It was the first Vacation Bible School of the summer, and their hopes were high. I signed them in while they chatted up the octogenarians, cutting to the chase on family secrets and video game cheats. They had been here before, so they could talk with casual confidence about the layout of the building and reminisce about last year. We hit a glitch when Toby's name tag wasn't pre-made. Brynn had hers, and being a deeply loyal and concerned sister, she bolted for the sanctuary and her group of first-grade best friends she had never met.
Toby, bereft of his second half, suddenly got very nervous.
"I don't wanna go," he whispered to me. "I don't want to go here, I want to go home."
"Let's just go check it out," I answer, leading him reluctantly into the sanctuary.
We sit, side by side in the pew, watching the kids mill around and volunteers scrambling with last-minute details. I remind him how much fun he had last year, how he made friends and sang in the choir.
"I just want to be with you," he answers, slipping his long-not-baby-fingers into my hand and rendering my heart to a quivering mass of love. Every one of my kids has the ability to bring me to my metaphorical knees, and this boy has a death grip on my heart. I prayed for him, begged for him, worked harder than I have ever worked to keep him alive. Everything in me ached to grip his little hand and just go, go back home and hold him forever.
|photo by Shelley Paulson|
Something else in me, though, continually reminds me that these children, flesh of my heart, are not just extensions of me, just the rewards and the joys I have been given. They are people, small people-in-training, learning how to live and breathe and serve others, how to walk independently. Every time I drive away from them, my body aches like I'm missing a part of myself. Every time I pick them back up, they are new, braver, sweeter, still mine but increasingly their own.
"I want you to stay," I lie. "I want you to go up to your group and make a friend and spend the day. If you hate it, you don't have to come back. But you have to try." He looks at me, with the same baby eyes that brought me to tears of thankfulness in those first months. I look back, transmitting confidence and strength, pushing back any desperate hope to keep him small and mine forever. That panic, that wish is for later, when I am alone in my van. Today, I am making one tiny stride to building a man. "Go," I say, "go! You're going to love it."
And he did, and he went back and made friends, and then he came home and climbed in my chair, arms and legs and elbows and energy enveloping me in a painful, boisterous boy-hug. I take the hit, I will always take the hit, because he is my baby and I am his mama. Always.