“…the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn…”
“the time came….and she gave birth…”
Are you kidding me? That’s it. That’s all you’re gonna give me, God? I guess that’s how the Dad tells a birth story.
I have so many questions regarding the details of this birth, my head could explode. I’m a mom; I love a good birth story. The past ten years of my life have been a continual stream of babies, and I never tire of hearing all the details of the glorious day. I want to know about the first contraction and the bickering between husband and wife about whether or not to call the doctor. I find great solidarity in hearing all the crazy things moms say and do when labor pain is all-consuming. I want to know all the details: what time you left for the hospital, how was the drive, and what time did you get there? Could you walk in or was there a wheelchair waiting? On a scale of 1-10, how was your pain level at this point? And please, please, please, tell me all about those first moments when you held your baby to your chest.
You can see why Luke’s account is somewhat disappointing to me. Isn’t he the doctor of the gospel writers? And all he’s going to give me is “the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth.” Grrrrr.
What about Joseph? What was he doing the whole time? Surely he was pretty freaked out. After all, he was a first time dad coaching Mary through labor, and no doubt the watching eyes of horses and cows only added to the absurdity of it all. I wonder if they had a good sense of humor about it. Was there a moment during delivery that Mary made eye contact with a sheep and thought to herself, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
As I continue reading in Luke, I am left unsatisfied again by the lack of detail given to Jesus’ childhood, and specifically Mary’s unfathomable journey of raising the Son of God. Although she was given the heads up by the angel, Gabriel, I can’t imagine their brief encounter prepared her for mothering the Savior of the world.
“You will be with child…He will be great…” (Luke 1:31-32)
But Mary, did you know that by “great,” Gabriel meant perfect? A perfect baby, a perfect toddler, a perfect teenager. On the surface this sounds amazing, but how does a sinful mother go about teaching and training the great I AM, especially in a household of fully human siblings? I wonder about the guilt and frustration Mary must have felt when she kept falling short, time and time again, but her little guy kept getting it right. Every. Time.
“…and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:32)
But Mary, did you know he would also be called worse – much, much worse? This title, Son of the Most High, will upset a lot of people, and that sweet little baby you’re holding will grow to be rejected and hated. People will be talking about him behind his back, plotting ways to make him look like a fool. Plotting how to kill him. You’ll have to really control those Mama Bear instincts. It seems you believed in his divinity with such ease, but that won’t be the case for many. Your Jesus, the Son of the Most High, will infuriate the world for generations.
“The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33)
But Mary, did you know this isn’t going to play out the way you think, the way you hope? You will not see this reign, this kingdom in your lifetime. You will see glimpses, but there will be no throne this time around. You will be confused, wondering when your Jesus will stop turning the other cheek and establish the justice and righteousness Isaiah foretold so many years ago. Words like “of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7) will baffle you because you will not see his government nor will peace reign. And just when you think it’s time, just when you think your son is about to unleash his power and take his place as King, he will instead ask you, “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.” (John 2:4). I imagine that wasn’t the first time he had said that to you. Seriously Mary, from one mother to another, did you want to smack some sense into him? You must have at least rolled your eyes.
After Jesus was born, you and Joseph brought him to the Temple to be presented to the Lord. Upon their arrival, Simeon, “a righteous and devout” man, took the baby in his arms, praising the Lord and declaring,
“‘For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentile
and for glory to you people Israel.’
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
Well, yeah. Obviously. Oh Mary, you must have been bursting with pride. My heart puffs up when someone says my baby is cute, but salvation? A light for revelation? I can’t imagine.
But Mary, did you know Simeon’s words would quickly take a turn for the worst.
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Oh Mary. Did you know?
How could you? How could you ever anticipate all that would unfold over the next 33 years.
For years the lack of detail in the Bible led me, perhaps falsely so, to conclude that your faith was unwavering. I never questioned your ability to be the mom to the Savior of World. I never wondered about the details of the birth itself, and I never imagined the frustration of raising a child who came to save the world, but kept wandering around with 12 lowly men instead. I never considered the absurdity of trusting your child to know best, and I never thought about the fear of watching Jesus’ destiny play out.
But Mary, then I became a mom and learned the truth: no woman gets through motherhood without battling the uncertainties of her children’s future. The most godly moms have prayed “Your will be done, Lord…but here are a few suggestions.” The most confident moms fear they are doing it all wrong, surly scaring their children for life. The most gentle moms are ready to body slam anyone who causes their child pain, and even the most faithful moms lie awake some nights wondering how it will all turn out. Will this little one be ok? Will the world be kind? Will the world see the greatness I see?
