First published in the anthology, Miracle of Sons (Penguin Putnam, 2003)
I’ll never forget the exact moment in time when it hit me — that the 4-year old boy quietly gazing out the window of my pickup, my son, Sean, was the embodiment of a profound, old soul; one who could simply reach out and touch the heart of human kind with a philosophy far beyond his years. And in that moment I knew, single mother and all, I had been blessed with a special child for which my very best had to be given every day, every moment, and with every breath…beyond what we tell ourselves at the start of parenthood, and with all the honesty I could muster. For God, I knew, had big plans for him and despite any hardship that came my way, I was the one chosen to guide and nurture him.
It was an otherwise typical evening, one of those “dark by 4 O’clock” kind of winter nights. I had picked Sean up from the sitter and was navigating the rain-soaked freeway amidst a sea of commuters who like myself, just wanted to get home and call it a day. I loved drive time with Sean. It was great catch-up time, sort of the precursor to lengthy table talk over dinner. Sean and I often had deep conversations during our commutes, like the time he informed me that our friend Greg didn’t need to hunt deer for food. He could eat chicken, hamburger, or fish. Furthermore, he could go to Mc Donald’s, Mr. T’s, or even Choo-Choo’s, our favorite breakfast joint. He didn’t need to hunt deer, legal or not. He wasn’t an Indian…he had choices.
Needless to say, any old answers of pacification to Sean’s questions on life (a bad habit we adults often indulge with our children), or the assumption that worldly topics were beyond his understanding was a route that proved not only disrespectful, but even more so, futile. He asked straight-up questions and expected of me, straight-up answers. He thought things through on his own and always had a rational, logical explanation for his opinions, and he could articulate them well. It was a parental challenge however, one I thought I would have time to prepare for, say 10 or 12 years, but I was wrong. Dubbed by another preschooler’s mom as a 3-foot attorney, Sean was an observant boy and his views on the world, of which he was fascinated by and eager to understand, were to be respected. On this night he would turn his selfless and tender view of the world up a notch, and with a sigh of seriousness he spoke through the darkness…
“You know what makes me really sad, Mom?” he asked.
My stomach dropped as I was instantly sent into a deep sea of fear, frozen in the moment as the possibilities ran warp speed through my mind. Was the statement that I had dreaded for two years now about to hit home; how his little heart longed to be back in the same house with his father, together, the three of us? That he worried about his dad being lonely? Maybe he was sad about Kassie, our Australian Sheppard who got out the gate and never came home – a victim too of the divorce when I left and couldn’t take her to our new home. Divorce, two homes, separate schedules, a runaway dog…was it all too much? “Be brave and just face the problem head on,” I told myself. “You knew there would be difficult bridges to cross and worries to quail. Be an adult! Be brave. Be honest.”
“Brave my rear,” I thought. “I’ve probably screwed him up forever with my selfish desire for happiness and passion in my world.” So what if my marriage wasn’t fulfilling, tender, or reassuring, anything close to the likes of The Cosby Show’s Clair Huckstable’s? What would I say if this was “it”; that moment in which he wanted an explanation?
“ What?” I forced out, striving to maintain both a calm nature and my lane on the freeway, avoiding those little bumps that say, “Hey lady! The game’s right here! Eyes on the road and attention forward please!” And then I waited, holding my breath while my hands griped the wheel and my eyes focused intently on the road ahead. “Bring it on, Seanster,” I thought. “Whatever it is I’ll deal with it.” With that, Sean enlightened me.
“It makes me really sad when old people lose on The Price Is Right. It’s nice when the young people win too, but they have their whole lives to work and save up for all that stuff. Old people don’t have that much longer. I just think it’s better when they win.”
With that off his chest, Sean turned his attention back outside the window. As I loosened the grip of the wheel and felt the blood begin to flow into my fingers once again, I said a silent thank you to God…several actually. Thank you for making me strong enough to do what I thought was best during times of great uncertainty. Thank you for helping me to be brave, honest, and diligent in my duties as a mom. And most of all, thank you for not letting me underestimate the heart, thoughts and spirit of the little guy you sent me. If this is any sign of what’s to come, I can hardly wait.
As I reached over to stroke Sean’s cheek, all the while holding back a proud tear, he flashed his trademark casual and “connected to all that’s right in the world” smile.
“You Sean,” I said, “…think a lot for such a short guy. Have I told you how much I love you today?”