January 26, 2014
Recently, my son took his second snowboarding lesson. My whole family went to a local ski resort for a day and my brother in law, niece and nephew went skiing, Rahul took his lesson, and my sister, parents and I “lounged” at the lodge. (In actuality, we fought off pushy ski families and attempted, unsuccessfully, to connect to the “free wifi” so we could get a little work done.) When the day was nearly finished, Rahul’s class ended and he was allowed to try out his new skills on one of the hills. The skiers in my family were anxious to join him and somehow, in the hustle and bustle of getting them all together in the same place, Rahul and my nephew darted off to the chairlift that led to the highest peak on the mountain. Yes, my 13 year old “exactly 2 lessons” son and my 10 year old “competent skier, but not allowed to ski without his dad” nephew were on their way to the top of the mountain and there was nothing any of us could do about it.
My sister and I ran out into the snow towards the chairlift and they were gone. Up the mountain. No cell phone, no adult to guide them. On their own. We stood there staring up at this humungous mountain and realized there was absolutely nothing we could do but stand at the base of the mountain and wait for them to come down.
I’m not an anxious person. I don’t restrict Rahul much and I like for him to try new things and take risks. I’m more of a Free Range Parent than a Helicopter Mom. But I stood there absolutely frozen in panic, consumed by fear. We watched tiny specks move their way down the mountain, imagining every one of them to be our sons. We looked for anyone who seemed to be stuck or in distress, realizing there was nothing we could do about it even if it were our child. I watched the line of trees on either side of the trail, scanning for any person who came too close to them, praying constantly that God would bring my son down the mountain in one piece. We stood there shaking with cold and stiff with fear for what seemed like hours, until finally, my nephew emerged around the corner at the base. He was safe and in one piece and skied right over to us, unaware that our hearts had nearly stopped beating with terror for his safety. “Where is Rahul?” I asked. My nephew had lost him halfway down, but said he was managing OK when he last saw him. My sister sent him inside and, bless her heart, she stayed there with me, huddling together, waiting for Rahul. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, sped over to the final lift of the day on his skis, hoping to find Rahul on the way down and guide him to safety.
As the minutes dragged by I began to realize that what we were doing–waiting at the base of the mountain–was a metaphorical representation of what we all do as parents every day. We send them up a mountain (or they dash up there all on their own) and then we wait for them at the base. I thought about how my job as Rahul’s mom is to prepare him the best I can for whatever challenges the mountain brings him. And it is also in my hands to wait for him as patiently and confidently as I can. I am meant to rejoice in his victories–the new skills and lessons he learns, and to support him when he falls.
I thought about powerlessness. About the mothers who wait for their sons and daughters when they disappear. About my dear friend whose teenage son is recovering in a nearby burn unit from a horrible accident at school. About Avonte Oquendo’s mom and Leiby Kletsky’s mom –2 NYC moms who didn’t receive their sons back alive. I thought about a friend of mine who had recently told me about an entire weekend she and her husband spent tracking down lost photos of their daughter so she could have a special birthday celebration in school only to have the birthday girl stay home that day so as to stay out of the spotlight. She said, “That’s so much of what parenting is, isn’t it? Learning to let go of the plans you have for your children and embrace and support theirs.”
After an eternity, we learned that Rahul was safely in the lodge with my family. He had taken a bit of a detour at the bottom of the mountain so he never passed us by. He was triumphant at his victory (“I flipped over a bunch of times, but I only fell and couldn’t get up once!”). It took me a few hours before I could calm down enough to share his triumph.
We’re going back to the mountain next weekend. And Rahul will try the smaller hills. And I will be waiting for him at the bottom.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
January 3, 2014
I want to thank you for allowing me to “be” you for the last 5 years. You know how much my son needed to believe in magic, and you provided that for him. I really wrestled with whether I should introduce him to you or not. He was 8 years old his first Christmas with me, and–as you know–by that age I had lost my childhood belief in you. I wondered whether it was morally right to introduce a figure such as yourself to a child who had already lost so much. I didn’t want him to feel abandoned when he lost you. He has always been so savvy, so street-smart, so lacking in imagination, I wondered whether he would even be able to grasp who you were. And so I decided I would let him lead me. I told him a little bit about you, then I let his schoolmates and his tv shows tell him the rest. I figured if he needed you he would grasp on to you.
And grasp on he did! One of my favorite memories will always be Rahul’s reaction to the mounds of presents you left under the tree that first Christmas morning. He knew who you were, but he hadn’t really believed you would visit him. He thought he was too bad. Too insignificant. He hadn’t made a Christmas list and didn’t know what to do with the toy catalogue I had handed him. (You may remember that my sister and I would devour the Sears Catalogue every December, pouring over it for hours, circling things we fancied and adding them to our list…) Once when I read to him at bedtime I finished with a poem about a little girl wishing on a star for her Christmas wish–a horse. I asked Rahul whether there was anything in particular he would wish for as a Christmas present. He didn’t even understand my question. After much explanation and prodding he squeaked out, “A remote controlled car?” I smiled to myself, because the very car he wanted was at that moment hiding in my closet:)
That first Christmas Eve I snuck around hearing Mission Impossible music in my head while he slept 6 feet away from the Christmas tree. And in the morning as he climbed down from his loft bed he could barely comprehend what he was seeing! Presents! Tons of them, all for him! His first comment was, “I must have been a very good boy!” That is what it meant to him: validation. You taught him that he was good.
And over the years, despite his classmates and friends outgrowing their belief in you, Rahul stood firm. The child with no imagination and very little faith in anything, believed wholeheartedly in you. He loved your letters most of all. He held them as some of his most prized possessions, asking me throughout the year to pull them out so he could re-read them. Knowing that you were proud of him gave him strength and helped him to be proud of himself.
I knew it was going to be tough for him to hear the full truth about you, but I was prepared when he finally asked for the whole truth this year. Initially, the news was devastating to him. Despite being 13 years old, Rahul was a True Believer. He looked at me in complete shock and shut down, except to ask me for your most recent letter to him. He spent the night crying on that letter, his tears doing their best to wash away your words. All the next day he wrestled with disappointment, anger, embarrassment. He kept saying that you were a lie. That I had lied to him about you. And I insisted that I had not lied. That you were real, just not what he thought you were. I explained to him how as a parent I had the amazing opportunity to play the role of Santa. To become you. I explained how a myth and a lie are very different things. One is told in love, the other in malice. And after hours and hours of talking through his feelings, I finally read him the “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” letter. And that did it. That encompassed everything I was trying to explain to him and it made sense to him. After 24 hours of declaring that we would not celebrate Christmas this year, he finally smiled and said, “OK. Christmas is back on.”
And it was different this year for him. Less magical. Its always difficult that first year. Its hard for us until we learn to become you, to bring magic to others and receive a different type of magic in return. Please help us all to embody you as we believe in one another and celebrate their victories.
In the meantime, thank you for giving Rahul something no one else could: belief in himself.