Writing was a struggle this week. With the start of summer, I completely said good-bye to any writing schedule I had previously established and lost a good bit of motivation. I’ve had a nasty cold that won’t leave me alone, and I’ve been so busy trying to cram fun into my kids’ summer that it is starting to become un-fun for everyone.
On top of that, my poor Sawyer-boy is miserable. It appears that in my great push for outdoor exploring and letting the kids start to test their boundaries this summer, my son seems to have explored his way right into a patch of poison ivy.
The poor thing is covered – face, fingers, legs, stomach, and even his crotch – in a messy red rash of itchy scabs and blisters. By viewing this trail of destruction on his skin, it is easy to tell what he did after encountering the poison ivy – wiped the sweat or bugs off of his face, pulled down his pants, and peed in the woods. Boys!
During the past few nights, he wakes in the middle of night and calls for me. Now, I could pretend this is an irregularity, but the truth is he often wakes in the middle of the night and tries to make his way into my bed. However, these poison ivy induced middle of the night wake-ups have been different. Usually, I can lead him back to bed and pat his back for a couple of minutes until he quickly falls back asleep, but now his itchy, poison ivy covered body will not let him rest. I cover him in calamine lotion, and then he scratches and wiggles and whines in his bed until he gives up on sleep. My normal 3 a.m. this week involves discussion of who would win a dinosaur battle, Tyrannosaurus Rex or Carnotaurus.
In the mornings, he is equally miserable and just wants to snuggle in bed or have me sit beside him and watch episodes of Dinosaur King. So, I do. I slather him again in anti-itch cream, give him some Benadryl, call the doctor just in case, and then sink down onto the sofa with him.
I stare at the laundry I wanted to fold. I look across the room at the kitchen counter still cluttered with empty yogurt containers, milk glasses, and a pile of uneaten strawberries. I see my computer open to a blank document, a story yet to be told. I see the dozens of tiny little Shopkins and Disney princess clip dolls strewn about on the floor, just begging to be stepped on.
But, instead of feeling frustrated for all that I could be doing, I turn my attention to my son. Not to Dinosaur King, definitely not to Dinosaur King. (I much prefer when my daughter is sick and we can watch princess movies and not this weird time-traveling Pokémon want-to-be. But, it has dinosaurs, so my son is happy). I hold him close and look at those angry red marks on his skin and wish them away.
I feel guilty that he is covered in poison ivy, and I wonder if perhaps I have let him have a bit too much freedom in the woods. Maybe I should re-establish the boundaries of our yard and be more careful about where I allow him to explore, but he has so much fun in the woods – exploring and digging and making trails like his daddy.
It is hard, this gradual release of the strings that hold him tight to my side. Because with each bit of slack I give him, I know that missteps are inevitable. There will be scraped knees, stubbed toes, splinters … and poison ivy.
I want him to lead the kind of life where he appreciates and explores nature, just not the kind of life where he runs into poison ivy, or other things that make him miserable. But as much as I don’t like to see my boy suffer, I also know that sometimes he needs to be able to let go of my hand and figure things out for himself.
As he snuggles onto my lap, I plan a future walk on our trails where we will practice identifying poison ivy. We will chant, “Leaves of three, let it be.” Maybe we will get on the computer, do a little research, and make a chart of what poison ivy leaves look like.
But right now, we just sit and cuddle. Soon enough, the Benadryl will wear off and he will beg to go outside in the yard with his sister. He will spend the day with a stick in hand, digging in the dirt, and building “secret hideouts” behind our shed. I will watch at a distance, giving him a chance to do things on his own but struggling with the question: How far is too far away from me?