Whose child is this anyway?
Some things don’t get easier, no matter how many times I’ve done them before. Teaching a teenage boy to drive, for example. Or saying goodbye to my son heading back to college. I cry every time. I even burst into tears when my sons’ friends go back to college. Pathetic. But that’s the kind of mom I am.
I am just so stinking proud of each one that my delight wells up in my eyes and runs down my face. It might be genetic. My own father used to tell me frequently, with tears in his eyes, “This is my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” He undoubtedly said that to my sister as well. And he meant it every time. Each child brings a unique light into this world. Lord knows, this world needs light in all the darkness.
Our youngest son suffered a concussion in the fall that kept him home from school for a month. Lest you think he enjoyed this forced hiatus, bear in mind that the healing process required minimal light, minimal sound, no reading, no screens of any kind, no iPad, no iPod, no computer or television, no video games or movies – just a month home with no entertainment other than his mother. Sounds like a prescription for a special form of torture to a 14-year old boy.
It’s not exactly a walk in the park for the mom either. But the worst part for me is the fear. Certain phrases, such as “head trauma,” “permanent memory loss” and “brain damage” send me into a tailspin. I drag the boy with me to church one morning in an attempt to get a grip. I promise him 10 minutes or less. I bribe him with lunch afterwards. I just need to breathe in a sacred space. I’m on my knees. I cannot think of anything eloquent to say. My prayer amounts to begging, “Please, God. Please, please, please.” I am just so afraid. Tears flow, of course. “Please, God, please. He is my son.” And somehow, in this sacred place, even with my self-imposed time limits, even gripped in the throes of fear, I hear an answer. It is part admonishment, part comfort, part sarcastic humor, because I believe that Truth speaks to me in a language that I can understand: “Charlotte, don’t you think I love him at least as much as you do?”
Oh. Right. I suppose that’s true.
Sometimes, I need to be reminded whose children they really are.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. And if parenting is a challenge, step-parenting is downright harrowing. As a mother, and as a wicked step-mother, I find Mary and Joseph’s example particularly helpful. When Mary said “Yes,” she had no idea what she was signing up for. Parenting is like that. My children didn’t exactly arrive the way I might have expected them to, formed in my own image and likeness. It’s not like they landed on my doorstep looking like they did in the catalog, complete with tracking information (and a return label) from the shipping company. Sometimes, I stare at my son (pick one, any one) and that whole stork business seems a plausible explanation. Where on earth did he come from?
Joseph, of course, said nothing at all. Often the only reasonable approach.
I think about Jesus’ own baptism and God’s declaration that “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.” Were Mary and Joseph even there? I asked my friend in seminary where Jesus’ parents were, and she told me that Mary and Joseph were touring medical schools at the time. Which makes a lot of sense, because mom and dad are really good at making exceptional plans for their kids, and then the actual kid shows up with ideas of his own and all those parental plans are shot to shit. But then the kid makes his own way and becomes more amazing than even the people who cherish him most in the world could have predicted. Who knew?
I think about the baptisms of our sons. The older two were baptized when they were very young, long before I ever knew them. The younger two were baptized at the Easter Vigil mass when they were 11 and 13. This was a path that the younger boys chose themselves. Needless to say, my husband and I were delighted; the boys wanted their own connection with God. In the course of the service, it was my step-sons who poured the water into the baptismal font that their step-brothers would be baptized in. It was a beautiful, unifying moment for our nuclear family, and yet, each baptism also puts me in my place as a mother. It reminds me that all four of my boys are, in reality, God’s own children.
I was home alone the December evening in 2012, when I heard about the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. My husband had a late meeting, college boy was still at school packing to come home for the holidays; high school boy was in Pasadena with friends, junior high boy was in town on the boulevard with some buddies and elementary school boy was at a friend’s house for a Christmas party. I sat stunned, paralyzed with fear. I had this desperate urge to collect all my children and put them in bubble wrap on the sofa – I would even let them play xBox as long as they wanted. These are the moments when the baptismal reminders are critical for me. I do my part, but I’m not in charge. I lecture them. I impose deadlines and curfews. I teach table manners. I buckle up seatbelts, strap on helmets, sautee vegetables. But the most important thing I can do for them is to get on my knees and pray. They are God’s very own children, after all.
My son taps me on the shoulder. It’s been ten minutes. He’s hungry. The boy is starting to act like a normal teenager again.
I whisper thank you. I feel privileged that Life has entrusted this boy to my care. And then I take my son to lunch.
Wishing you light and strength on your parenting path. And healing.