Lately Eliza and I have been taking walks. We’ve had a February filled with sun, a rarity here in Missoula, so we’ve taken to the hills.
“How far do we have to go?” Eliza asked the first time we set out.
“To the top,” I said.
Much whining ensued on her part but she walked with me to the tree, then to the next tree, then to the fence line, then up to meet the trail that goes to the top. As we walked she talked.
I heard once from my therapist husband that boys need to move their bodies to talk about how they feel. You can’t expect to sit them down and have them tell you all about the inner workings of their minds and hearts. They are just as willing to tell you what you want to know as girls but the mechanism by which they do this is very different. Hike, bike, skate. With their bodies in motion, they can access the places inside themselves that allow us, as the adults who care about them, to really get a handle on what’s going on with them.
Eliza is self described as half, half, so I wondered if this strategy would work with her. When Eliza was a baby she was a little fussy. The day she first scooted across the wood floors on her belly something changed in her. When she was able to bring her knees under her and propel herself from one side of the room to another, she turned into a different baby. She was free from the confines of a buddha baby body that wouldn’t move. She’s been moving ever since.
Time seems to be speeding up these days and I am keenly aware that puberty is around the corner. No matter how I try to dig in my heels and savor every last moment, Eliza is getting older. I want to make sure we are ready for whatever lies ahead. I want her to know that I’m right beside her not matter how these next few years unfold. But trying to talk to her, to really talk to her, in the space of our days is nearly impossible. There’s school, there’s work, there’s dinner, there’s homework, there’s a little sister who can sniff out my desire to have time with her older sister more quickly that just about anything.
So, I asked her to go for a walk.
“Just me and you?” she said.
“Just me and you,” I said.
“Can we go now?”
“Now!” I said.
Seth ran interference with Lucille. Eliza and I put on our shoes. We made our way through our neighborhood, under the highway overpass and onto the trail. We ran, we skipped, we held hands. Then we walked up the hill. I asked her about school, about the horse project she’d been working on, then I broached the subject of gender.
What came next was nothing short of amazing. She was thoughtful, articulate, curious and it was clear to me that she had been thinking a lot about all she was saying. I didn’t say much because she had so much to say.
“As time goes on, I think we’ll know more, Mom,” she said as we made our way back down the hill.
I was taken aback by how wise she is, at eight, about things that so many people grapple with as adults. It hit me again that this little creature has been stretching me, opening me, pushing me since she lay sticky on my chest on a warm August night. She and I, it’s no coincidence, and I am so much better for it.
Since that first hike, we’ve taken several more. Now, our feet barely hit the gravel before she starts talking. I think she knows this is her time to speak. So she does. I answer her questions, tell her I’ve found some people we can talk to when I don’t have the answers but mostly I just let her go.
Last Sunday as we passed through the last gate before heading back down the gravel road toward home, I noticed, again and for the millionth time, how comfortable she is with her body. Her half, half body. I pulled her close breathing in the smell of her, shampoo mingled with kid sweat. Just as I wanted to bottle the sweet smell of breast milk on her neck as a baby, I want to bottle this too and keep it forever. I want to keep her this way forever. Confident, whole. I hope I’m not naive to think that if we just keep walking and she keeps talking, I can.