Once, after I’d posted one of my lengthy vents about Lucas’ ADHD, a commenter suggested I write a post about the things I love about Lucas. The implications of that message stung; didn’t I have anything nice to say about my kid?
I started and stopped writing the post several times, deleting and re-writing and always feeling my words were filled with flowery pretense. I couldn’t describe my love for Lucas. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, although there are many days when I could very nearly strangle him myself, I would still fight a bear for Lucas.
I think I’ve got it now.
Last Friday was Lucas’ jog-a-thon at school. I had signed-up to volunteer, and Mari was supposed to hang out with the neighbors’ four-year-old boy while his dad watched the two of them, and we moms would be at the school helping out. In the morning, Lucas told me, “Mom, I’m really going to do my best today. I’m going to try to beat my record of fourteen laps.” We talked about pacing, and how a relaxed jog was better than a sprint. We re-hashed the story of The Tortoise and the Hare.
But the neighbors’ kid came down with a stomach bug, which meant we were short a baby-sitter and I might not be able to volunteer after all. So the mom offered to watch Mari on the sidelines at school so I could bring Mari with me but still help out with the jog-a-thon. It was a good plan, until I showed up at school with Mari and as I signed in, they told me I wasn’t allowed to bring siblings past the front office.
My neighbor was trying to come up with a viable solution for watching Mari for me, but I could already see by Mari’s face that listening to the front-office lady tell me “you can’t bring her back there with you” was scaring the shit out of her. (She’s very shy, so when she hears people talking like that she immediately assumes that we’re going to pack her up in a small, dark box and mail her to someplace where they eat children for breakfast.) I started sending texts letting the other parents know I wouldn’t be able to help after all.
There was nothing to do but go home. But then I had a spur-of-the-moment thought: Let’s go around the side of the school and see if we can see Lucas from outside the fence. Maybe we can wave to him before heading home.
We stood outside the fence waiting for Lucas. We were maybe ten yards from where the kids were to run around a small “track” on the basketball blacktop. Two of the four second-grade classes came out first, and then finally, I recognized some of the kids from Lucas’ class rounding the corner in the third group. They were so excited; skipping, jumping, squealing. I did not see Lucas.
My first feeling was annoyance. “Where the hell is he?” He’s always the last one; always straggling. Why can’t he ever just “follow the herd,” like the other kids?
The last class came out, and finally, I saw Lucas in their midst, trudging listlessly, head bent, kicking at the ground. The other kids flew past him like a galloping heard of antelope circumventing a boulder in a grassy plain. Soon, all the kids had crossed the field and were sitting in neat rows on the blacktop awaiting instructions—but Lucas wandered the field alone. My heart squeezed for him. “Move it, Lucas.” I pleaded to myself. But then I saw him use a sleeve to wipe his eyes. He was crying!
I thought he might be crying because I wasn’t there, but I didn’t think he could possibly know yet, since he’d been in class when the exchange in the front office happened. I whistled our family whistle. (We have a “family whistle” that is a unique rhythm and pitch, so that we can easily find one another in crowds—we did this long before Hunger Games, just so you know.)
When I whistled the first time, Lucas stopped walking but didn’t look up. When I whistled the second time, he looked up hesitantly, without eagerness. He was still skeptical. By the third whistle, I could see he was sure the whistle was for him, but he was looking for me amongst the other parent volunteers, and not where I was standing on the other side of the fence.
At last, he saw me.
He didn’t smile, but he waved. He picked up his pace and trotted over to join the other second graders as they listened to the rules for the jog-a-thon.
He ran twenty-five laps.
Later, I found out that the front office had called Lucas’ teacher to let her know I couldn’t make it, and she had then informed Lucas I wouldn’t be there. And yes, that was why he was crying.
To think that watching from the fence was just an idea that had popped into my head, a passing thought for how to spend the time since our plans had been disrupted. What if I hadn’t gone? How many laps would he have run? Would he have run any at all?
My sweet boy gave me a huge hug when he got home from school (actually he tried to pick me up and almost killed us both). But I had to probe him with questions to figure out that he had been so excited for me to be at his jog-a-thon, how disappointed he had been when he thought I wasn’t coming, and how relieved he had been to see me at the fence. Otherwise, for him, a hug would have sufficed, and his feelings would have gone unarticulated.
And that’s what I love most about Lucas: his love is enormous, but quiet and unassuming. He gives all of himself and expects nothing. He is naturally selfless and generous. This also breaks my heart; thinking of how, after that first whistle, he stopped, but didn’t dare hope enough to look around. This is typical of Lucas.
You should see how he cares for his little sister. I didn’t think there were brothers who cared for their little siblings like he does. Every now and then, Mari wakes Lucas up in the middle of the night when she’s scared (and is afraid to wake me up for the umpteenth time lest I strangle her), and this seven-year-old kid gets up calmly, without complaint, and walks his little sister back to her bed, tucks her in, and reassures her, “it’s okay, monsters aren’t real, remember?” even though he still believes in monsters himself. What does he get for his? How can he wake up in the middle of the night for his sister without a trace of resentment, but when I wake him up for school in the morning he’s moody and argumentative? –Because one is done out of love.
Sure, Lucas has that funny, off-kilter ADHD brain, along with some of the quirks that come along with it, like being really good at legos but really sucking big-time at word-finds (for the love of God stop giving this kid word-finds).
But man, can this kid love. He teaches me every day about what true love really looks like. Without even knowing he’s doing it, he shows me the insufficiency and egotism of my own bumbling attempts at love, and in minute degrees, in daily lessons—if I am not so self-absorbed as to miss them—he makes me better at it. He makes me a better person.
And that’s why I’d fight a bear for him.