The baby had already been nursed, and rocked, settled with kisses into her crib. My husband needed to water our patch of earth at the community garden, and so he took our eldest daughter with him, just a quick errand before bedtime, be back in 2o minutes. It was just me and Joseph, nearly-four-year-old boy-of-my-heart, with his generous mouth, and clumsy puppy boy-energy, kooky and wild and wonderful. We had a busy weekend outside in the sunshine, we were all tired, not at our best, but it was past bedtime, and he wasn’t feeling well.
So he stood at the front window, and he watched his dad and his big sister pull away in the mini-van, headed for his beloved garden, and it suddenly all became too much to bear. They were leaving him, and he wanted to go with them, more than anything in the world, he was tired, he was unwell, and oh, enough is enough. He began to cry and cry and cry.
I had tried my best to distract him.
I put his sturdy boy body into a warm bubble bath, even found a few cars to go in there with him, told jokes, forced a few laughs from my own exhaustion, teased, tickled. He cried and cried, sitting in the bathtub, his sobs echoing off the tile, tears falling, he would not be quieted or shushed or bossed in his grief. He would not be distracted. Then I heard the baby wake up, alarmed by the cacophony of grief, and I lost my patience. I stomped, I shushed. I hissed about sleeping babies, and how he was too big, too old, for this nonsense. For heaven’s sake, it’s a small garden, they’ll be back in a moment, gracious, child, where is your self-control? Listen to me, listen to me, obey, obey, stop it, stop it stop it. This is ridiculous.
Amazingly, this did nothing to calm the situation.
I bathed him, grim-faced, a sergeant major of mothering, dried him with his own striped towel, and still he wept his frustration, his exhaustion, his loneliness, his left-out-ness.
And I remembered something
—something about my own self in the moments of my grief and exhaustion and weariness for real-grown-up-life stuff, and wondered: maybe small boys need this gift, too? This seems small to me, but to him, it’s the whole world right now, and so perhaps, I could practice a bit of grace for the tiny man.
I picked him up, shrieking and despondent, settled in the rocking chair, and I held him close, the way he loves to be held, and I said, “You are so sad. You are so angry. You really wanted to go with Dad and Annie. Oh, Joe, you’re so sad.”
And he stopped crying, slowly calmed, wary, listening to me. “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry you’re so sad, Joe-Bear.” He blinked through his tears, those exhausted childish hiccups surfaced that signify the end of the storm, raggedy breaths, he realised I was really listening, to him, right now.
I believed him and that was enough.
He didn’t need me to fix it, he needed me to see it.
His favorite jammies were found, but first I rubbed his back with a bit of baby lotion, nothing calms him like his mama’s touch, then back into the chair together. He told me, hiccuping and sob-talking, about how he wanted to go and didn’t get to go and wanted to go and wanted his Dad and his sister, and his bed, and his mum, and andandand…and I would hum, and sing quiet, no admonishments, no promises of next time, no distractions, and rock and say, “Of course you do, darling, of course you do. I’m so sorry. Deep breath now, love, calm your heart, calm your heart.”
He fell asleep, breathing deep, his chubby paws holding my hair.
I laid him in his bed, tucked under the homemade quilt his grandma made for him, it’s so hard to be little with such big feelings.
It always surprises me, how clearly I hear God in the daily work of mothering and homemaking and working and writing and cooking and friendship and family making. Since these three small blue-eyed souls gave another rebirth to me, I find God, I find holiness, I find the wind of the Spirit, the way of Jesus, in the most mundane of places and moments.
But maybe the surprise is that it does surprise me:
He is the God of seedtime and harvest, of lost coins and wayward sons, of water to wine and bread, of weeds and wages and stories, and little ones that see, pure hearts, and tired little boys in need of comfort, blessed be His name.
I kneel beside my tinies, this can be my cathedral. I set my hand on Joe’s slow-breathing chest, his heart now calm, he smelled like baby soap and water, like fabric softener and a broken heart-being-mended, and I knew this: there is holy work in compassion, and in offering my presence, my validation, my listening ear, my broken mothering, and sometimes, simply the act of loving and listening and sitting with a soul in the midst of grief and upset – however childish and immature, or massive and grown-up and painful – is honey, and milk, and warmth, and rest, for the tired and suffering one.
[photo: dacia mitchell, Creative Commons]