A Walk with My Son (Fifty Shades of Grace series)
Finding Harmony Blog is featuring five guest posts all week as excerpts from a just released book, Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise, published by Herald Press (April 17, 2013). I served as compiler/editor for the book and wrote about that process on Mennobytes blog. Today’s story is by Jodi Nisly Hertzler; her bio appears below.
Guest post by Jodi Nisly Hertzler
Perhaps it was the chilly, drizzly morning (a drastic change from the muggy, sunny July weather we’d endured all week). Perhaps it was awakening too late to claim the favored corner of the couch. Or perhaps it was the fact that his younger brother had already selected the Saturday cartoon to be watched that morning. Whatever it was, my son was having a horrible morning. And things only worsened when an art project he’d labored over the last twenty-four hours disintegrated during the final steps. My husband and I winced at the shrieks of despair and anguish emitting from his bedroom. Flinched as he shouted at his brother to go away. Nearly fled the house as he stormed back downstairs, clearly caught between tears and the urge to break every window in the house.
Every attempt to defuse the situation resulted in bellowed disagreement. We tried to engage his help with the family jigsaw puzzle, then had to send him away for fear of injury to the puzzle or to his siblings. I attempted to provide a comfortable place for him to read in solitude, but his funk had robbed him of the ability to concentrate. Food didn’t help; time-outs didn’t help.
I was tempted to leave the boy to stew in his own angry juices. He was clearly ruining everyone’s relaxed Saturday morning with his eleven-year-old angst and I honestly didn’t feel like dealing with such a maelstrom of emotion. I poured myself a cup of coffee and prepared to just wait it out. But watching him, I was reminded of myself at his age, and I recalled the volatile mood swings I used to have . . . I saw myself in that angry boy huddled on the couch, growling at anyone who glanced his way. And I remembered my father’s method of dealing with me. When he’d see me caught up in my emotions—all tangled up in anger and frustration with no tools to free myself—my gentle, patient father would insist that we go for a walk. I have many memories of twilight walks around our neighborhood, talking with my dad, the air and exercise and company easing my troubled mind.
So I took a fortifying gulp of coffee and a deep breath and gingerly approached the seething dragon that lay within my son. “How about we go for a walk?”
I was sure he’d say no. The cold, wet drizzle outside was hardly inviting. But perhaps the miserable weather appealed to his inner tempest, because he agreed at once. So we set out. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I told myself not to bring up the morning’s troubles, but to allow him to dictate the level of interaction. We jogged to the intersection, crossed the busy highway, and progressed up the sidewalk, toward a small woodland not far away.
The rain-washed air and burst of exercise must have had a purging effect, because the treetops of our destination were barely in sight when my son started unloading. He took me step by step through his failed attempt at art. But his voice remained calm; he didn’t dissolve into tears or anger. I expressed my understanding. We considered options for repair. He sighed.
Then we moved on to other topics. We talked about the upcoming school year and he admitted to nervousness about how much harder things will be in middle school. I agreed that the work might be more difficult but assured him that he’s a quick learner, and that his main challenge will be organization. He considered that for a moment, then challenged me to a race to the edge of the woods. He won (barely).
We entered the woods, and the conversation turned to observations of the fallout from a recent violent windstorm. We marveled over felled trees and the park bench that lay splintered under one of them. We looked for poison ivy and studied stream levels. We breathed clean, fresh air, and admired the umbrella of trees sheltering us from the rain. We traversed muddy paths, jumped over puddles, and gingerly made our way across a wooden plank, wondering at the fate of the bridge that once lived there.
As we walked, I watched my son. My firstborn. This boy on the cusp of puberty. He’s small for his age, but he’s quick and strong and agile. And barefoot—even on hikes, my boy disdains shoes. Large hazel eyes belie the workings of a mischievous mind and remind me of his first year, when old ladies in grocery stores used to coo, “Hello, bright eyes” when they saw him. His persistent curiosity about the world is the reason we had to buy toilet locks when he was a toddler. He struggles to concentrate in school, but he’s an amazingly creative thinker and constantly surprises me with the things he comes up with. Of all my children, he’s the one who most often causes me to lose my temper, but he’s also the one who most often makes me laugh.
I pondered these things as we walked back home, and I acknowledged that we’re approaching a turning point. My boy is nearing the end of his boyhood. Male hormones will soon take over and change him into someone I can’t quite imagine yet. I have high hopes for the man he’ll become, but I already mourn the loss of the tree-climbing, Lego-building, creek-exploring child he is.
Months have passed since that day. My son still reminisces about that walk we took in the rain, but for me it’s more than a fun memory. It was a moment out of time. This walk that we took—the rain that chilled our cheeks and washed our ragged emotions, the trees that provided a sheltering canopy over us—did more than just calm an angry eleven-year-old. It helped me to put our present preteen frustrations into the perspective of the entire life path that my son is journeying, from his first breaths in my arms to the first time I watched him climb aboard a school bus, and on into the misty, unknowable future. I was granted a new connection to my son right at the time when he’s starting to become his own man.
That morning walk gave us time to think and to talk and to play together. A chilly, drizzly, wonderful space in time.
Jodi Nisly Hertzler is a tutor at Eastern Mennonite School, proofreader and copy editor for MennoMedia, and the author of Ask Third Way Café: 50 Quirky and Common Questions About Mennonites and a guest columnist for Another Way newspaper column. She and her husband, Shelby, have two sons and one daughter. They are members of Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va.
More stories like this: This story and 49 more like it can be found in the new book, Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise. It is easy reading and inspirational—a great Mother’s day gift or for birthdays, anniversaries, personal devotional, or a book to share with a friend or relative. A 30 percent discount is available until May 1, making the book just $9.09 plus shipping. You can also watch a trailer for the book here and find a news release here.