to be ten minutes early to everything is my issue, and not necessary for Justin’s happiness at all. I find an empty spot next to my mother’s car, I watch her put away the phone she was about to use to find out where her usually prompt daughter could be, and exhale.
Grandma and I turn and approach the barn, and I see Justin hanging over the gate, grinning ear-to-ear, ecstatic to see us both. My eldest carries a deep and abiding affection for his father, but he’s always loved his girls, and having us together in one place pretty much constitutes nirvana for him. Couple our presence with the fact he’s going to get to ride a horse again AND perform for us, and my son is pretty much on the moon at the moment, literally eager to get on with the show.
Last summer I wrote about his first foray into horseback riding camp, and I felt compelled to scroll back through my blog and get a sense of where we were then, and where we reside now. I recalled that we had just come off of several months of intermittent illnesses, which ramped up Justin’s OCD considerably. I myself was still battling what I like to call my “annual bronchitis dance”, which generally renders me just ill enough to be annoyed for eight to ten weeks, but remain (marginally) functional. If I’m being perfectly honest with myself, last June I wasn’t in the best of places emotionally from dealing both with Justin’s recurring ear infections, and from being at half-mast myself.
I recall that as I took my seat next to my mother on the unforgiving wooden bench to watch Justin and his horse enact their maneuvers, that I was anxious, and profoundly tired. I recall having to avoid his outstretched hand as he shuffled past me to his steed, because if we made contact he’d be straining to lead us both to the car to start our journey home. It’s a 90 minute round-trip twice a day to this farm, and the sheer logistics of getting my eldest here while figuring out what to do with my then three-year-old had just about combusted my already illness-addled brain.
In other words, come hell or high water, mommy was going to get to see a damn horse show.
In my now (relatively) clear brain I retrieved all of these details as we strode up to the entrance, but this time my son eagerly places his hand in within the circle of the outstretched fingers of the volunteer waiting to escort him to his ride. He straddles his equine friend with ease and begins to perform, the walking back and forth across the barn that now includes him navigating with the reins, as well as the subtle kick required to spur his horse into the trot he so adores. He appeared more in control this year, and his execution of the tasks at hand were slightly more demanding of him than last year’s tricks. I’m told his “seat” is improved, that he sits up straighter in the saddle, is more in harmony with the rhythm of his mount. All of these nuances, these signs of progress are wonderful, so worth the schlepping and the logistics to get him here.
But the real story is his smile.
A year ago he was compliant, happy to perform, and equally content to leave the premises at the conclusion. I had a few shots where I was rewarded with his pearly whites, but generally he was very serious, more sober in his demeanor as he paraded around this old wooden structure. It’s important to me to get a few photos where he demonstrates his joy at each event we take him to, not because they’re “prettier” depictions of him, but because at his core, his is a joyful soul. I’ll do just about anything to get those photos, have been known to evoke Elmo, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in falsetto, and contort my body into ridiculous positions to evoke a slight smile, the latter decision being one I generally deeply regret later.
This summer, summoning Cirque de Soleil was not required.
Justin literally didn’t cease smiling the entire show, nor did he stop making eye contact with me or my mother, making certain we didn’t miss a single second. I have it all on video, as well as on our digital camera. I literally had to sift through the stills for this piece just to pick the best ones, and there were so many to choose from, it wasn’t easy. My boy loved every minute of his time to shine. At the end, when I asked him to stand next to the lovely teen-aged volunteer who’d been his virtual shadow all week, I didn’t have to prompt him, or ask twice. He simply sidled into her and draped one arm casually across her shoulders, and flashed that ecstatic grin which means the world to me.
Then he grabbed my hand, and gave me what I’ve come to call “the get me juice now woman” look.
Small steps. Progress. Joy in sharing a moment. It took us almost eight years to get to this place, and it’s been worth every minute of fear, effort, frustration, and sacrifice. My boy is really, truly, happy.
And that reality is really, truly, something.