Four months after we left Nepal, I took dictation on his kindergarten tale about the spirit of the whole world who died falling from a treetop, came back to life, and split into two: Buddha and Jesus. He began it in his father's native tongue – Nepali – and ended it in mine – English. I played editor on later stories, like the one about the young otter who saved his mother from hunters. And I waited out his middle school tantrums: I can't write, Mom! I can't! He rolled on the kitchen floor, his screams and kicks shaking the walls of our small house.
Now, he explains his term paper on symbiogenesis. He speaks well and with passion. I'm bloated with pride. But I'm also thirty years beyond dumping my dream to be a zoologist. I struggle to understand his words. Eukaryote? Prokaryote?
He tries a different angle.
“You've heard of mitochondrial DNA. Right, Mom?”
I taught him his first notes on piano. I nagged him to practice for orchestra and band. Our standard poodle howled to every screech he wrenched from that hated violin. His next instrument brought neighbors knocking on our door: Is someone ill? Do you need help? To ward off calls to protective services, I showed them the culprit: a clarinet.
Now he composes tunes and fingerpicks guitar with a precision and ease I envy. On Christmas, he rolls out an upbeat chord progression to support his soulful baritone crooning When First Unto This Country. I try to improvise a harmony on mandolin and am relieved no one can hear me.
At our home in Nepal, I often found him in the branches of the pipal tree his grandmother had planted. Along Puget Sound, I never saw his small body scramble fifty feet up that Western Red Cedar. I let other parents talk him down; I couldn't watch. At Horsethief Butte on the Columbia River, he disappeared in the maze of rockfalls and cliffs. An inept sheriff, I trailed after. I quelled visions of a skull cracked open like the Karnataka coconuts that nourished us both through four months of morning sickness in India. Short of putting him on a leash, there was little I could do to stop his climbing.
Now over six feet tall, he belays me up a wall at the rock gym. Again and again, I weaken and quit just shy of the top. He urges one last try, checks the knots on my harness and holds the rope taut. I climb. I trust him enough now to dangle mid-way, giving my arms the needed rest. I continue and heed his advice on hand and foot holds. Shaking, I reach for the final grip and heave myself up to the forty-foot summit. I call for him to lower me and enjoy the sensation of controlled falling. Touching my toes to the floor, I collapse and sprawl, my forearms burning.
He looks down at me.
"Good job, Mom.”