Watching a child experience one of their "firsts" is a wonderful thing, and a privilege. In fact, it's often the most rewarding part of parenthood.
Most "firsts" are earned. A toddler’s first steps, their first words, these are things that require work and practice and failure and determination. The hard work that developmental achievements require is why we praise our children when they first pedal two-wheelers for the first time. They earned it, and we are proud of them. We are proud for them.
Well, maybe not for all firsts. The first time my son shoved the garden hose down the dryer vent and turned it on full blast, "proud" was not what I was feeling. Nor the first time he figured out how to jam the overflow on the tub and flood the bathroom, nor the time he wrapped the entire living room in one of my knitting projects.
Okay, let's just say MOST firsts are pride-worthy.
Many firsts come and go without the child themselves understanding any inkling of its importance - a child walks because it follows naturally once crawling has been mastered. The smile a child gives in return for your applause is a reaction to the interaction, but the baby doesn’t really understand how what they’ve done will never been done again for the first time. But we do.
This is why we have photos albums and memory cards full of pictures of first steps, first teeth, first goals scored. Actually, we have albums of our first child doing that. It’s all kind of "been there done that" after the first baby. See? Firsts. Likely because no one has time to locate and charge the battery of a camera once they’ve got more than one child.
Being separated or divorced puts a new twist on things. My ex-husband and I were together for the some of the firsts, but once we no longer lived together, all firsts are divided and shared, like our weekends. Maybe I’ll get first date, and he’ll get first driving lesson. (He can have that one.)
A few weeks ago my son returned home from the cottage with his father and he couldn’t stop smiling. He had caught his first fish, his first “all-on-my-own-nobody-helped-me” fish.
My son said they had woke early to go fishing. He said the air was foggy, and because I was once a part of this cottage landscape I knew exactly what he was trying to describe. The air would be cool and water droplets would hang suspended on invisible threads above the warm shallow lake. The sun would be rising on the shore and the sky would be pink like carnival cotton candy.
The lake would smell earthy like life and all of its dirt. The faded red canoe would slice the water of the lake and ripple out towards still docks that divide shore with weathered brown lines. The small boat would settle and balance as my son and his father found their places amongst the fishing tackle and sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. There would be a thermos of coffee. It would be strong and dark. It would be delicious.
To understand what was happening so vividly – what was happening without me –this was somehow worse than simply not being there, because this place is in my history, and yet now I must stand at a distance.
For me, this was a first.
And it was horrible.
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