Thursday, September 22, 2016

When you read the books, it is clear. Create a routine. Follow the routine, establish the expectations for safety and trust. The child needs to learn that your love is unconditional, saying the words mean little. Follow through means everything.

That first night, we began the task of creating our routine, carving out our space in the world. I gave him a baby wipe bath, stroking away the dust, wishing he had known my touch before his fifteenth month of life. Bathed in the soft glow from the foreign electric light above, his eyes opened wide as I erased the lines from his tear stained cheeks. He took me in as I spoke softly, smiled gently, and moved slowly. He flinched when I smeared a dab of shea butter onto his leg, then relaxed as I began the routine of massaging the oils down into his dark chocolate skin. From his tiny toes back to the heel that protruded behind his ankle joint. Up his shins to his knobby knees, scarred from his adventures in learning to walk. My hands moved slowly as took in what I already knew was true.
Maybe it was because I never saw it in the pictures, he was covered in onesie pajamas or long pants. But as my thumb and forefinger wrapped easily around the thickest part of his thigh, I was crushed. It was a kind of skinny words don’t capture. A sense of fragility that only your skin can feel. The fear crept in as I wondered if his bowed legs would ever straighten. Wondered if muscle would fill out under his taut skin. Wondered how fast he would run or how high he would jump. And it wrecked me. I wanted to hold him, to promise that it would be ok. That he would always have enough food with me and would never feel the pangs of hunger again. But I couldn’t promise him those things, or anything else. Though my mama heart would give anything for him, I couldn’t control the world swirling in chaos around us. I couldn’t control the immigration official who had capriciously decided to forbid his departure. I didn’t know what tomorrow would hold, and so I sat in the moment with a heavy heart, trusting for one of those moments when the Spirit interceded for you because you don’t know how to pray.
Tonight, almost three years later, we repeated our routine. No longer afraid of the water, I sent him under a deluge of bath water, washing his cheeks marked by tears of laughter. I wrapped him up in a towel and carried him like a baby to his room, staggering under his weight and lanky limbs. I grabbed the shea butter lotion and smothered him from head to toe, wondering at the transformation from our routine that began so solemnly not too long ago. Tonight there was jumping and squealing, laughing and tumbling, comfort and familiarity. His feet are enormous, his legs are straight. The muscles in his calves bulge as he jumps across the floor. His thighs are squishy and plump, I can’t feel the bones anymore. I rub my hands up and down his back, coaxing the butter into his velvety skin. He spins around as I tickle his tummy and attempt one last pass up and down his arms before he slips out of my grasp to choose his jammies. Our moment is over. But tonight I’m left with that same heavy heart. That heart is broken and quiet, begging for the Spirit to step in with words I don’t have.
Tonight my son is healthy and strong. He doesn’t need my promises of food and provision the way he did that first night. His tiny self wouldn’t have understood my explanations back then anyhow. All he needed was for me to fight for him, to provide for him in whatever way I could manage. If I told him why my heart was broken tonight, he wouldn’t understand me either. And I hope and pray that somehow he’ll never be aware of this burden either, just like he has no recollection of his malnourished infancy. That somehow, in this decade, we’ll figure out how to value black lives in the same way we value white lives. That he’ll never experience the pangs of inequality and injustice. That he’ll never be treated differently than his white brother who is admittedly much more mischievous than he is. That he won’t have to ask me why a black man was shot while his hands were in the air. That he won’t have to ask me why people are so angry. That he won’t have to ask me why there is hate instead of compassion.

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