A few months ago, my older son received a Target gift card as a birthday present. If you know my children, you won’t be surprised to learn that the entire gift card amount went to purchase LEGO kits. When we have a free afternoon and can’t think of anything else to do, my boys often ask to visit Target so they can browse the LEGO aisles in the toy section. By the time they are out of childhood, we will have spent hours window-shopping LEGO kits.
On the day we visited Target to make an actual purchase–with said gift card in tow–my big boy had it all planned out. He picked out the LEGO kit he wanted; we shopped for a few more items; then we checked out. He exhausted his gift card and had to pay with some of his own money, so he asked me to make the transaction for him, since we were also making a second purchase of household staples.
After all the shopping and buying had concluded, we headed home–the boys to play downstairs with new LEGO pieces; me upstairs to read in solitude. Not much time passed before my older son knocked quietly at my door and then entered looking worried and sad.
I invited him to sit up on my bed with me and tell me what was wrong. He had thought he would get to keep his gift card after we finished at Target and realized only after we got home that the cashier had thrown it away. I reassured him that it had no more money on it, so it couldn’t really serve him anymore. But he had wanted to save it since it was a birthday present.
As it dawned on him that the card was well and truly gone, he began to cry with disappointment, with the understanding that something he wanted had been irretrievably lost.
So I just held him. He laid his head on my shoulder, and we just sat together while he cried. I didn’t tell him that it was no big deal; I didn’t attempt to distract him with the offer of some ice cream; I didn’t tell him that there would be more gift cards in his future. We just sat. Together. I couldn’t take away his sadness–and even if I could have, I wouldn’t have wanted to cheat him out of feeling his own valid emotions–but I could be with him in it. I could offer him the power of being there. So I did. Then, when he finished crying and seemed to accept that we couldn’t change what had happened with his gift card, he cheered up. And then we went downstairs for ice cream.
Last night, my big boy reminded me of the power that a mother has in her children’s life–the enormity of what she has to offer her children simply by being there.
My husband and I had gotten our sons to bed over an hour earlier. We had gotten comfortable in the living room, talking about racism and friendships and preparing to watch a TV show. Then our older son came into the room–I recognized the look on his face and understood something wasn’t right.
“Oh mah?” He said tentatively. “What is it?” I answered.
He then jumped in my lap, wrapped his arms tightly around my neck, and whispered in my ear that he couldn’t go to sleep because he was scared. He and his little brother had watched some vintage cartoons earlier that afternoon, and apparently some of the scenes had scared him. For a sliver of a moment, I wanted to grab those CD’s containing the cartoons and smash them to smithereens and then fling them out of the house–not because my restful night had been interrupted but because they had frightened my boy.
I couldn’t erase the frightening images from my son’s mind, and we couldn’t go back in time and skip watching those episodes. There was really only one thing I could do–offer to be with him.
“Why don’t I go lay down with you?” I offered. “Yes,” he answered. I picked him up and carried him back to bed, where I lay beside him while he rubbed my elbow–a habit he’s had since infancy–and then fell asleep within a few minutes.
I can’t often take away the sadness that my children may feel, or eliminate what makes them feel afraid. And doing so would short-circuit some of the life lessons that they need to learn, anyway. But I can offer what I do have–my presence. I can offer to be with them in their grief or fear for as long as necessary, until they fall asleep or until it’s time for ice cream.
Which is just how I experience Jesus–“God with us”–with me: not always making the source of my worries or insecurities or tears vanish, but instead making them bearable. By offering me the power of being there, His being there with me.