Even though my boys have hit the early teen years, they still allow me the nightly ritual of putting them to bed. For David, I give him his night time meds to help him sleep (sleep is an issue for people with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome), take him upstairs to his bedroom, put him and bed and pray for him. He still needs the assistance to make it to bed each night. For Matthias, he heads up on his own, gets ready, and calls me when he’s ready for me. I come upstairs, pray for him, sometimes we have a conversation about whatever’s on his mind, and then he grabs a hold of me to wrestle one last time before the day ends. I’m a believer in ritual in life—especially around touch points for our family to affirm our love for one another. I love the bed time ritual. It’s one last chance for me to connect with my boys before the days ends.
The other night, as Matthias and I wrestled, I had one of those moments of irrational parental panic. As we started to wrestle, I found myself thinking, “What would I do if something terrible happened to you?” I think every mom and every dad knows that feeling—you’re in the moment enjoying (or not) your kids when some horrible story of a child dying prematurely, or getting cancer, fleets across your mind. In those moments as a dad, I feel small in the universe. I become aware I am limited and finite, reminded that while in some ways I am the protector of our family, my ability to protect and defend my family is more illusion than reality. David has a severe genetic syndrome causing sudden minor and major health issues from time to time. I know anything from anesthesia in a simple surgery, to a bad cold turned pneumonia can take him without warning. Matthias is less than a year from getting his driving permit and has just begun the teenage years of being out with friends while Lisa and I are still home. The possibilities of what could happen when he’s on his own, without my protection, are enough to send shivers up my spine.
I’ve heard the best antidote to these waking parental terrors is gratitude. The truth is, we do not own our children or our spouses. The people in our lives are gifts from God we are given to enjoy for a time. The older I get, the more I realize life itself is but a fleeting vapor. How can our earthly relationships in this life be any more than that?
The other night, just as I began to think these dark thoughts about Matthias, I was about to break free of his grip and end our nightly match. I started freaking out internally—feeling my son’s life slipping from my tight grip on him—even as I was literally loosening his grip on me in our wrestling match. I thought, “If I lost him, we won’t have any more of these moments. How many more of these moments do we have as father and son? He’s 14, how many more times will he allow me to spend these last moments of his day with him before he decides he’s too old and he’s over it? I will have to give that to him when he wants it. Children grow up, parents help children grow up. One day, we won’t do this anymore.”
Remembering the power of gratitude I decided, “I’m thankful for this moment. This is a moment I could inhabit.” I looked him in the eye, relaxed my body ever so slightly, and he pulled me again thinking he was once again getting the upper hand in our match. As we wrestled through round two, I thought, I don’t know how many more of these moment we have together, but we have this one. I am thankful for this moment with my son. I am thankful for my son. These moments will cease one day, but I have this one and I will be present.
Maybe you’ve experienced these moments yourself. You find yourself worrying about things you can’t control. Perhaps you have experienced the awful parental pain of seeing your child afflicted, or worse. Being a parent is hard. We bring these little humans into the world, invest ourselves in their well-being and one way or another have to release them. We laugh and cry with our kids, counsel them and argue with them, and watch them experience joy and pain. I have to equip Matthias to enter the world and to brave it without me or Lisa. I don’t know what David’s future holds, whether living with us or apart, future surgeries, or how long he will be with us. Rather than dwell on the uncertain future, may we be grateful for every day, every moment we get with our kids. May we hold them open-handed, thankful for the privilege to steward their lives for a time.