Isn't it odd how our deficits catch up to us, and we find ourselves in need of something completely basic?
My son is seventeen. He's the oldest of the children I gave birth to. Because of our oldest son's misfortune and now he's gone away, Lumumba is the resident big brother. It hasn't been easy for him.
Lumumba has only been with me for two years. His father took him away from me when he was five, and I didn't know then how to fight for him. While he didn't heap on Lumumba the physical abuse he reserved for me, he was liberal with verbal and emotional abuse. It's taken my son all of these last few years to figure out simple things like who he is, what he loves authentically, and how to begin to like himself. We haven't even tapped self-love yet. These things take time. It took me ten years to recover from his father. I imagine it will take Lumumba more.
He's been sick for the last few days. An ear infection in both ears. A terrible cold, and he knocks on my door at three am.
"What is it, baby?"
"I can't sleep at all. My eyes are bothering me. I think I'm going blind."
I peek at him. He is not going blind. "You have pink eye now, honey."
"Will they have to shoot me with antibiotics?"
"I think the antibiotics you started yesterday will help. I'll get some chamomile tea. Chamomile tea bags on those eyes will clear that right up."
I can tell he still thinks he will die from all this. He sits on my bed and spills his heart out.
"I'm never going to smoke weed again. I think this is God's way of telling me that I should stop. At least for a few years."
Already he's compromising.
Because I am a mother, I can't resist siding with God on this, though I know he just has a bad cold and God is not punishing him for smoking weed. "I don't think God wants you to smoke. You should listen."
This is awful of me, but I use it anyway! Lord, have mercy! Marijuana is so plentiful around here that people smoke it like they smoke cigarettes. I need a little leverage, God help me.
He visits longer and again I assure him his demise isn't imminent. I watch him soften with my words. My big strong boy, trying so hard to be a man. Failing miserably. Three o'clock in the morning. Just wanting his mom. Having her at long last. And I'm so moved by this basic exchange. The years stretch out behind me, and I take a peek--just a peek back at them. How many of these mother/son moments we've missed. I think of Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son":
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Life is tough sometimes, and not only do we all need somebody to tell us that it is, we need someone to tell us that we'll get through it. I'm glad I can just be here for him, to have been able to take him to the pediatrician, even though he is bigger than she is (and me!)--she also gave him that motherly, "You should stop smoking" bit. I was grateful! I'm glad down in my soul for the siblings that came after him who I nursed through all kinds of childhood illness, who gave me my mother wings, even though I didn't deserve them. They taught me that if we're all breathing, we'll get through just about anything. And thank God, they're all breathing, even though Lumumba is very congested.
A dear friend lost a son to suicide a few days ago. I am grieving her terrible loss with her. It made these moments with him, so ordinary, utterly precious to me. I got to reassure my baby that all would be well. And he believed me.
It isn't much. It's like that old, bad wizard on the Christmas show (Santa Claus is Coming to Town?) that only had a handful of magic left in him, but it was enough to make reindeer fly. I released my little red-nosed boy to the night and the arms of God. He feels stronger, and a little better for it. Took all of five or six minutes.
No, it wasn't much. Just a little ordinary magic to get him through the night.
We all need that sometimes? don't we. Hey, if you remember, say some prayers for my friend and her family. They are truly hurting right now, and say a few for Lumumba, too.