My favorite pair of jeans have a stain running down the right thigh. It’s a faded rust color in the shape of a dozen or so tear drops, and regardless of how much I scrub them, the stain won’t come out. I still wear them because they make my backside border on perky, and we all know that’s just short of an act of God, when you’re a smidge shy of forty.
The jeans and their stain remind me of the afternoon we walked around the animal park near our home in Switzerland a few weeks before we moved. I was already mourning our move, and most of the memories of last summer rush by in a blur. I remember my girl trying on a helmet with antlers, and I absent-mindedly wondered how many heads had worn that very same hat. I can still see the sun bouncing off the red and yellow carousel at the park, and I can feel summertime clinging to the air–a mix of grilled bratwurst, storm clouds gathering, and the background buzz of a language I never did understand.
We left the dog at the doggie rest area, tied loosely in the shade with a bowl of water and some other canine friends. We returned after a short walk, and when my husband picked the dog up and carried him to the parking lot, Bailey jumped out of his arms at the sight of our car. His leg buckled after his fall, and he scrambled to recover. He cut his foot on a stone, and when I lifted him up to assess the damage, blood dripped from his wound onto my favorite butt-camouflaging pants. I don’t know why he jumped from the safety of my husband’s arms, but it was a harsh landing, and I have the teardrop shaped stains on my jeans to prove it.
I have a kid who wants to learn everything the hard way. We hold this one tight, we keep them so close, close enough to feel our heartbeat and the lifeblood that pulses out from it. And yet, this one wants to jump. Even when we offer words of caution, even when we tighten our grip, even when the earth and it’s cutting stones hurl themselves at our child’s face. They still choose to leap from the safety of our arms. They ignore our hearts, the hearts that beat so sound and sure, the hearts that know the landing before the leap. And still, they jump. They scramble and limp and bleed, and we reach outside of our anger and disbelief to gather this one up from the mess. But these leaps always leave their mark, and we’re all covered with the blood and teardrop stains that prove it.
I tell this one, no matter how many times they jump, I will bend down to pick them up. I may bend in frustration, in anger, in disbelief, and in deep parental pain, but more than that, I will bend in a never-ending, never-giving up kind of love. If this means that I bend until my body and my heart nearly snaps in half, then so be it. I may bend, but I will never break.