This afternoon was one of those hazy, gray days with just enough drizzle that you were never quite sure if it was raining or not. There was a little bit of a chill in the air, and it was very quiet in our neighborhood. The streets usually overrun with children after school were empty.
My littles were working on their lessons. I was taking care of my day to dailies when our Princess came in and asked me if she could go outside. I looked out the windows to my right just in case I was wrong and the skies had turned blue and sunny in the last thirty seconds.
No. They hadn’t.
“I don’t think so. It’s raining outside, isn’t it?”
“But Cooter’s out there,” she said, just enough above a whine not to get called out for it but close enough that her message got through.
“No, he’s not supposed to be,” I told her, as I remembered him commenting on his buddies being outside. (To which I had said, No, you’re not going out there.)
We started searching the house, calling his name. Nothing. Miss Sophie followed us around, and I headed straight for the front door.
Only I saw no one. “I’m going outside,” I called out, and I took off across the yard, hollering his name like I was back home in the country again.
I didn’t care.
The street was so quiet, it was almost unbearable. The silence was tangible, and it wrapped around my throat and heart, nearly choking me.
I looked back at the house and realized the garage was open, so he most likely had his bike. Only it wasn’t flung down in someone’s front yard like it normally is, a surefire clue to where he could be.
The silence was suffocating me. I kept walking. One foot in front of the other.
In that moment, all I could picture was trying to tell the Fella that I’d lost our boy. And what on earth I would say to the 911 operator.
Thankfully in the next moment, as I got about 2/3 of the way up the street, I saw a glint of yellow. His bike?
And then his face.
I nearly wept right then as ALL THE FEELS washed over me. You name it, I felt it.
Mostly I was exhausted. That had been the longest walk down our little street that I’ve ever had.
From where he was, he saw my face and said nothing. As I couldn’t speak, I pointed at our house. He all but flew past me on his bike and into the garage out of sight. I slowly turned around and started back toward the house. One foot in front of the other.
I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew he was in big trouble. Possibly the biggest he’s ever been in.
When I got in the house, I was all prepared to light into him, but I did take a moment. And I breathed.
He looked so small and uncertain and maybe a little scared sitting on the couch across from me. All of the anger melted away for a second. I or Someone reminded me that the worst hadn’t happened. I had my child right here with me. He was okay.
“Come here, buddy,” I choked out. And he knew exactly what I wanted. We hugged for a long minute. And then I started crying, telling him how scared I had been.
I started fussing. One more fit. I named the rules he had broken–one, leaving the house without asking, two, riding his bike up the street without asking, and three, going in someone else’s yard where he would be out of eyesight from ours. Our rule is if you can’t see our house, I can’t see you–so only go where you can.
He listened and tears crept into his eyes. I was rational but I laid it out for him–how scared I’d been, how disobedient he’d been, how I was thankful, and that he was OH SO VERY MUCH FOR A LONG, LONG TIME grounded. I didn’t explain it in exactly a calm voice either. And I might have been loud.
I hugged him one more time, and then I sat him down in front of his lessons as he wondered aloud what exactly being grounded looked like. He was contrite but curious.
I walked away.
Later this evening I thought about the Prodigal Son story found in the Good Book. The one where a man has two sons, and one chooses to take his inheritance early and goes off and squanders it, and then winds up working feeding pigs for a farmer. He finally decides to swallow his pride and go back home and ask his father to take him on as a hired servant. As he heads towards home, his father sees him, and goes running to greet him. The father plans a big ol’ hootenanny to welcome him home, which doesn’t exactly sit well with the son who has stayed home and spent all this time doing his father’s bidding. I get it, and that’s a story for another night–but what made me go back and reread it tonight is I was wondering if the father had advance notice the son was coming home. That he was alive–and okay.
I read it over three times. I don’t think he did.
So there the father was–all this time gone by where he’d likely heard about the partying and then nothing. He didn’t know if his son was dead or alive or what, and then one day the son comes home.
And the father greets him. With open arms. He ran to his son.
And I just have one question, one little thought rattling around in my mind–
After you hugged your son, so thankful and relieved that he was alive and in front of you and seemingly okay, did you then take a moment to impress upon him all the worrying you had done in all that time and how irresponsible and inconsiderate he had been not to at least communicate better with you, because after all you are his father and you love him, but there are rules and stuff as to how to be kind and respectful to those you love?
Did you ground him?
I can understand what that hug was like for you–you had this lost child in your arms. You could touch him, breathe him in, hold him in your arms. But can you identify with my frustrations and anger and pain and fear that followed the hug?
I mean, I think it would have been okay to do all that and then move on to the feast. It seemed to flow that way around here. After the dust settled, I made them a pot of “sort of from scratch” chicken noodle soup, and it was good and comforting and just what we all needed after the emotional upheaval of the afternoon. I even served the pears my Prodigal asked for.
But his sister sure got some too. Because I appreciate that she hung around like she was supposed to.
Tonight I’m thankful that my children are tucked in bed safe and sound, and that none of the horrible things going through my head about 5:30 this afternoon came to fruition. I give thanks for the “intervention” in my heart that had me hug my son with gratitude before letting him know exactly where he had gone wrong. I don’t know if I was right or wrong in raising my voice and calling him out, but what’s done is done now. I just know that this world we live in can be a scary place, and I walk a fine line between not wanting to scare my children and trying to impress upon them the importance of being smart and staying safe.
And to think I was excited when Cooter learned to ride his bike.
May we all have someone happy to see us when we return back to where we came from, running to us with open arms that wrap us up in love–and may we recognize that sometimes the heart behind the fussing and correcting really, really does love us.
Love to all.