After the Ferris Wheel


"No, Mommy, I want to go on the Ferris Wheel by myself," he says.
"But you can't. You're too small."
I point to the sign:
YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE WITHOUT AN ADULT!
..."See?"
Archer blinks at the letters on the wooden clown's polka-dotted sleeve.
"Fine," he says, taking my hand reluctantly. "You can come, too."

I climb the creaky steel ladder, hold onto the railing as he pulls me fearlessly, over cords and cracks in the platform, past the Ferris Wheel operator's chubby hands caked with dirt, reaching to block Archer so he doesn't cross the line of twisted duct tape faded red.

"Wait, son. Not yet. You have to stand behind the line."

"Listen to the Ferris Wheel boss," I say.

Archer kicks the line with his new shoe. Elbows the sides of the railing, pulls at me with sweaty hands.


"I don't like waiting," he whispers.

"Most people don't," I whisper back.

The Ferris Wheel turns above us, a clock with numbered baskets one through twelve. It ticks and tocks and creaks and shakes and children laugh and couples snuggle and a man in a faded baseball cap sits alone.

This is what life looks like, I think, watching behind sunglasses as faces twist and smile and frown and squint against the sun. This is what living feels like, I think as I watch children extend their hands, comb freedom with their fingers, high-five the sky. There are those who cling to safety bars, turn their faces from the view on high.

I used to relate most to the children but recently things have changed.


It can be scary to look down when you understand what it means to fall.

But Archer doesn't. He just wants to ride.

His eyes widen as the Ferris Wheel slows and then stops.

Two children step out of their car and run down the ramp into their parent's arms. They're big enough to ride alone. And more than likely, this time next year Archer will be too.


I squeeze his hand.

"Don't!" he says.

"What? I can't hold your hand?"

I reach for it again.

"Stop it!"

"Okay, sorry. Fine."

Fine.

We climb into our car and the attendant pulls the safety bar over our laps. Archer tries to pull it off, grimaces.

"No way. You can only ride if you wear a seat belt to keep you safe. So you don't fall out. See?"

I point to the big block letters on the side of the car:
STAY SEATED! DO NOT REMOVE SEAT BELT!
"This right here is the most important rule of all."

Archer can't read but he trusts that I am telling the truth. He traces his fingers over the letters until our box lurches forward, drifts backwards and raises slowly up, up, up and into the sky.


"Here we go!"

"Look at all the buildings, Mommy! Look at all the cars."

We put our hands in the sky and go around and around and around, like time.




My stomach churns in a way that reminds me I am adult. Even with my hands in the air. Even though I still say "whee!" as we go over the falls and down. Meanwhile Archer squints and shouts and throws his arms up, kicks his feet so that our car sways and tips and I hold on to him not because I'm afraid he's going to fall but because I need reinforcement.


Because he makes me feel safe.

The Ferris Wheel slows and then stops. Our turn to disembark so we do. And before I realize what has happened, he is gone. One hundred feet in front of me at least. He's running away.

"Wait! Stop!"

But he doesn't hear me. I panic. How could he possibly know how to find his way back all by himself? There's no way.


Recently I asked Archer if I could read him Runaway Bunny.

"NO! I don't like that book," he said. "The mommy is so mean."

"What! No! The mommy isn't mean. She wants her baby to feel safe - to know that she is there for him. She wants to protect him, make him the happiest little bunny in the garden!"

But Archer shook his head, pointed to the baby bunny with sails for ears, the mother bunny blowing wind.

"See? She's chasing him. She's trying to trap him," he said.

I think of this conversation suddenly as I'm darting after Archer, calling his name.



"Slow down! Wait for me! You need to hold my hand in crowds! STOP, ARCHER! STOP! You have to wait..."

But he knows where he's going. He darts through the the crowd like a cat, his green shirt flashing behind booths sponsored by Yogurt and stands selling Nescafe Frappes, past the Greek dancers, up the concrete steps and into the arms of his father.

"... for me."

I'm out of breath when I arrive, my head cloudy with a chance of epiphanies.

"See, mommy?" Archer says. "I can do it by myself now."

IF ONLY THERE WAS A SIGN I COULD POINT TO TELLING HIM OTHERWISE.


