I’ve just come back from tucking my son, six, into bed. We snuggled up under his brown comforter, in his baseball-themed bedroom, and read stories about soup-making animals and art-making kids. When story time came to a close, I wrapped my arms around his small frame from behind and planted a kiss upon his cheek. Pulling him closer to me, I whispered in his ear, “You are my sweet, sweet, boy. I just love you so much.” “I love you too, Mama,” he replied. A few minutes passed and we just held onto each other there in silence. My busy boy—my soccer playing, basketball dribbling, lego-building boy, who always seems to be on the go—was here in my arms, quiet, letting me love on him. I pulled him closer, breathing him in. It was delicious.
Then out of nowhere he begins sobbing. My first thought was that something had happened at school earlier that day and he was reliving it now, in the silence, and struggling with whether and how to tell me what had had happened. He had more than once been on the receiving end of a certain bully’s ire last year, so, it was plausible.
“What’s wrong, Bud?,” I ask, “Did something happen today at school?” His small frame shakes as he cries harder.
“Something just popped into my head that you died.”
Well, crap. How am I supposed to respond to that? My heart ached that he was so upset, but I’ll admit that I also was a little freaked out about the sudden outburst. I wondered, Does he know something I don’t? Maybe I ought to take better care of myself.
I have been burning the candle at both ends, so to speak, lately. I’m the co-president of our kids’ school PTA, a nonprofit board member, a mom, wife, and a graduate student. My plate is definitely full. Despite the all-nighter’s I’ve had to pull lately to get things done, I exercise regularly, eat well, and make staying in shape a priority. I should be safe then, right?
But that’s just the thing. When it’s your time, it’s your time. How and when you make your exit from this theater production called Life is mostly outside your control. While I could lie there and reassure my son that nothing bad would happen to me, I couldn’t really guarantee that, could I?
I opted to call on a higher power. It’s been awhile since we’ve chatted, but I figured it was worth a try. I suggested to my son that he and I ask Jesus to protect me and the rest of our family from harm, so at least that way he wouldn’t have to worry about it.
What he said next was worse than what he said initially.
Giggling, he said, “Jesus?”
And I said, “Yes, he’s God’s son. We can pray to him and ask him to keep our family safe.”
“Oh,” he says, smiling now, a little giddy, “I didn’t know God had a son.”
And that, right there, represents a huge parenting fail. Even though I have had, at times, a very complicated relationship with my parents, step-parents and their various religious beliefs, practices, and how they chose to convey them, I still feel at my core, that I understand my place in the world, my relationship to God, hold an unshakable belief in his son, Jesus, and have found comfort in that belief at difficult times in my life. To come to the realization that my son not only doesn’t feel that same connection to God, but doesn’t even have a basic understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, — that just makes me sad. Sad— and if I’m being completely honest—a little bit scared. What if something did happen to me on the soon-ish side? How would losing me at such young ages affect my kids? How would they get through that difficult time without being able to lean on and trust in God?
So maybe instead of praying for Jesus to keep an eye on me and keep me safe, maybe I should be asking for something else:
Look after them. Keep them close to you. Open their eyes to your love and your mercy. Soothe their grief. Give them hope. Guard their hearts.