Creative Nonfiction Kids Speculative

The forest was the classroom. The two-and-a-half foot, mocha skin, boy version of myself who had just turned three, was my Guru. His name is Oliver Sambit. His middle name means “consciousness” in Bengali, his father’s parents’ native language. After leaving his dad the previous winter and venturing through the kingdom of single parenting, with a pandemic that seemed endless, along with a custody battle that felt equal to the battle of Iwo Jima in terms of trauma, then finding out my dad was arrested for malicious acts that I refuse to write about in this story, was a way to push me towards either insanity or raising my consciousness. 

Walking on the trail was a lesson in patience. We started on the asphalted windy path that hugged alongside the Rivanna river trail, in our newish residence of Charlottesville, Virginia. I still pushed my little in his trusted twenty-dollar soot and ash-colored Wal-Mart stroller. The wheels squeaked up and down small hills. It squealed left and right along the small curves. I would block out the little mouse that lived in the right tire, by playing music from the small speaker of my phone. We walked four miles two to three days a week, every week for almost a year. Then something changed. Oliver wanted to start walking the trails on his own. At first, we started with short bursts of walking. I would unbuckle him, and he would burst out of the stroller like a caged dove, who felt freedom for the first time. He would flap his little wings to the side of the trail and grab the first manageable in weight stick he could find. This would become his staff, his bug poker, his garden tool, his gun, his wand, his tree whacker, and his “stick buddy.” For me, it was the official, “let’s stop every two minutes and get lost in the presence of what fun this could bring, at the expense of mommy getting in her much-needed exercise” stick.

After less than ten minutes of this pausing, I would give up. “All done!” I would say as my patience was running short. I would then have what was the slippery soap struggle, but the struggle was me versus my toddler. “No, want to walk!” he insisted. I would finally get him in the stroller, then an enticing snack, like peeled golden delicious apples—if I remembered to pack them—to distract him.

One day I let him loose from his stroller cage. He loved to run ahead of me. It usually made me nervous, but leashes are for dogs—plus, I tried the week earlier to dinosaur backpack leash him—some toddlers just are not made to be domesticated. On this day, I decided to stop on the trail. I cannot remember why, it was probably related to an Instagram story I made with Oliver toddling along the trail, as music played in the background. Realizing it was quiet, I looked up from my phone. Oliver was gone. My heart began to speed up. I imagined him running and tripping into the rocks and then falling into the current of the river. Mama Bear mode was on.

I abandoned the stroller. I began to run as I shouted, “Oliver! Ollie!” Normally I would be too embarrassed to yell this loudly. This time, I cared not who heard. I decided to take a right on the trail. Oliver asked often to go that way, it led to a less beautiful trail that hugged power lines instead of the river, so I would say no. That made it taboo. “Oliver, where are you!?” I yelled again. Suddenly I heard giggling. I could not tell from which direction it came. It sounded like the forest was haunted by a child ghost. I kept running. I heard more tittering. “That better be him and not a ghost,” I thought. I took a left and heard the laughs much louder. I ran more and saw the tot hiding in the forest.

I crouched down to his level and began to cry.

“You scared mama. You must stay where I can see you.” I picked him up and held him close to my heart.

The forest was my classroom, Oliver was my guru, and our trail walks were a lesson in patience. If I did not let him have the freedom to go, then he would create his own freedom. I was impatient when he wanted to be free and present. How could I create the space for both of our needs to be met? I could not figure this out. That was until I started to date Alec. He was a kind, patient, six years younger than me, getting his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in Math. I thought he was everything I was not. During his youth not only was he homeschooled and allowed to create his own learning structure, but he was never disciplined by his parents. Somehow, he turned out all right. He decided to venture with us on our walking trail one day. I was a bit nervous. Oliver was amid his tantrum-throwing and was still running ahead on this cold January day. Alec had no idea about my lack thereof forest patience. Oliver did.

“Can I get out?” Ollie asked. I let him, he grabbed the perfect stick, then we would pause every minute or two. My patience was held together for Alec, but only by scotch tape. It could fall apart at any moment. I think my guru knew this because he began to run full speed ahead towards the jagged rocks that could hurt him if he slipped on the residual ice on the asphalt. He began to run towards the edge of the trail, closer— "I am a chill mom. I am cool. Everything is okay,” I affirmed to myself—Then he got closer—I could not take it anymore.

“OLIVER, STOP!” I screamed, then took off running to him.

I picked him up with the Mama Bear blood now running through my veins and put him in the stroller. I saw Alec walking towards us. His eyes were wide. I could tell he seemed in over his head. Maybe I was being paranoid. The rest of the walk was peaceful, but something felt off.

Alec broke up with me less than a week later. It was a wake-up call, and I learned a lot:

1.)  Do not take your three-year-old on a nature walk with a boy you have been dating for less than three months, unless they too have children. I learned patience.

2.)  Do not date someone who does not share the same values as you. In this case, I do not believe in utter freedom when it comes to three-year-old brains.

3.)  I do believe in compromise though. I researched three-wheeled scooters and bought Oliver the best-rated one I could find for his age. That way mommy could get her exercise in, and Ollie could experience the freedom he craved.

The forest is my classroom. I have learned many lessons since, such as windy days with tree branches falling are terrifying, but when you are running through a trail with the love of your life during a summer storm, it is romantic exposure therapy. My son is one of the best teachers I could ask for. He has taught me many things since. Such as, boredom in all forms can cause trouble no matter what age. There are lessons in nature that could probably solve world peace if we paid attention to what it is trying to tell us. 

April 22, 2022 17:54

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Seymour Parsnips
05:41 May 03, 2022

Every now and then, when I am lucky, I remember the value of a good poking stick.


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Charlie Murphy
17:36 Apr 30, 2022

Great story! You're right. Kids teach us, adults, many things.


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