One of the things I look forward to most when the weather starts to warm is my 45-minute three-and-a-half mile walk through the hilly terrain of my Connecticut neighborhood. The streets are generally quiet, save for the occasional car and fellow walkers who always exchange friendly greetings...
On Sunday, I was lucky enough to be joined by my younger son Jeremy, who stopped home for the weekend (after his Spring Break trip) before heading back to college the next morning.
Besides the enticement of visiting his parents and older brother were the promises of a free washing machine and home-cooked meal.
When he was younger, my pleas to have him join me on my walks were usually met with indifference; shooting hoops in the driveway or playing video games nearly always won out. But in recent years Jeremy is beginning to see the value and pleasure of walking outdoors and is generally willing to set out with me.
My usual route involves three hills, each varying in degree but none that would be considered small. These are tough to ascend, made tougher after a long winter when my body is unused to walking outdoors and engaging different muscles. But there's unquestionably something energizing about the breathless satisfaction that comes after reaching the top and then, the excitement and utter relief that instantly follows the much-easier descent.
We had a lot to catch up on during our walk. Jeremy told me about his trip and I filled him in on what was going on in my life. As we walked, our talk moved to more personal things; our strides grew longer and more thoughtful as did the cadence of our chatter and the breadth of our topics.
Perhaps the most stirring moment of our walk was this: When a passing car came a little too close and a little too fast, my son protected me as instinctively as I had when he was a small child in the car seat next to me and I stopped short, my arm reflexively shooting across his small chest.
"Let's change places," Jeremy suggested as he gently prodded me to the inside of the curb so he could walk closer to the street.
At that moment I realized that he was not just acting as a chivalrous male, like he does when he helps me on with my coat or holds the door. More than that, my son was shielding me from the dangers of life - those same dangers that I had instinctively shielded him from from the moment I knew I was pregnant.
There are times when I longingly eye a mother with her small child. Although I know she's most likely afflicted with all the same things I was wishing away at that time - like sleep deprivation, self-doubt or frustration - I can't help but miss the days when I knew my child was safe, simply because he was always by my side or easily within my reach.
Yes, I will always be the mother struggling to shield her children from all of life's dangers, sometimes successfully but not always able to. That will never change and is the painful yet inevitable part of being a mother.
We are now - my young adult children and me - fully present for one another, each looking out for the other while exchanging knowing glances.