In the dark early hours of the morning, I saw a shadowy figure in my bedroom, and my first thought was that it was Jesus. I’d been reading some Anne Lamott the night before—the part of Travelling Mercies where she describes what she later came to believe was Jesus’ presence in her bedroom as she was struggling alone, drunk, strung out, through the aftermath of an abortion. Anne writes that she could feel the presence so strongly that she got up and turned on the light to see if someone was there.
So I had Jesus on the brain when I woke up this morning. As I said, it was dark, and I sensed this presence somewhere in the middle of the room. Without opening my eyes, I thought, “Maybe it’s Jesus.” Then the presence said, “Mama, I have an important message for you.” I opened my eyes. “Okay, so it’s not Jesus. But it could be a message from Jesus. Delivered by Gabe. Wearing his Batman costume.” He was standing with his hands on his hips and I could see his shape—his bat ears were sticking up and his cape was draped over him. “What’s the message?” I asked, and I have to admit, I was sort of holding out hope for something profound. He said, “Mama, be brave and stay safe.” Then he turned around and walked into the kitchen.
Excellent advice, I must say. Gabe will be 5 next month and like most 5-year old boys, is obsessed with superheroes. Obsessed in that kid way where they talk about them for each of the 12 hours that they are awake. But I actually think that what he’s really obsessed with is getting older, being a person in the world, having been born at all and what that means.
I think this because he gets sort of funky around his birthdays. While most kids love the idea of “getting big,” he seems to need some extra assurance that getting bigger is a perfectly fine way to proceed with life. Last year he swore up and down that he did not wish to turn 4 because he still wasn’t pooping in the potty, and he had it in his head that he would have to start pooping in the potty when he turned 4. I’d made an all out effort to get him to poop in the potty when he was about 3, but he was so against it that I finally gave up.
But right around his 4th birthday, I heard this pediatrician on our local radio station doing a call-in show, so I called in and blurted out Gabe’s whole pooping situation—he would wear underwear, he knew exactly when he had to poop, but he would only do it in a diaper. I think I expected the doctor to laugh kindly and be reassuring, but he didn’t and wasn’t. He used words like “age-appropriate behavior,” and “possible counseling.” I hung up and thought, “Enough is enough.” And when Gabe and I got home, I sat him down and showed him his baby book, explaining all the things that he couldn’t do once (sit, walk, talk, run, etc.) but that he could do now. I told him he was my baby and would always be my baby no matter how big he got. And that very night, he got up in the middle of the night, pooped in the potty, and that was it. He’s never looked back. Down, possibly, but not back.
He was born via an unexpected c-section on November 28th, 2005, and he’s been playing this game with me for the last several weeks. It’s called the “Hatch Out of the Egg Game.” He hides under his Thomas the Tank Engine blanket, pretending to be a baby dinosaur in an egg, and I have to find him. Then I have to carry him to the bed and wait until he hatches out. When he hatches out, I have to give him his blanket and “a big chunk of meat,” because that’s what baby dinos eat. So that’s what I do—I carry him, I wait for him, I express unbounded joy at his arrival, and then I feed him. Just like it was 5 years ago. Just like it will be for as many more years as he needs.
At his daycare a few weeks ago, when Gabe walked in, into the same group of kids he’s seen almost every day for the last 3 years, his little friend Jackson ran up to him and said, “Gabriel S! We’re so glad you came!”
So I sort of think it was Jesus in my room this morning bearing this very important reminder: becoming big requires both being brave and staying safe. Being alive requires being brave and staying safe. And no matter how many superpowers we arm ourselves with, how many costumes we use to disguise who we are, it’s still lovely to have someone there to tell you how happy they are that you came. Thank you, Jackson, and thank you, my baby dino Gabe, for reminding me of that, and for reminding me most of all how much love there is along the way.
Be brave. Stay safe.
An Autumn poem from Linda Pastan:
“The Way the Leaves Keep Falling”
It is November
and morning–time to get to work.
I feel the little whip
of my conscience flick
as I stand at the window watching
the great harvest of leaves.
Across the street my neighbor,
his leaf blower already roaring,
tries to make order
from the chaos of fading color.
He seems brave and a bit foolish.
It is almost tidal, the way
the leaves keep falling
wave after wave to earth.
In Eden there were
no seasons, and sometimes
I think it was the tidiness
of that garden
Eve hated, all the wooden tags
with the new names of plants and trees.
Still, I am Adam’s child too
and I like order, though
the margins of my poems
are ragged, and I stand here
all morning watching the leaves.