I’ve got to believe you weren’t much different. But boy oh boy, do I have some questions for you.
Seriously Mary, did you know?
*The title of this piece and the references throughout are attributable to the song “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry, initially performed by Michael English in 1991.
Joy Becker is the mama of three little ones and has recently resigned from a twelve-year career as a literacy coach to become a full time stay-at-home-mom. Her writing has appeared on Mothers Always Write before, as well as on Coffee + Crumbs, Hello Dearest, The Tribe, and Her View From Home. You can peek even further into her life at www.44andoxford.com.
An online Boot Camp for those interested in perfecting the literary essay through extensive one-on-one coaching by an editor of MAW. Our camp also offers the opportunity for peer review and discussion with other writers through our camp’s FB group. And, if you are looking for writing support once camp is over, we offer the opportunity to join a writers critique group with other camp participants.
What makes a piece of writing literary?
Literary journals seek that pearl–the type of writing where the language itself is the experience. The story, while strong, takes a backseat to the art of creative writing loaded with well-turned figures of speech that enhance the reader’s understanding of the theme. This workshop will help writers strengthen their creative writing.
The workshop will provide: 1) An outline of reading materials on the literary essay; 2) Sample teaching essays with annotated comments; 3) An opportunity for brainstorming on your essay topic; 4) A general critique of your piece for content and back and forth discussion sessions with your mentor; 5) Specific line-by-line edits including explanatory comments and suggestions; 6) The opportunity to ask editors questions about writing and the publication process through live FB chats; and 7) The opportunity to have your essay considered for publication by MAW as well as a list of suggested sites for publication. We have now extended our workshop to three weeks so that participants have ample time to fit your writing in between life’s other demands.
The boot camp runs for three weeks beginning Tuesday, January 22, 2019. Tuition is $130 (Proceeds in part are used to support MAW’s mission to pay its contributors). Space is limited to fifteen participants per workshop. Our Boot Camps fill up quickly. Register here on Submittable.
Boot Camp Instructors:
Sarah Clayville is a Creative Writing and 11th grade English teacher as well as freelance editor and writing mentor. Her fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Central PA Magazine, StoryChord, and other journals. Her areas of expertise are short and flash fiction. She is a poetry and essays editor for Mothers Always Write.
Michelle Riddell has earned her B.A. and M.A. in English from Wayne State University in Detroit. She has written for Ford Motor Company, MSX International, The Cornerstone, MomSense Magazine and Hello, Darling. She is a two-time recipient of the Albion College Cathy L. Young award for French poetry, and has written a novel. She is a poetry and essays editor for Mothers Always Write.
Julianne Palumbo has worked as an attorney, a writer, and a writing coach. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, The Manifest Station, Literary Mama, Motherwell, and others, and she has been a columnist for Literary Mama. Julianne has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), and 50/50 (Unsolicited Press, 2018). She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Mothers Always Write.
Read what participants in our previous workshops had to say:
“I think every Writer, whether aspiring or established, could have benefitted from this Boot Camp. I appreciated our Mentor’s feedback, as well as what was given to me by my co-horts. The idea of having a deadline, articles to read, and a private Facebook page to share on, really brought this whole Boot Camp to life. I kept saying that I felt as though I had enrolled in a University-level class. Michelle [my Mentor] didn’t just push me to do my best, she provided an array of suggestions. Thank you so much MAW Editors for pulling this together!!”
“The MAW Boot Camp helped provide a workable timeline on writing an essay and taking it from draft to finished product. If you are looking for a way to jumpstart your literary essay writing, this workshop offers the tools, resources and editorial help to guide you through the process. Top notch editorial feedback helps take your writing to the next level. I highly recommend working with Juli and the other editors at MAW.”
“I have been participating in a 10-day literary boot camp put on by the editors of MOTHERS ALWAYS WRITE. This magazine is not just a wonderful venue for mother-writers to share their stories, it’s also a loving, supportive community of writers. A family of sorts. I made so many new, wonderful writerly-friends, learned copious amounts of writerly-stuff, and had absolutely amazing (did I mention I’m addicted to alliteration? lol) mentoring from Julianne Palumbo. And, thanks to Juli’s suggestions of where to submit, my essay has been accepted for publication in MANIFEST STATION, an brilliant online literary magazine. I would never have tried to submit to this magazine before. But this workshop, and the support of my mentor gave me the courage to try.”
