One night when my son was only five years old and I was putting him to bed, he pulled the covers up to his chin and said, “Sammy and Dacey and Amanda said today they didn’t want to get any boy germs. I think they were talking about me.” At that, his mouth turned down. Sad little boo-boo face.
I paused. “Oh, Duncan … sometimes boys and girls just aren’t very nice to each other. It’s not just you they were talking about, but probably boys in general.”
I told him if someone were ever not being nice or saying something mean, to just ignore him or her. (That’s great advice, huh? Works like a charm.)
He said, “I miss you when I’m at school.”
“Oh, Dunc—I miss you too! But one good thing about you going to school is that you learn a lot, much more than you would if you stayed home, and you have friends to play with, and I think about you a lot when I’m at work. And then at night and on the weekends, we have a lot of fun because we enjoy being together.”
I rubbed his back. “Dunc, do you know who else is always there to be your friend?”
“God! God is always here for you, right in your heart. He is always a friend to you.” (I was determined to raise my kid right; he even had his own little kid Bible already, with mostly pictures.)
Duncan looked at me funny. Then he said back, “I miss God,” with another big boo-boo face.
“Because I never get to see him,” he said.
I tried not to laugh.
“But God’s always right here,” I said, pointing and touching his heart with my finger.
“Yeah, but I miss him.” He said, “I think I am going to cry.”
“Go right ahead and cry, Pumpkin. That’s okay if you need to cry, just go ahead.”
And he did. He cried out loud, real tears coming down his face. I guess even five-year-olds can have a bad day.
“I miss Grammy,” he said.
“Grammy? Which Grammy?”
“Daddy’s mommy. Because I never got to see her.”
I told him that she was up in heaven, that she watched over him, so even though he never knew her, she knew him very well.
“Will I see her when I die?” he asked.
“Yes, you will.”
“I don’t want you to die,” he said.
I laughed gently, and said “Dunc, I am going to be around a long, long time.”
“Til you’re old?”
“Yes, til I’m like eighty or ninety. When I’m eighty or ninety …”
“Or one hundred?”
“Yeah. When I’m that old, you’re going to be fifty, and you can take care of me. Because when adults get really old like that, sometimes they need help taking care of them.”
“I don’t want to take care of you,” he cried.
Okay, bad idea.
“I’m going to be around a long, long time,” I said.
“If you die when I’m still a child,” he said, “I’m going to miss you.”
“Oh, honey … Mommy will be around a long, long time. Do you want to stay in my bed tonight?”
I said, “Okay, you sleep with me tonight.” And he crawled into the middle of my bed.
I woke up at 1:30 a.m., wide awake, feeling anxious. Thinking, I don’t know if I can take this! I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand watching my son get hurt and be sad and not be able to fix it. I thought of all the tears to come—being hurt by mean kids at school, getting into fights, getting bad grades on tests, being hurt by his first love—the pain of all that is almost more than one can bear. I once heard a mother say, “If I only knew that having a child would be like taking my heart out of my chest and putting it on my sleeve …”
I couldn’t sleep. So I got up and watched Antiques Roadshow til 2:30 a.m.
Seeing the American Indian folk art, Russian cigarette cases, and pottery-faced sideboard was relaxing; watching couples come in to huge empty armories and function halls just for the chance to find out they might be rich. I laughed at how the owners acted so ridiculously surprised when they found out how valuable (or cheap) their things were. The knowingness and confidence of the antiques dealers was amusing and irritating. All of these worn and loved things in one place, and the buzz and excitement of the crowd—it distracted me. Brought me down to earth. Comforted me.
I went back to bed. There would be more to come—this was only the beginning. But deep down, I knew that I could handle it. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not thinking about Duncan’s whole life right now and the many peaks and valleys that would be sure to come. But I could take it moment by moment.
As I crawled into bed next to my little five-year-old kid, he sighed. I held his sweaty little hand as I fell back asleep.