If there were a rite of passage for parenthood, I’d venture to say it’s not a baby shower or a milestone birthday or watching your child take their first step. Maybe, instead, it’s that first trip to the ER.
Our ER adventure started with the most innocuous of summer events: a bug bite. But by day two, the swelling was getting worse and the Benadryl wasn’t doing the trick. By the time our little boy woke up from his nap, both eyes were swollen completely shut. The pediatrician sent us straight to the ER—forget dinner, let alone combing your hair.
Once Graham and I were on the road (Daniel couldn’t go, per COVID regulations), I heard Graham’s little voice pipe up from the backseat, “How you feeling, Mama?” Before I could come up with a reply that was both honest and calming, he replied, “I feeling happy.” This from a boy whose eyes looked like jet-puffed marshmallows and who could no longer see out the window.
Once we were whisked into our hospital room, Graham was given a tiny gown with rocket ships on it and pumped with even more Benadryl. He let the doctor pry open his eyes and dutifully responded when asked, “Does this hurt? How about this?”
He was a champ . . . under one condition: that he knew precisely where I was. And since his visibility was at practically zero, that meant physical contact. If I took my hand off of him for even a second, he would say, “Where are you, Mama?” So I’d rub his back or put my hand on his arm while singing every hymn I could access from the cobwebs of memory.
By hour three in the ER, as we waited in vain for the Benadryl to kick in, it was well past bedtime. After dozing off in the too-big hospital bed, he’d wake up, startled. “What is you and I doing, Mama?” he asked. I’d hold his hand and remind him where we were. And then he’d breathe a sigh and lean back on the pillow again.
Thankfully, Graham’s eyes recovered (although we never did figure out the rogue bug that got him). The main thing he remembers about his hospital visit was the bed with wheels, which he thought was the coolest thing since Thomas the Tank Engine. But I can’t stop thinking about the kind of childlike faith that requires only presence, not answers.
By all counts, this year has been a year of reckoning for our nation, for our world. Everywhere we turn, there’s pain, suffering, injustice, division. Every day the news headlines bring a new reason for lament. With my jaded, grown-up faith, I ask God, “Why? How long? What are you going to do about all this?”
I want to be more like my little boy, with just one pressing question: Where are you, Papa?It may not make the pain go away. It may not change the circumstances. It may not answer all my whys.
But I’ll be reminded that he’s right here, holding my hand. Always has been, always will be. And for now, at least, maybe that’s enough.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.Psalm 73:28
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all you do.