In continuation of a family legacy, I read to my son every night. He's finally old enough for chapter books, so we've entered into the Chronicles of Narnia with joyous fervor. I find myself doing the same thing my parents did - adapting words on the fly because Lewis' vocabulary was more elevated than my Kindergartner's. Admittedly, my voices for all the characters aren't as differentiated as my dad was able to do, but G doesn't know that. I also can answer a question for you: the reason "The Horse and His Boy" hasn't been made into a movie yet is because it's super boring. Sorry. (Not Sorry).
Last night, G fell asleep while I read, so I put down the book, picked him up and carried him to his room. There's a full length mirror on the wall next to G's bedroom door, so I saw myself and realized how big he was. Having a child is a bit like living with a seed that you're waiting to see spring out of it's loam. You stop watching because the wait is so long and then suddenly, they unfurl themselves. He's almost 6, missing his front teeth, learning to read, his body seemingly as long as mine. All of that rushed through my brain as a I glanced in the mirror, but stronger than all of those thoughts was one that stood out like scarlet on snow:
I'm his only parent.
That thought had nothing to do with grief and everything to do with anger.
I've been there for every late night fever; I was the one to teach him how to dress himself; I am the one who helps him learn sight words; I am the one who packs his lunches; I am the one who teaches him about God. Now Gene is alongside me, teaching responsibility, respect, and how to use a hammer. G has started to express his frustration with having a two parent household, with the idea that two grownups guide his growing up. I understand his frustration. For all his memory, I've been his only parent.
Every month he spends a weekend with his grandparents during which he visits his Dad. Every week his father calls and I pass G the Iphone to talk to him. Cliff tells him that he loves him, and I believe that he does as much as he can. But robust anger always simmers beneath the placid lake of my inner life, because this love G's father has for him has is not centered in presence. My son doesn't even know what his father's hands feel like because it has been almost 5 years since his dad has been allowed to touch him. Cliff is my son's father, but he isn't G's parent. I'm sure he mourns that absence; I imagine more than anything else, Cliff's inability to be a father is the greatest punishment he has to accept. But the truth remains that whenever my son has a need, a problem, a joy, a loss, a crisis, only I can truly be present for him.
Of the two who chose to create him, only I can carry my son to his bed.
Do I want my son to realize how different his life is from other children his same age? He still lives a a remarkably privileged life; his father's sins failed to destroy us like they could have if my support systems had not been as strong. I am currently winning the battle within myself that occurs every time I hear G's dad tell him that he loves him. I do not comment, I do not criticize, I do not seek to define what that word could possibly mean in G's life. But it is still a battle I fight every day; do I want G to grow up thinking that Fathers can love without being an active part of their children's waking and sleeping? Do I want him to equate love with absence? No. Of course not. But do I want to teach him that love can flourish even in the midst of failure, sin, and consequence? Yes. Of course.
That's what Aslan teaches Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Edmund's betrayal carries incredible consequence, but the deep magic that is love can even overcome the wholly corrupted. Maybe there is deep magic in the love spoken between phone receivers hundreds of miles apart; maybe there is deep magic in the love shared across thick glass in a prison visitation center. I certainly feel the deep magic of love wend itself around me as I gaze upon the open mouthed snoring of my son in the moment before I get him up for school every morning. Maybe by holding my silence when words of love are shared between my son and his incarcerated father, I am allowing God to do the deep magic that will be the only thing that heals Cliff's soul.
It's hard to know. But while I wait for the knowledge to come (or not), I'll keep carrying my son to his bed. Until, of course, he gets too big to be carried.