“Boot Camp was just what I needed to help motivate me to write. I enjoyed the small group feeling and enthusiasm from the other members. It was helpful to receive feedback both from my mentor and other group members. I feel as if I have made some new connections to other writers.”
“My editor pushed me without being pushy. She offered thoughtful, probing comments that made me dig deeper into what my essay was really about, and offered encouragement every step of the way (and sometimes receiving permission not to rush the result is as important as anything else!).”
“The MAW Boot Camp was by far the best value writing experience I’ve participated in during my five years as a freelance writer. It’s affordable and accessible, and provided a much needed burst of inspiration. The detailed level of feedback from engaged and excellent editors, along with a supportive and encouraging community of fellow writers, make it a hugely worthwhile investment for writers at any stage of their career.”
The heavy geode that sits on my desk is the size of a grapefruit and shaped like a jagged bowl, with a distinct concave hollow, as though the rock once held something precious in its center. Its dull brown casing could be that of any rock. But on a sunny day, its inner mineral layers glitter like a freshly cleaned mirror.
The rock was hand delivered to me by my son, Max, when he was 17, after he returned from a three-week Outward-Bound hiking trip in the Colorado Rockies. His therapist recommended the trip, said it would be “good for him,” after a junior year of high school that had gone something like this:
One arrest for smoking pot in our church parking lot (with the pastor’s son).
One hospitalization, for heart palpitations and hallucinations after smoking “Black Widow,” -pot laced with amphetamines- with a different friend.
One D, in English, for refusing to read his folk music essay in front of the class.
Multiple detentions, for tardiness.
A general withdrawal: dropping out of wrestling and cross-country to game in dark basements with boys named Pork Chop and Jell-O who did not want to go to college. Max was going to college, or at least that had been the plan.
I’d told the therapist I didn’t feel good about the guys Max was hanging out with.
“He needs to have friends,” he said. “It’s far more important that he knows you guys love and accept him.”
My husband and I tried, the way parents try to help their teenage boys.
We told each other:
He’s really a good kid.
Remember when he was the sixth-grade chess champion?
He just needs to find a real passion- something other than video games.
The science says boys don’t reach emotional maturity until 26; some studies even say 28! There’s plenty of time.
He has two high-achieving sisters; maybe he feels different and “not enough”?
We raised all our kids the same way…didn’t we?
I found myself withdrawing from good friends whose boys were Max’s age, whose sons had been Max’s friends before he met up with the pot smokers. I couldn’t take it, sitting silently in anguish, as my friends discussed visits to prestigious colleges and wondered whether to accept the scholarship at a Division Two school for more playing time or whether National Honor Society was worth the volunteer work. They fretted over problems that were the culmination of hard work, independence and success- when I was worried over my son’s very existence.
Nights were worse. My mind churned in the darkness, fears morphing into terror. Sometimes I would wake up my husband to vent. Scott listened patiently and encouraged me to go back to sleep. He’d recite things the therapist told us, that Max was growing too old to control, that he needed to learn from his mistakes, that this stage would pass. But night’s darkness disagreed, telling me a different story.
I resented Scott’s ability to intellectualize our problem, his faith in the therapist’s advice. I resented that he could sleep.
Sometimes I gave in to my fear, doing exactly what the therapist told me not to do, which was to frantically text Max, searching for reassurance that he wasn’t doing drugs or hanging out with the “bad” friends. I’d lie in bed waiting for a message to light up my screen, a cellular beacon of confirmation that Max was fine, and I could sleep.
Sometimes Max would respond to the texts, but soon he stopped.
“No one else’s mother texts them at 11:00 p.m.,” he’d spit at me. “Justin thinks you’re insane.”
Justin was the friend who had access to the drugs.
I was insane.
The days leading to Max’s Outward-Bound departure were tense. He received a long packing list, including special mountaineering boots and cookware and a fire starter. These were expensive and not easily available in Chicago. We traveled to Denver a day early and rushed to an REI store that carried the boots, and found the rest of the items, including a Rocky Mountain rattlesnake bite kit. The helpful store manager said it was unlikely Max would need it, but “better to be safe.” He told Max to wear the heavy boots for the rest of the day to break them in.
That night, in the hotel room, we packed, unpacked, and repacked Max’s backpack, putting the heavier items in the bottom and the clothing on top, and clipping the sleeping roll to the outside. It weighed over 50 pounds. Max became testy and negative, clomping around in the boots, claiming his therapist had “roped” him into this, and how did we (his parents) even know if Outward Bound was safe?
