He is five years old– five and a half, actually, and that extra half year is crucially important to his not-quite-kindergartener’s ego. He is noisy, and friendly, and opinionated about pretty much everything. His favorite color is red, he’ll eat just about anything, and he wants to be a train driver when he grows up. He is also a very social little boy; the world is his friend, and he loves to hang out with other children of all ages.
That’s why when I dropped Ryan off in the kids’ program at the GARBC conference I wasn’t in the least bit worried about him. I knew he would have a blast with the other children as I sang in the choir concert and Art directed a glut of traffic through the pouring rain.
We sang and it was amazing. The overheated stage, our aching feet and backs– we forgot it all in the melodies and rhythms, the lyrics and harmonies of the music before us. When that last long glorious note ended, triumphing over exhaustion, dry throats, and bad acoustics, the response of the audience made every sacrifice worthwhile. What a powerful experience.
It’s incredible how quickly the mountains can turn into valleys. Two hours later, I was standing, soaking wet, in my husband’s office, unable to reach him on his cell phone. The van had been commandeered by someone for something, and was no longer where I had parked it. Sam was wearing jean shorts with no underwear, having decided that it would be better to go “Number Two” in his pants than to tell his teacher that he needed a potty break. And Ryan was eating an apple that my mother had given him in an attempt to get him to sit still while we tried to figure out what was going on.
I finally reached my husband, who was in the middle of trying to get some 1700 people out of a campus that thinks 500 is a crowd. He knew where the van was. He would be there to get us and take us to the van any minute. I heard a little surprised sound from one of the boys– and turned around to discover my older boy with an apple in one hand, a baby tooth in the other, and blood running down his chin. Goodbye, I told Art. Your son just lost his first tooth.
Ryan got that little incisor a little over five years ago. The poor baby had had horrible diapers for a week, so I took him to the doctor. She felt his gums and could feel nothing, and he was a little young to be teething
at only five months. Rotovirus had been going around, so she told me to collect some samples and bring them into the lab. Collecting stool samples from diapers may be easier than collecting them from a potty-trained child, but was still not exactly the fun special times I had imagined motherhood to contain. The day after I drove those little bottles and test tubes of my child’s poop twenty miles to the nearest insurance-approved lab, Ryan cut his first tooth. A few days later, he cut his second. Within seven weeks he had eight teeth.
Now, standing in the bathroom of my husband’s office, holding a wet paper towel in the gap where that precious little tooth used to be, shivering in my wet clothing, I calmed my slightly worried son and wondered if the evening could get any crazier. Answer: of course it could. It always can. Ryan was quite convinced that the apple grandma had given him was the Most Important Fruit Ever. As soon as I declared the bleeding “mostly stopped,” he attempted to take another bite of the apple, which caused the flow to start again. Maybe he should be done with the apple for tonight, I suggested.
You should know that this part of my story happened at 9:30 at night, which is approximately two hours after my children’s normal bedtime. You should also know that their nap had been cut short. The loss of the tooth had pushed Ryan to the point of tiredness that comes right before hysteria. My apple proclamation sent him over the edge. With blood yet again running down his chin, he sobbed about the general cruelty of a world that takes away apples given to boys by their grandmas.
When Art walked in to rescue us from his office, I was hysterically trying to calm my hysterical boy (I was pretty tired too), Ryan was bleeding freely and bawling with great feeling, and Sam was calmly attempting to make 700 copies of his sticky little hand. As we began our dramatic exit I discovered that my mother who had helpfully offered to hold my purse had helpfully driven off with it at her feet. My purse is missing, I announced in exasperation.
“OH NO! GRANDMA TOOK MOMMY’S PURSE? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO???” I honestly have no way of communicating the sincere desperation in Ryan’s voice. The loss of my purse was to his little toothless self the end of the universe. It’s okay, I said, we’ll get it tomorrow. Nothing was going to stop him now, though. Slimy paper towel chomped in his mouth, the boy wept bitter tears as we loaded the boys into the security truck. He wept as Art drove us across campus. He wept as we transferred him into the van and as Sam attempted to make the conference a whole lot more interesting by running out in front of an oncoming vehicle. He wept as I buckled him in, speaking calming words against his tear-streaked face. He wept as Art told him goodnight and as I drove away.
Since my babies were, well, babies, I have sung to them. I love to sing and my children have, for better or for worse, been the audience for my solo concerts of lullabies, hymns, kids’ songs, show tunes, and whatever else happened to be running through my head. When they were scared I would sing safe am I, safe am I, in the hollow of His hand. When they were sleepy I would sing Just count on me your whole life through, ’cause I’ll take care of you. When they were grumpy I would sing I’m so happy and here’s the reason why– Jesus took my burdens all away! And when they were feeling a little crazy we would sing together I’m not cool but that’s okay, my God loves me anyway!
I have sung to them in the car, in their beds, on the couch. I have sung while they took their baths, while they danced with me around the kitchen, while they sat in their highchairs flinging food on the floor. I have sung during thunderstorms, during snuggly moments, and after nightmares.
So last night I sang for Ryan. With the thunder providing percussion, the rain adding a nice little counterpoint, the noises of the van singing harmony, and the lightning adding a little bit of drama to the scene, I sang the song I have always sung to Ryan.
Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me–
The Bible tells me so.
And as the sounds of Ryan’s sorrow faded to nothing and then turned into his little voice singing along, I realized something. I had sung in a huge choir to more than 1500 people. We had sung about the glory of the cross, and we had lifted up the name of Jesus and brought many to a deeper appreciation of the sacrifice Christ made on Calvary.
But in spite of all that, this was the most important song I sang all night. This simple child’s melody, this little moment of soothing an exhausted and worried boy– this was what mattered most out of all I had done during that crazy evening. That choir didn’t really need me. Altos aren’t exactly hard to come by. But this little boy, this child I have cradled and cuddled and serenaded all his life, this boy needed me.
It’s amazing what a baby tooth can teach you, if you let it.