Today, for Mother’s Day, my two youngest and I hiked up Hadley in the lower Adirondacks. It’s not a big mountain, not a long hike, not at all difficult or dangerous. But it was enough of an expedition to make us feel as though we’d gotten out into fresh air and sunshine, and it was enough of an exertion to work up a decent sweat. It was also plenty windy. At the summit, buffeted by wild, chilly gusts, we stayed just long enough to snap a few photos and peer up the fire tower (nope, no climbing that, not today, not without flying away like gum wrappers in the wind) before skedaddling back down the trail.
We last hiked Hadley as a family of five several years ago, back when my youngest was wee, my oldest was home and my husband was still among the living. To say I recalled him — and the family we once were — as I hoofed up and down today is to state the obvious. Of course I remembered him. I see him everywhere we ever went together. And of course I remembered our children in their younger days. How could I not? Being a parent means seeing children with eyes that view the past as well as the present, flashing back through earlier incarnations (baby, toddler, kindergartner, middle schooler) while regarding the fully formed creatures before us with love, admiration, worry, gratitude and something close to shock. How the heck did that happen?
My oldest daughter couldn’t hike with us today, because she’s about to graduate from college. That statement is so outrageous, I have to re-type it in all caps. SHE’S ABOUT TO GRADUATE FROM COLLEGE. How the heck did that happen? My younger daughter just came back from volunteering in Australia. How the heck did that happen? How the heck is my son about to finish his second year of high school? How the heck did I give birth to three such colossally spirited, resilient, interesting, good, compassionate, loving, intrepid souls?
It’s a mystery, just as every gift is a mystery. So is every loss. God only knows why anything happens to anybody, and I mean that literally. All I know is this: I loved their father. Because I loved their father, these three people sprang into being. Because they sprang into being, the mother I am sprang into being. Every fumbling step I’ve made through parenthood sprang into being, too. Every decision I’ve made. Every mistake. Every moment of pain, frustration, insight, joy. Every piece of who I am now, who they are now, who they might be next week or next month or next year. All of that transcends time, transcends space, transcends any comprehension of the cosmos as finite or linear or in any way confined by my puny capacity to understand it.
My kids embody all of that. They give shape and sense to things too misty to grasp: the love of God, the looping movement of days, the sense of blindly hiking through a thickening fog to an unknown summit. I can’t and don’t know squat, really. Who does? What can we know in this life beyond the value of the people walking beside us?
Looking out from the top of Hadley, I saw the rolling peaks, the bundling clouds, the elbowing curves of the Great Sacandaga Lake.
Looking over at my children, I saw love.