How love raises a boy

He’s singing to the baby over the monitor. A love song.

Our babes, who know nothing but tears dried,hunger fed, bad dreams battled with the comfort of mommy and daddy’s bed, cold blanketed, and sickness soothed. Our sweeties whose parents live to see their comfort preserved, their health sustained, and their lives absent of anything that might bring them harm.

And yet, in the moments before sleep, the love song.

“…and when i’m weary and overwrought          

with so many battles left unfought

I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard          

I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars          

I see the shepherd moses in the pharaohs court          

I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord…”

His head nods heavy against his Daddy.

A whole world sits beyond his bedroom window. And as his Daddy whispers his song, he is baptized in the tears of faith as they fall on his baby fine hair.

“…and when the Saints go marching in         

I want to be one of them…”

Do you hear that, son? The call to love?

“…I see the long quiet walk along the underground railroad          

I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul          

I see the young missionary and the angry spear          

I see his family returning with no trace of fear          

I see the long hard shadows of calcutta nights          

I see the sister standing by the dying man’s side          

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor          

I see the man with a passion come kicking down that door

I see the man of sorrow and his long troubled road          

I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load…”

I listen closely over the monitor. Is there a better way to love than to impart these words, this heritage? A better way to raise a boy child into a man, but with this love song for a world in need?

“…and when the Saints go marching in         

I want to be one of them…”

He’s singing our boy to sleep with words that will keep, and a faith that can change the world.

Lyrics from “When the Saints” by Sara Groves


What I didn’t know

Sometimes, I feel like he’s a little muddled in,a little bit mushed between the older and the younger, wondering what he’s supposed to be doing if he’s not being side 2 of a duo, the older , the little. His is a life of always second, the reliable, the easy, my aid in the long days of so many little boys with so many needs. At night he asks for the songs I sang to him when he was tiny and so I “Baby Mine” him and we whisper, “God bless the moon and God bless me and God bless the ones that I love to see” together in the dark of the bottom bunk. He scooches his head into my neck and I think he’s trying to be that tiny bit of need and helplessness again. I push his hair back off his forehead as I sing and I cradle him as best I can, hoping he knows he can still be my baby. I miss him too.

I put him in preschool this year. One half morning a week, he waltzes into a room and for 3 hours, he’s his own self. No Mommy asking for help because it’s just easier, no brothers yelling louder or needing more.

He’s just Silas.

I pick him up and he’s all grins and shoulders back. He hands me his work, his pride streaming from his blue eyes. Seeing him like this gives me that rare feeling of calm, of peace.

This is right for him.

I did the right thing. 

When he was bitty, and when his brother was growing before him, I promised myself I’d never do this, send him off to preschool. Unnecessary, I said. I pushed back against anyone who tried to convince me that children need to be anywhere but at home during their earliest years.

No, not my boys.

I wanted them close to the nest, gathered round me as we explored the world together, learning all they needed to know from the push and pull of family life, hearing the voices of Brandon and I first and loudest in the early years of shaping and molding.

But this year, I learned something I didn’t know then, something I couldn’t have known then.

I didn’t know Silas.

I didn’t know what our family would look like. I certainly didn’t know I’d have 4 little boys in the span of five years. I didn’t know how stretched I’d be and how I’d have to let go a bit if my boys were to ever know themselves as anything other than “one of the boys”.

I still think preschool as a necessity for “kindergarten readiness” or socialization is a silly idea when a mother or father is home and family life is rich. And I know it wasn’t right for my Cole-man. And I have no idea if my other boys will attend.

But for my sweet Silas, those 3 hours mean something to him. They mean that I see him, that I’m willing to do something just for him. That for three hours, other people are getting to know him as himself, apart from me, apart from his brothers. They’ll see things we don’t. And they’ll help him see those things too. And he desperately needed that.

So many ideals. So many realities. It’s a constant laying down of pride and ready-made answers, finding the truth of each situation  buried in the heart of each little child. It’s a treasure hunt, this finding the best for each little life entrusted to my care. It’s a stripping down of a mother, a practice of giving life over and over again. An opening of clenched fists, a turning of eyes and heart upward. A handing over and letting go.

And it’s worth it.

Innocent Man

Dear Brandon,

Tonight we shared earbuds, one in your ear, one in mine and the white wire strung between us. You sat and I stood, swaying as Billy crooned at us. The long day nearly over, we ignored the small children who appeared in our doorway asking for drinks or company in the bathroom. We waved them away as we hummed along and pretty much rocked out.

You played all my favorites. I remembered the first time my mom played me “Piano Man” and how it felt like poetry and real life and hope and art. I thought about my days in the dorm when my roommate “tsk tsked” me for staying out too late with you and I hummed “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life…” and I thought about our drive through a national forest ten years ago with “I’m not above doing anything to restore your  faith if I can…” playing in the background.

Then I thought about the concert when I was 8 months pregnant with Silas and how it was pretty much one of the highlights of my life, and how I’d pay so much more than the $20 or whatever it was we paid to see the Piano Man himself play every note of every song, and sing like he was 25 years old and as into it all as he ever was.

Then I thought about how little I know about music, and how it is your first language. I thought about how I like Neil Diamond and you just look at me with half incredulity and half pity. How I went to all your concerts, but if you hadn’t been the tenor soloist, I would have been bored out of my mind. And I thought about the drives between our college towns and our hometown on long weekends filled with dream-talk and Billy Joel tunes. And how I’m the mother of your children and on days when that job wears me out, you hand me an earbud and we listen together. And how that restores me. You and Billy.

In those moments I think, I’m so glad my mom loved the “Piano Man” because I love sharing this with you.