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Waiting on the Porch {a parenting parable}

{Linked up with Peter Pollock’s One Word At A Time: Porch}

The first day of school may have begun with fresh backpacks and a photo shoot in the front yard, but it ended with frantic phone calls and a missing child.

It was my daughter’s first day of First Grade. That magical year of staying through lunch and recesses on the big playground. We home-schooled for kindergarten, so this was her initial experience at the neighborhood school. We snapped too many pictures by the rose arbor, her in fresh clothes and missing a tooth or two but lighting up a smile the size of the New York skyline, and then we walked to the bus stop.

I love school. I love school supplies and even shopping for them. Like Joe Fox of Fox Bookstores in You’ve Got Mail, I find delight in a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils. I get more inspired to make resolutions and goals by the possibility of autumn in all it’s crisp, apple-cider sunshine than I ever do on a gray, sleet-covered New Year’s Day.  So I waved her off while I stood in a cloud of optimism and diesel exhaust, excited for my shy, funny third-born to jump into the pool of learning and growing at school.

When the hands of the clock neared three-thirty, I decided to take an afternoon cup of coffee to the front porch steps and watch for the bus to make its turn onto our street. Would I see her goofy grin through the square bus window? Would she have liked her teacher or made a friend?

But the black hands of the clock continued their circular sweep and no bus arrived.  Finally, I made a call to the school: was she in the office? Had she been confused about which bus to take (they all look the same)?

She wasn’t at the office.

I kept hearing the groaning engines of the school buses. They echoed off the hillside, tricked my senses. Finally, a full forty-five minutes later, a bus came onto our street, deposited one child and roared off to his next stop.

Not my child.

Where was she?

Another call to the office. A call to the transportation office. A call to the bus depot.

No one knew where she was.

I thought of her, sitting small on a green, vinyl seat wondering, wandering on a bus. I prayed. I worried.

The clock hands made the climb to the peak again and the smells of dinner around the neighborhood mingled with the September afternoon, a languid, sappy scent mixed with roast chicken and sizzling taco meat.

My coffee had grown cold, my older kids mobilized. Riding bikes up the hill, they rode to other bus stops looking for their sister. No luck.

The cell phone buzzed again. “We found her!” the secretary exclaimed, “She was on the right bus after all. The driver got lost and returned to the middle school with her and one other girl. He didn’t know what to do.”

“Can I go get her at that school?” I asked reaching for my purse.

“No, just set tight. They had a problem finding out her address, but the driver is on his way. Call us when she gets home.”

Five, ten, twenty minutes passed and I sat tight on the porch, straining my ears for the familiar sound. Would she be okay? Would this instill a life-long fear of bus riding? Would she want to ever return to school after riding the bus for two and a half hours?

The bus appeared, he slowed in front of our house, paused to release the compression brake and unfolded the door.

There she was, backpack flung onto the lawn, stringy brown hair flying.

She met me on the porch steps and collapsed. Her thin veil of bravery crumbled and scattered like ashes; every muscle of her body cried. Her wound up fear and confusion unwrapped in my embrace and her small, nail-bitten fingers grasped my arms. I let her cry. The questions would wait. The anger I’d felt stepped aside for the all-consuming posture of mothering. While I caressed her hair, my mind worked out the ensuing conversation, how I could comfort her and encourage her, dissuade her fears and turn this two-hour nightmare into a stepping stone of experience.

But I didn’t speak. I only held her. She was home.

\\\

No one can convince us of a certain terrible truth of parenting when we’re young and desire the warm complete feeling of children, babies swaddled in arms, so small: We are not in control. Ever. We have this sense that we are courageously at the helm, and we are, however the waters are fierce and unnavigable, unknown, while our eyes strain to see a future of calm waters and safe landing, our hands grip the wheel, our minds reel out questions like a ticker-tape: Is this the right choice? Did we mess up? Where are they? Will they ever return?  Our inexperience is captured and framed time again as portraits of our love and fallibility.

As they grow and the risk is greater, the world wider and our reach shorter, many parents make the mistake of holding too tightly, enforcing  many restrictions for fear of losing control altogether. What’s a parent to do?

We are to provide the porch steps.

We are the foundation, the place and people immovable in our steadfast love.

We are the open arms of welcome regardless. Whether it’s a mistaken bus ride, a mis-chosen date, a misunderstanding or a miserable failing– we are the extension of all that home, that Christianity, should represent: faithfulness, charity, forgiveness. Always forgiveness.

We are the pool of light on a dark night and a doorway to truth, grace, comfort, blessing.

We are the arms that reach out but sit tight and wait until the lost ones come home.

We are the hearts that pray and work out the lessons, hope for the best and beat to the rhythm of grace.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on our gates. Do what is right and good in the lord’s sight.” {Deuternomy 6:6, 9, 18}

This post is linked up with the Time-Warp Wife {Titus 2 }sdays

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4 Comments

  1. When each of our children “left home” we always had the door open if they needed to return – – and they each did at different times for a variety of reasons. Up the steps to the front PORCH and the waiting door! We received them and they stayed for awhile until they got their footing back. Excellent post. I know that was traumatic for your daughter as well as the rest of the family.

    • Good wisdom, Hazel. I need to remember,like motel 6 to leave the light on — they probably will come back a time or two 🙂 Blessings, Aly

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