“Ryan Schmidt’s brother did it, and he hated it,” he stated flatly.
“Maxi,” I said, invoking the childhood nickname that he had outgrown years before. I desperately wanted him to calm down and go to sleep, to let me sleep, and to wake up fresh and ready to start this trip. I told him that Outward Bound had been around for generations, and that I’d gone to high school with kids who went and returned safely. I told him that one of my classmates said it’d been the best experience of her life- though I left out the part about the thick, bloody, non-healing blisters she’d come home with that had required her to wear clogs all year.
I sounded more encouraging than I felt. I had no idea how Max would fare. Growing up, he’d been quick to make friends and try new experiences. He’d walked into the first day of first grade and tackled his teacher with a huge hug. He’d liked summer camps, learning to canoe and take “morning dips,” jumping off the dock into the cold lake with other naked boys to wake up. He’d enjoyed teaching younger kids, and earlier in high school, he’d worked as a volunteer chess camp counselor, teaching kindergarten boys to play chess, inventing fun games and tournaments.
But now, as I gazed down at the piles of camping equipment- rain gear, sleeping bag, meal prep, a first aid kit, anti-diarrheal medicine, the rattlesnake kit- I had to work hard to imagine my son knowing how to use any of these.
The next morning, we waited outside the Denver Hotel Doubletree with other anxious middle-aged parents, three pretty teenage girls (who looked poised and mature), and ten teenage boys, who looked bored and pissed off.
“They were supposed to be here at nine,” Max said.
“They’re only ten minutes late,” I replied, crossing my arms over my roiling stomach.
“I still can’t believe you guys think this is a good idea.”
Max looked down at the ground, twisting the dangling straps of his pack around his thin waist, crossing and retying them. I hoped and prayed he wasn’t crying.
“You’ll be glad you did it,” I said. “Only the tough do Outward Bound.”
“Whatever.” He looked up dry-eyed. “This better not suck.”
At last, three young trail guides, all men, dreaded and tatted, entered the lobby.
“Say goodbye and pile in!” they said and pointed to their pick-up trucks.
Max and I embraced for a minute. Then he pulled away and followed another skinny boy with shaggy hair to the waiting truck. They climbed in.
I watched my son talking to the boy, who laughed at something Max said. I wondered whether the boy knew how to camp and whether they would be friends. I wondered if he smoked pot. I wondered how many of the campers would return more resilient and confident and how many would find trouble.
Finally, the kids rode off like cattle, and I felt my heart move to my throat.
With Max was gone the house was eerily quiet. Outward Bound wouldn’t contact parents unless there was a serious injury, or the camper needed to come home. I knew it was unlikely that Max would come home; he had never been one to give up easily. I wondered if he was miserable, whether he was connecting with his fellow campers, whether he was eating enough, whether he hated us for making him go.
I did not sleep much better than when he was home. I’d lie in bed dreaming of rattlesnakes in police stations and hiking mountainous trails along cliff edges.
Three weeks later, I pulled up at Midway Airport. A slight, stooped figure waited at the curb. The boy looked sort of like Max, but I wasn’t sure. He seemed taller, too thin. But I pulled closer, I recognized the blue rain jacket and the red mountaineering boots.
Garbled parent-speak spewed from my mouth. “Max! You made it! I am so proud of you!”
I clutched my boy into my arms, before realizing I had never smelled anything so nauseatingly horrible in my life.
Max threw his pack into my car and climbed into the front seat. He began digging into his pack. As he unzipped it the stench increased.
“Mom, I found this for you when I was hiking.” He pulled a glittering rock from his smelly backpack, unable to repress a smile.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, cupping the geode in my hands. I turned it over in the light, appreciating its icy crystals, its smooth shell, its weight.
“I can’t believe you lugged this thing all the way home!”
“Yeah, but as we ate the food our packs got lighter. Plus, I lost my canteen.”
After Max had eaten and showered, we emptied his pack in the laundry room, peeling out the damp bedding, stiff clothing, unwashed cookware, and unopened first aid kit. It was impossible to identify the source of the smell.
Finally I asked. “Did you like Outward Bound?”
“It pretty much sucked,” he said. “The guides were clueless and mad at us a lot. Like if we read the map wrong, they would just let us hike for hours in the wrong direction to teach us a lesson.”
“Was that the hardest part?”
“No, the solo challenge.”
This, he explained, involved going off alone for two days, with only water.
