After church on Sunday, a bright afternoon, and enough minutes until lunch for backyard play, then for balance gained and lost and a fall and a crack and tears. My husband sped off to the ER with our eleven year old’s broken right forearm iced, his face grey with pain.
It was nearly dark when they got back, with a splint and a sling and a promise of a cast, with pain medication and a shaky boy, just beginning to figure out all the things he would not be doing for the next month or so. I’d stayed home with our eight year old, coloring get well signs for his brother and cleaning the kitchen like our lives, like mending and healing and knitting together depended on it, prayers in our scrubbing. Coming in the door, weariness and waiting and seeing our child in pain was written on my husband’s face.
For a bad and painful break, the prognosis is good. No surgery, cast when the swelling goes down, guarding the splint, managing the pain. The last couple of days have been strange, foggy with broken sleep, edges blurred with sympathy for our busy, independent son, so still and sedentary, so touchingly needing us to be his second hand.
And yet there have been a few moments of sharp clarity born out of that need. Yesterday morning, I knelt before Joshua to help him put on his socks, as he maneuvered with sling and good hand braced on the edge of the bed. I worked the white cotton over his foot and glanced up into his face, straight into his clear, honest eyes. I was undone. Time swirled and doubled back on itself in ribbon-candy curls as I smiled at him. I wondered how many thousands of times I’d helped him on with socks and shoes, when he was small and those feet were soft and plump. I wondered when the last time was. And there on the floor, I was so sorry for his pain and for the month of wrestling through the ordinary that lies ahead for him, but so profoundly grateful to have this moment of caring for him, not made indistinct by the seemingly endless repetition of the toddler years. As he waited for his socks and his Nikes, as he smiled back and thanked me, I was granted that pause of real, deep seeing that serving another gives.
This is my boy, over half grown now, dear and funny, kind and bright. He is training up for eating us out of house and home. Those feet I socked and shod are almost the same size as mine. I can almost feel him growing in his sleep, like am electric hum in the air of the night house. In his daylight calm and competence the baby and toddler he was are like photographs and dreams.
The truth of it is that I’m sometimes nostalgic for those days, for chubby knees and time measured out with snacks and blown bubbles and naptime. The other truth is that those days were often exhausting and isolating and as messy and conflicted as they were beautiful. I remind myself that though they seemed fleeting, I was very present in them. The haze that surrounds them now is as much a product of sleep deprivation as a mom who was sometimes too focused on what was next.
The out-of-time moment of sweeping love and joy in my son that I experienced yesterday morning was not the product of a dogged determination to be fully blissfully present to him. When I knelt to put on those socks, I was exhausted and needing a shower, and just doing the next good thing that needed doing. The breath of clarity and grace, the real vision, came as all gift. There was a flash of connection, of present and past, a pair of smiling faces. Then, before I knew it, he was standing up, moving on.
All gift. I open my hands.