GGC

57 comments:

Krystal | 12:22 AM

OUCHIE, that hurt my heart...

Why do kids think that they need to go and get all grown up on us? Mine are doing the same.

It's not easy at all.

My Dad told me, "Punky, you can only raise them, you cant live life for them.". I think of that line daily.

Elena from Greece | 12:24 AM

when a child wants to be independent, i think that means that he feels loved and safe. be happy about that!

Sharnanigans | 2:41 AM

love it. My first baby is 9 months so I can only imagine that I will be the same..... terrified of their confidence and lack of fear - but also it is inspiring! New to your blog. Really enjoying it & have become follower. you can find me at
http://chroniclesofsharnia-sharnanigans.blogspot.com/

Little Miss Moi | 3:58 AM

Oh rebecca, don't don't don't tell me this! I'm in total denial that this will ever happen to me. And multiply that by the number of subsequent children, should I have...

Bethany | 4:11 AM

Wow, Rebecca. Wow, wow, wow. This was a beautiful post.

Erin, Nick and Merrick | 4:23 AM

Wow how he read into that story so differently.
Kids are amazing.

Grammacello.JoAnne | 5:01 AM

What a beautiful piece, Rebecca. Someday I will tell you my story if I get a chance. Someone once told me that this was the VERY BEST TIME (where you are) with kids- when mine were the age of yours and I didn't know what he meant. I do now. Now that they are all grown and gone and the most joyous and tragic things have happened to them and to me, and my work is all done except for loving them. You would laugh that I can relate so immediately- both mine are older that YOU! It is a magic time you are in and I thank you for sharing it with us so eloquently.
Grammacello

Heather | 5:42 AM

You have such a beautiful way with words and really capturing the feelings of most of us mothers out there. Kudos to you!

And I agree with Elena from Greece, that is the sign of a loved and secure child :)

Marie-Ève | 6:11 AM

Great post again. It's lovely to hear about Archer and see him grow up before our eyes (look at this big, independent boy)! His rock star quality is killing me. He's four and he says the mom in the book is trapping the baby huh? Trouble.

Pamela | 6:15 AM

**sniffles**

Beautiful! Expecting my first baby, a boy, in two weeks. I also expect to be the same way.

Susan Gibbs | 6:28 AM

Great post. Some one your best writing yet.

renee | 6:41 AM

Jane Smiley once wrote that "The Runaway Bunny" is a gender litmus test: the masculine hates it, the feminine loves it. Me, I always thought it was about how you could never get away from your mother, so I have to say I'm with Archer. I won't read it to my kids.

It is an incredible moment when you realize you can trust your child. I'm not there yet with my 4-year-old...

Bobbie | 6:45 AM

Totally frightening when they assume/assert such independence from you at such a young age!! So hard because you want them to exercise their independence (at least for now) within your boundaries, which they just don't get!

jiveturkey | 6:49 AM

Crying at work now. Oh my goodness.

Before my daughter was born, there was an entire laundry list of things I was deeply afraid of. Now that she's here, the one thing that scares me most is the thought of her growing up and needing me less and less every day.

KRYSTAL: I love your Dad's advice. I need to repeat that to myself.

Suzanne | 7:37 AM

Beautiful, beautiful post. Getting verklempt ...

That's What She Said | 7:54 AM

God dammit this made me cry. ANNOYING.

XOXOXO

mountain.mama | 8:08 AM

This was so beautifully written! And because it is heartfelt all of us moms can relate to it. I had to take my baby to college last month and LEAVE her. And yes I know, it's not that far away, and it's time and how great she can be independent, blah, blah, blah but it still hurts. You do your job and raise them right and it still hurts. Life in the sun on the ferris wheel. Yes.

Hmm, and my verification word is float!

Wild to Child | 8:25 AM

Such a heartbreaking post! It's terrible to know that eventually they aren't going to need you...but in reality they always will.

Amber
http://www.wildtochild.com

armdsol | 8:48 AM

LOVE how you write,, just bought your book, i'm waiting for it to arrive :)

sellersgang | 9:10 AM

I just teared up AT WORK. This is beautiful.

You are obviously an excellent mother and your children are precious! Kudos to you! I am a new reader and am thoroughly enjoying your blog and just wanted you to know. :)

sellersgang | 9:10 AM

I just teared up AT WORK. This is beautiful.

