I remember him being so small. To be honest, because the memory of delivering him was so fresh in my head, I had a hard time reconciling the sight of his newborn body and the work it took to bring that body into the world.
We had practiced putting the infant seat into our car several times before that day. But coming out of the hospital, cool March wind on our faces, we felt fumble-y and unsure. Newborn Noah was asleep and curled tightly, as only the young can do. We lifted that clunky contraption and set it into place. Once we heard the convincing click of the seat into the base, Mark and I stood still outside our vehicle looking at him and wondering what we would do next.
I was not well-enough to drive, clearly. I was less than 36 hours postpartum. Mark got in the driver’s seat to take us home. I looked at my baby and could not imagine sitting way up in the front seat. Would he be okay in the back? What if he woke up? What if he could not find us and was afraid? What if the bumps in the road jostled him and made him feel unsafe?
The distance between the front and back seat, where my newborn sat, was just too great. Normally Mark would not like to feel so like a chauffeur but on this day, it only made sense that he would drive our Ford Escort and the rest of his tiny family would sit together in the rear.
I got in the car and we began the trip home. I did not take my eyes off that baby for one second. The 30 minute trek took an easy 45 as we crawled over every bump and eased around every turn. Precious cargo, we had. And we were well-aware.
All of this came back to me last week as we processed through the surgery needed to put that baby’s arm back together. Except he is not a baby anymore. Now, Noah is taller than me by several inches and lives independently on the campus of his chosen university.
This fall brought new classes and new faces and a brand new soccer team to get to know. The season was going well and Noah was finding a spot in the rotation. He was growing as a player and contributing to their success.
Until last week.
I am often heard complaining about dirty teams. There is a grace and beauty that can be found on a field and all of it falls away when a team is coached to compete in a violent way. It minimizes the skill that the players can develop when they use brute force instead of using their feet.
And last week, that ugliness got the best of my boy.
Subbed onto the field, he went in for the ball and was intentionally hit hard by a competitor. So hard that his elbow bone (olecranon) broke off and another bone in his arm split lengthwise.
Being who he is, he played on. A bit of time passed and he realized that his arm was no longer movable and asked to be subbed off. And thus began a part of his journey we had not anticipated at all.
A week ago today, we checked into the hospital for surgery. It took the doctors two and half hours to repair Noah’s arm. They put a plate in place with seven screws and we walked into the recovery room to find our beloved in deep and endless pain. We had never seen him like that before and hope never to see it again. There was nothing in us that looked at our boy and thought he was almost all grown up. The rush of protectiveness rose up again and Mark and I both worked to take care of our son.
Hours passed and the doctors had done all they could to lessen his pain. We waffled on having him stay or taking him home but when they said there was nothing more they could do, we made a decision to take him to a place where he could rest. Getting dressed was painful so we left on the gown and took a wheelchair to the curb. We loaded him in and packed pillows all around. We wondered and worried about which route to take, opting for the shorter distance with the fewest railroad crossings.
This time, I would drive. I know the van best since it is a tool of my trade and could maneuver it as smoothly as its age would allow.
Mark, looking not at a man-child, but at his boy, sat in the back right next to Noah, just as I had nearly two decades before.
As soon as I put that vehicle in drive, it all came rushing back. A drive home from the hospital with precious cargo inside, ages ago and again today. It did not feel different at all. Afraid to jostle our baby, eager to soothe his fears and keep him safe, we slowly trekked to the place we belong, together.
When Noah left for college, I wondered what it would be like to parent a grown child. I wondered, truthfully, if there would be any parenting involved… and mourned that thought and potential reality.
Last week, I learned something new.
These four children were gifted to me. And each age and stage has presented new challenges and joys. I am finding though that new branches of our journey do not remove from me the task I have been given. Even if they are taller than me (and two of them are!) the same nurturing that was needed during those early years is sometimes necessary today. It may look different but growth does not eliminate the need. I want my children to know that when the rubber hits the road, there is someone there to come alongside.There is someone who adores them and is praying for their well-being. There is someone who will step outside of whatever less-important need is pressing and help them to navigate that road.
And sometimes, we will all find that what they need is less. And I will pray for wisdom to sense those days and love my kids with release… as I did today when Noah headed back to school. One armed and healing, he returned to his world and I am left trusting his friends and the university to help if it is needed. And I am left trusting Noah to rise up out of this difficult experience and stand firmly on the foundation we are helping him to build, the foundation he is fashioning to fit his own feet and serve as a launching pad into his future.
Mommas, this complicated job description we have fallen into is one we get to keep. Whether you sit today with a toddler at your feet or teen nearby tapping toe awaiting the truck keys, you are needed and valued at every twist and turn. Your very presence changes things and so you must be present. Even when it is hard. Even when the road is bumpy and long.
We must choose to strap ourselves in and prepare for the ride, settling into the journey at hand.
Blessings on your day.