It’s the Climb that Makes the Man

brothers climb

There are many things that I love about watching my three sons grow.

Recently, while at the indoor rock climbing gym near our home, I watched as they spent the afternoon climbing while using the belay (rope and harness). Sometimes in the small moments of the day, when I stop to really pay attention to my children while they play, especially when they are oblivious to me watching, is when I see them for who they really are; the people they are becoming, and its an amazing thing. Today I watched them climb.

While Monkey was sure of his footing, moving swiftly and with clear, precise movements, hand then foot, without hardly a second of pause once he found the best line, Bug was quite different. He was slower to leave his perch. Each motion he made carefully calculated out before attempted, and sometimes, second-guessed and tried an alternate route, where Monkey almost never changed his course, though he attempted the same step or reach over and over until he succeeded. Bug was more inclined to change direction after only a few attempts, realizing he had either attempted a route he was not ready for, or he had found a better one that suited his angle, length, reach, etc. in that moment. With Monkey, it was as if there just wasn’t any other option but the path that he had chosen, the one that laid before him, and he had no choice but to make it work for him until he conquered it and got to the top. Bug skillfully knew if he stayed composed, calm, centered, and balanced, he could think his way to the next best move, much like a game of chess with the climb itself as his opponent. Upon reaching the top they tap and then descend triumphantly back down to the deck. It was a great moment for each of them, pride could be felt almost tangibly all the way down at the bottom as I looked up just beaming. Each arriving there differently, but arriving all the same. The funny thing is, I would say as I stood there and watched my sons and their differences, I noted that the success rate for each of them making a “first ascent” -reaching the top on the first try (without going back down and starting over) was almost identically equal. Regardless of style, or technique, they both shared equal stamina and determination.

And then there was our little Bean. He tried hard to keep up with his older brothers. Harness on, gripping and reaching, but his small stature and years less of physical strength and muscle tone kept him from making it a little more than just part way up each climb. No matter, his gigantic smile stretched across his face with huge dreamy and eager eyes kept him looking and watching, and trying, time after time, with a great I can do it too attitude, as those brothers kept at it. He never tired, or showed it. He never complained when he hadn’t made any successful trips to the top by the time those brothers had made several each. He just seemed to know, without my intervening, that his time will come. For today, he is content to be the little brother who tried. He skipped around and even went and enjoyed the boulder section of the gym on his own while the older two kept at it. He rejoined those brothers several times just to cheer them on, a few more tries himself just for the fun of it, but he was happy in his place amongst them.

I relish these scenes with my sons. As I watched quietly this afternoon, with a sleeping daughter on my shoulder, unaware of her brothers maturing right there before us, it struck me how blessed I am to witness these small moments between them. Working together, engaging in their brotherhood using their unique attributes, their individual strengths, that derive from their natural personalities as much as their sibling order. Bug is the oldest. He is the analyst. He loves rock climbing because as he puts it, it requires strategy. He says,  “when you’re climbing you have to work hard to overcome the obstacles in front of you like a challenge. You have to work them out in your mind before you move, and then once you can do it, you can do anything.” Yep. That certainly sums up my oldest. He is a careful thinker, a planner.  And I love hearing the words he puts to the obstacles of life. Once you can do it, not if. Bug has always carried a quiet wisdom about him that far surpasses his years. He is an old soul. He is one of my best friends. He is truly the kindest heart I’ve ever known because in his wisdom, he carries empathy.

Monkey on the other hand, would just tell you, “I love rock climbing because its fun! And hard! And you have to use your strength.. and your skills!” Oh yes. This one. He is my strong little man. A fighter since before birth, Monkey is a fireball. Rarely thinking things through before any first attempt, nah, thinking is reserved only for working out the kinks, and perfecting the skill acquired by simply, doing. A leap without looking, kind of boy. Adding in style which always seems polished regardless of his aptitude for the obstacle before him, results in a commanding presence unlike most his age, because Monkey is nothing if not a show-boater.  One truly fitting of the term, “A natural.” The fun part of watching this kid grow before my eyes,? He puts his money where his mouth is, in just about anything he tries. Just tell him he can’t.. he’ll dare you to, just to prove you wrong. Its not ego, its pure gritty determination. It runs through the marrow of his bones, and is quite literally the reason he is still with us on this earth. That’s a story for another post. Yes, while Bug sees no reason to show his achievements to the world seeking that outside validation, Monkey thrives on it. Both so gifted, so unique, so different from each other, I find myself in awe of their strengths and separate confidences in themselves. Neither spends too much time worrying about the other, because comparison has never been a part of their language. I hope it always stays that way. To let comparison diminish these two gorgeous individual souls would be a waste of the view and the beauty that their personal gifts provide for any who see them. Brothers, not competitors.

Bean is still little, and will always be the “little brother,” while also the big brother. The duality of his role in the family, his world, is a tall order for such a young man to balance at his age. For the most part, I spend most days simply in awe at the grace with which he passed the torch of youngest on to his sister, and dutifully accepted the role as a big, stepping gratefully alongside his older brothers, forever joining the exclusive club that is big brotherhood. Bean is altogether different again from either of his brothers. Funny, creative, artistic, idolizes his older bigs for being all things he aspires to be, which includes becoming them in his own way, and is fiercely protective of his favorite clothing choices, or for that matter any choice, and of the right to have a choice in general. A funny, quirky, extremely talented little boy indeed.

I am so thankful for days like this. Days when I get to stop the busy and just watch. Take in my sons as the unique and perfect creatures they are and see how they are each changing and growing into the fine young men I know they will one day become. Climbing to the top. Falling, stumbling, losing their grip. Happy, determined, innocently unaware of the real challenges of life that will eventually face them, and together. Comfortable in themselves. Each of them, individuals, knowing somehow instinctively, that they won’t give up. They will keep climbing until they reach the top. I just love it. I am humbled these people came from me, and I am excited to see where they will go.