What started out as just a snag had been pulled at, one small tug at a time, until the whole situation became hopelessly unraveled. I couldn’t tell you what the argument was about or how it had escalated to such dramatic proportions, but I can describe in detail the look of malice on his face, and the sickening sensation of failure that left me nauseous.
Mothering an oldest child is like riding a roller coaster for the very first time; the unknown intensifies your entire experience. That stomach dropping rush of barreling through the highs and the lows, euphoria mixed with terror, can never quite be duplicated again. No one in this world can tear at my heart like Elijah.
On that particular Friday morning two enormous hazel eyes stared me down with contempt. The boundary between mother and son had been smudged by the hurt we were each heaping upon the other with every word exchanged. All of us have limits, and buttons to be pushed. None are more qualified to find them both, than those who know us best. My son has a fierce sense of justice. If he feels he’s been judged unfairly, he will not back down — even in the face of stern consequences. “You do not understand!” he repeated, over and over again, drowning out my attempted explanations. I knew, in the back of my mind, that I should cut it off right then and there, that we should separate and regroup. But I wanted respect, and an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I was obsessed with dominating his defiant spirit.
When he ran to his bedroom and started up with the slamming of his dresser drawers, I knew exactly what he was doing, and to my shame I didn’t care. Emerging seconds later with a fully loaded backpack, he announced to me his plans of running away. “I’m leaving this place, and I’m never coming back!” My six-year-old, my baby boy, stood trembling before me, cheeks red and wet from fury mixed with sadness. A part of me was tempted to let him go, but as he reached for the doorknob I lowered my voice and the boom on this out of control situation. “Elijah, you will go to your room, put down that backpack and sit with me on this couch, do you understand?” Too tired to resist, he followed my orders, and now I started sniffling with emotion.
“We are a family,” I finally managed to mutter once both of us were seated, eye-to-eye. “For better or worse God put us together. We can feel angry, annoyed, and disheartened, but leaving is never an option! Love means sticking together, even when we don’t feel like it. Love is hard work and requires an awful lot of ‘I’m sorrys’ and forgiveness. You can be mad at me and I can be mad at you but we never give up, you got it?” As I held Elijah, I apologized for my part in the argument, for exasperating him instead of maintaining my composure. We agreed that threats of abandonment would not be tolerated. Two years later, that moment on our couch in Chicago remains significant to both of us. “Remember mom,” Elijah will ask out of nowhere, “when I wanted to run away?”
“I certainly do sweetheart. I certainly do.”
Sometimes I can’t quite grasp the miracle of God concerned with me. How is it possible that He has not permanently been turned off by my stupid behavior? But if I search no further than even two feet away, I can find hope in my love for Troy, Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary. My pack, united for better or worse, was brought together for the purpose of salvation. For here, right before me, are unlimited opportunities to experience the nonsensical fulfillment of giving without expecting anything in return. I learn, in the most practical of ways, that true love, divine love, does not leave, does not give up, and does not give in. Family keeps us humble, keeps us praying, and keeps us from drifting into the soul-numbing abyss of self-indulgence.
More than once, I have stared dumbfounded into the positive end of a pregnancy test. “I really don’t think I have the strength to do this again,” I said to Troy, to God, and to anyone else who made eye contact. Yet even in that, I found Love, providing just enough daily bread to keep me from dying of hunger, to keep me in remembrance of His presence in my life. On a daily basis I am overwhelmed by the eternal responsibility of raising children, but when they are sleeping, all curled in their beds as still as the night itself, I kiss each in turn, from youngest to oldest, thankful to tears for such beauty.
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