You are obviously an excellent mother and your children are precious! Kudos to you! I am a new reader and am thoroughly enjoying your blog and just wanted you to know. :)

BobbyBaby | 10:06 AM

oh,uh, beautifully writen, as always :)
i have a 4.5y old one and she is all about independence.
but to tell the truth im a complete freak about kids running away in the crowds, im always being chased by the thoughts of nasty people kidnapping them :(
so runing away in any kind of public place with crowds/lots of unknown people is a huge NO NO for us.
she tried to get away few times, but im trying as much as possible to give her the independance in other situations, so that this one cant be compromised.

archers outfit rocks :)))

BobbyBaby | 10:11 AM

also, the part about children living the moment, and things changing when you know what it is like to fall down - priceless :)
its exactly what i've been thinking about lately on how come i've changed and how come i, should i say, crave safety

Amanda | 10:18 AM

Dead on Rebecca (as usual).

Jack pushes me away and constantly tries to stretch the invisible safety leash I *try* to keep him on.

"Stay close!"
"Careful!"
"Hold my hand!"

I breaks my heart when he pushes me away while I try to hug him, more interested in running over hills than being in my arms. I used to think the momma rabbit in Runaway Bunny was too clingy, and now? I get it.

whitney | 10:37 AM

its official. just teared up at work. thanks.

clueless but hopeful mama | 10:58 AM

Jeez, girl. You can WRI-ITE.

I was on the edge of my seat reading this.

Jill | 11:25 AM

Jesus. You're one fearless writer. I wish I could do that.

Dana | 12:07 PM

that stabbed at my heart

lovely

and yet so terrible

my oldest just started high school and i feel the same wistfulness

Nicola Proctor | 2:03 PM

So lovely!

My eldest is about the same age as Archer and we are going through the exact same thing. So comforting to know I'm not the only one who runs berzerk through crowds after her kid.

I'm driving myself demented and in addition to fretting that he will get lost somewhere, am also worried that he will look back on this part of his life and wonder why the only thing I ever seemed to say was, "BENJAMIN! YOU MUST STOP RUNNING WHEN MAMMY SAYS STOP!!!"

duck | 2:50 PM

Oh you just completely captured the fight I have within myself every single day. My Little one is still so young but I can feel it building every day. Her wanting to walk down the stairs like a big girl. Her wanting to climb up into her high chair, her wanting to sit by herself at a restaurant. I want to protect her and cheer her on at the same time. If this is just the beginning of this feeling I can not fathom what it will be like in another few years.

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub | 3:33 PM

I loved this post. Really beautiful and thoughtful.... treading the line between wonder at how little boys grow up and fear of letting them do it. As a mom of three (usually) fearless boys, I feel like I've been in this spot for the last 8 years. I always couple the fears with feelings of pride in their independence, though.

Ray | 5:09 PM

This is my new favorite of yours! I love your storytelling and the photos. Absolutely awesome. Looks like Archer's already searching for his independence.

Taking the kids to the amusement park must have been great. It's nice to go as an adult, but nice as well to see it through a child's eyes. ;o)

P.S. You should DEFINITELY pick up this children's book called, "Love You Forever" by Robert N. Munsch. I read some of the pages in a K-Mart one day and fell in love with it.

Suzy | 5:42 PM

I read recently that your relationship with your child is the only love relationship you have where everything you do for them is to get them ready to leave you.
My baby is only 5.5 months and, while I'm so proud of everything she does on her own, I also wish she were still that tiny baby who just slept on me all day.

Amira @definemature.com | 5:45 PM

wonderful post, as usual.

My stinkypants, at 9 months, is already starting to show signs of independence and it's just way too early for me.

Independence is bittersweet, but definitely more bitter.

Darcy | 6:57 PM

The colors of these photos are so rich and bright! a perfect combo of words and art.

bapoo | 7:02 PM

Glad to know I'm not the only one who's "baby" somehow makes them feel safe!

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog | 7:09 PM

Loved this, though it broke my heart and made me nauseous.

I am off to get a dry erase board so that I CAN have a sign to point to, whenever I feel the need...

