After snuggling my youngest down for his afternoon nap, I proceeded to wrangle the second. Gently, I spoke his name, searching upstairs then downstairs. Certain he was outside, I made my way to his secret “territory,” a patch of grass unobservable from the house (full of dirt, gardening equipment and wormy joy). I turned the corner, but he was absent…I must have missed him inside. I retraced my steps, calling with more volume and more expectation, using the ‘momma’s not screwing around’ voice that demands respect. Silence followed me. Finally I found my way back outside into our securely fenced back yard, my heart starting to punch rapidly. Slamming into my chest, in rhythm with the gate I suddenly realized was open, its lock clicking loosely in the breeze. Panic rose up in my throat as I raced down into the street to find…no one. My brain seized as I scanned desperately.
“Someone has taken my son.” I mouthed the words with a silent, dreamlike scream. I have never been so convinced of anything. I scramble back up the garden stairs, collapsing into the yard, ready to throw up in the bushes. I grab the wall for support, lift my face to the grass…and there he is. Reclined, relaxed and grinning triumphantly, like the Cheshire Cat incarnate.
“Now I’ll seek you, momma!”
It’s startling how quickly you can go from needing to hold someone in your arms at any cost, to smell their hair and feel their breath…to wanting to end their little life with your own bare hands. So, like any decent mom, I proceeded to scream at him until we both started to cry.
I return, now, uncomfortably into the fear of that moment, chilling me like deep waters. Whilst I am in no way discounting the validity of my terror in that moment, I know that I cannot blame all of my despair on motherly instinct. I am increasingly aware that much of its source is a reservoir of mistrust, brimming with misguided assumptions that I am in control. Beliefs that my child is my own, and I am his everything. These are lies that color how I see him, how I see myself, and ultimately who I believe God is. Of course, I’d be a giant ass hole if I didn’t teach him not to stick forks in light sockets, or not to play “tickle time” with his brother at the top of the stairs. Of course I want him to be safe.
However, I now begin to feel the tension between teaching and controlling. Between love and ownership. These boys are not my pretty birds in a gilded cage, to whom I feed treats, and to whom I speak sweetly when they mind me. They are not mine. They have been entrusted, like everything I see about me: this house, this marriage, these canvases…they are here for me to care for, not to control. I cannot warp their goodness into my own validation without stealing some of their beauty. These things are good, not because I earned them or made them, but because the Giver is good. Here I stand, deputized with talents, rosy-cheeked babies, and ingredients. With sunflowers I forgot I planted, warm sun in certain spots on the carpet, and little naked bodies dancing after showers. With dog-piles and kisses from a man who returns from work each day, on time, because he’d rather be home.
When I’m completely honest and awake, I acknowledge that love is doing my best to cradle these gifts with gratitude, while simultaneously remembering that they are impermanent and uncontainable. They are just one more blessing I must heap upon my altar of trust. Love is always giving before taking. Love is often excavation instead of construction, and sometimes letting instead of leading. Like a Father letting his Son give his life away for others; watching as those who laid palms down at his feet trampled him only hours later. As we approach Holy Week, I remember that, even though I might not be able to fathom the mysteries of the trinity, Jesus had a Daddy who lost his Son. I am immeasurably grateful that the Father opened his hands and let him give himself away. As I stand with my hand on the latch of this cage, I pray for the courage to do the same.