My son began speaking late, but once he started he told me memories of being a baby and a toddler. I’d thought he was too young to understand what was happening. He started these stories with, “when I was a little boy,” a preamble that always made me laugh.

I’d marvel at the thoughts that became traced as memories and how he’d saved them up until he finally had the words to share the world that he’d taken in years before.

“What are you thinking baby bear?”

He looked at me in a way that made me feel I might be slow or dense. “Mama bear,” he said, “I’m remembering.”

He reached for my hand and I squeezed it, eclipsing his small hand with mine. My fingers folded over his and I tried to memorize the imprint of his handprint, his hand now bigger than it had ever been, smaller than it would ever be from that day forward. I etched the outline of his hand into my mind and squeezed it tighter.

“Thank you,” I said, recognizing that something in me shifted because he had told me the exact thing I needed to hear. The simple act of remembering was an act of surrender, trusting that the wisdom of a place or experience doesn’t need to be reduced to words in that exact moment. It wasn’t up to us to find the words that shaped that moment, but to soak up what was right before us, and let the unraveling happen when our words caught up to our memories.

If I manage to take photos during my outdoor adventures with my son at all, they feature only him. So when I saw Melina Coogan post an opportunity for a photo shoot at one of our places in the outdoors, I jumped at the chance for recent photos of us both.

When I saw the photos, I was overwhelmed the way they captured something about my experience of motherhood that I hadn’t yet realized, the way my wild boy, so comfortable in his element, also needs protecting. The photos reminded me of my desire to show my son the whole world and let him run wild sits side-by-side with the urge to hold him tight and protect him from anything that might hurt him. Knowing when to let go or even nudge him further away and when to cuddle him closer is something that evolves in an instant.

I’m in awe of the fierceness and beauty of my own mama bear instinct. Photos allow me to reflect on experiences that happened once I have the emotional distance to process the meaning.