Gemma | 7:20 PM

ping-pang-ping
Heart strings being tugged! You very nearly made me cry there...exceptional writing.

Dana | 7:58 PM

WAIT! WHAT! I wrote "high school." My crap! I meant kindergarten. My daughter just started kindergarten. Which makes her just about Archer's age....
Forgive my child fried brain. I have four. They make me insane.

jjwalsh | 12:32 AM

I love how you write this so beautifully, just a moment in time with your child but all the thoughts that you hope to remember when you arrive back ready to record it on your keyboard.

We have to let our children grow up on their own but the fear of someone taking them away from us or getting lost or even worse feeling lost is almost too much to bear!

danielandkelly | 4:55 AM

tears. you just wrote the exact things that will break my heart in the years to come.

Anonymous | 6:17 AM

Well said GGC! Well said...

I worry that I'm missing these things with my 6 year old, or looking at them with more annoyance than wonder, because I'm so busy with his younger brothers. Moms all around me are crying dropping off their Kindergartners and I'm relieved. How terrible!

Thank you again for making me see the joy and pain in the little things that are going on in my big boy.

And good luck to you, mama!
PS. So glad Fable is sleeping through the night. My 16mo old is finally there! ughhh...

Mo | 9:10 AM

Goodgod.

I think I actually held my breath through that whole thing.

Ewokmama | 9:41 AM

You are so, so good with words. This was a beautiful post.

I am not looking forward to getting to this stage with Jack. Terrifies me! How do I stop time? Ack!

Sassy Molassy | 9:44 AM

There was a great essay in Mothering several years ago called "Runaway, Bunny!" The author and her now-adult son who thought that was the title of the book co-wrote it as a conversation. I can't find it on line but it was great. I think you'd really like it.

I have four kids who have never demonstrated the least willingness to leave my side, which is probably why I wish I had at least one Archer in the bunch.

Steph | 10:04 AM

Mmmm. You and your words. This is perfection.

Jinxi | 12:07 PM

Wow! That was beautiful.

Thank you for the captivating story and gorgeous photos. You are such an excellent writer.

Binky | 2:26 PM

You continue to amaze me. I ate up each layer of this story.

Glenda | 2:32 PM

Beautiful post! They do grow up fast!

Michelle | 11:31 AM

Oh, to be the mother of a RUNNER. I feel your pain!
L'shanah tovah! Dpn't you wonder what this next year will bring...?

Renee | 5:40 PM

Moanna is two, and she is going through an "all by herselfs" phase. Sometimes it makes me feel proud, that I am doing a good job at raising her to be a confident and independent young lady. Other times, it makes me sad and lonely. Sometimes, I need her to hold my hand, to make me feel safe.

Alyxherself | 6:10 PM

Yeah.exactly.
When Wils turned 5 I took him to Magic Kingdom for the weekend, just us. When we went on the Small World boatride? and over the waterfall thingy? I clutched him so hard he was like "get off me!"
I was scared. He wasn't.
It's like a relay race, raising your kids....if you pay attention, you can see the batons pass from you to them....
I think I will always come here for the memories you trigger. I'm so grateful to you for that.

Geezees Geezees Custom Canvas Art | 6:37 PM

that was a tear jerker...
my 6 year old first grader wanted to know last week why he couldnt walk home from the bu by himself...ouch!

Stesha | 8:00 PM

Sounds so much like my children. They have their own mind:)

Hugs and Mocha,
Stesha

Candice | 9:53 AM

I love the way you write.

Isn't it amazing? How fearless they are?

If only as adults we could live life that way. KNOWING that we can do it "all by ourselves". We would not be afraid to chase our dreams. We would be able to say, I'm not afraid and I don't need to hold your hand to get there...

wow talk about MY epiphanies.

Loukia | 1:00 PM

This post was beautiful. I feel like a broken record when I comment here, but it's the truth, I just don't have any other words. So touching, so true, but most of all so well written. You're awesome. This post truly touched my heart!

Sharnanigans | 1:25 AM

Ms Woolf,
My blog is just starting to sprout and within it I have listed my 10 must do's. One is to go from Blog to published book. My strategy? Learn from those who have gone before me, who I admire. I would be honoured if I could interview you for my blog.
Please let me know ,
from Australia...
Sharni