“You’re only allowed to return to basecamp if you’re hurt or something.”
“Are you serious?”
“It was optional,” Max said. “But five of us did it.”
“Weren’t you hungry?”
“I was dying. It was freezing so I stayed in my sleeping bag the whole time. I think I was hallucinating, mostly about cheeseburgers. We were supposed to contemplate how we could be better people. I thought about all the people I’ve screwed over.”
I thought about the plastic pot bags that had been left in my car. I thought about the hours in the therapist’s office and the sleepless nights. I thought about my husband at the police station at 3 a.m. to meet our pastor so the boys could be released. I said nothing for fear he would shut down.
Finally, I told him I was proud of him. “Not many people could do that.”
It took most of the day to get through the dirty clothes. In between cleaning up, I wandered around the house, trying to find a special place for the geode. I finally placed it on my desk, where the light of the computer screen caused the rock to dance and cast shadows against the wall, radiating brilliant colors into the dark study.
That evening when I went to get the clean laundry, I noticed Max’s red mountaineering boots, kicked off in the corner, caked with mud. There was a piece of masking tape on the right boot, covering the toe. WOW was written in black marker.
Carrying the basket of clean clothes, I stopped by Max’s room where he was sitting on the floor going through his pictures. He had showered and was wearing gym shorts. I saw that his long legs were covered with red bites. I asked him about the tape.
“Why do your boots say wow on them?”
“It doesn’t say wow, he said. “You’re looking at it upside down. We had to dedicate the solo challenge to someone.”
Anne Glaser is a health care attorney living with her husband outside of Chicago and slowly dedicating more and more of her empty-nesterdom to writing. She has taken several creative non-fiction classes and writes about parenting, Central America, and global health. She loves being a mother to two college students and one recent graduate.
I never imagined that my American son would be on the living room floor making art with his Japanese best friend, both speaking flawless Spanish. But that’s exactly what’s happening now. After much back and forth about who gets to use which marker, who can draw which superhero and whose superhero is best, the conversation takes a turn that catches my attention.
“Did you know I’m going to Japan tomorrow?” Hayato asks my son Flynn in Spanish. “I’m sad, sad, sad. Did you know all my things are in boxes?”
Flynn turns to me on the couch. “Hayato’s leaving tomorrow?”
His dad’s job is taking the family back to Japan, but I explain that no, they aren’t leaving tomorrow.
Hayato looks over. “When?” he asks, his voice low.
“Next week,” I say.
I know his parents told him this, but to a five year old, time’s a fuzzy concept. Flynn, for instance, still insists that the minute I lay with him after bedtime stories is one long minute, never a short one.
“What day next week?” Hayato persists.
“That, I don’t remember,” I admit, “but I know you have another week of school.”
Flynn and Hayato stand. They grasp hands, meet eyes and jump up and down. Hayato isn’t leaving tomorrow! Not only do they have tonight’s slumber party, but the boys also have another week of school together! To them, it’s an eternity.
Flynn and Hayato first met two years before, at age three, when they were the only foreigners at their Mexican preschool. Flynn’s teacher told me that he bonded with a boy named Hayato, born in the United States to parents who were Japanese. New to Mexico, Flynn couldn’t yet speak Spanish, so I assumed he chose this friend because he could actually communicate with him.
Then, at a birthday party a month later, I finally met Hayato myself.
“Hi there,” I said.
The boy stared blankly back.
“How are you?” I asked.
A petite Japanese woman swooped to his side. “Hayato speaks Spanish and Japanese,” she told me, “but we left the U.S. before he picked up English.”
“I didn’t realize.“
“Anyway, it’s nice meeting you,” Hayato’s mom said. “I hear about your son a lot.”
“Yours too! Although now I’m confused. I thought the boys bonded over English.”
Hayato’s mom smiled. “Seems they just like each other.”
Flynn and Hayato were typical three year olds in many ways—their new love for superheroes eclipsing that for dinosaurs—but they were also gentle in a way some of their peers were not. They glued miscellaneous objects onto paper and then gifted each other their art. They did somersaults in the soccer field instead of drills. At a tender age when they were the essence of their basic inclinations and desires, not yet molded by the worlds around them, something about their two souls connected.
At age four, Flynn and Hayato attended a summer day camp that held an optional sleepover on the camp’s last day. From my American parenting perspective, this seemed destined for disaster, but Hayato’s mom came from Tokyo, where six-year-olds ride the metro alone, and she talked me into it. I lay awake all night waiting to be summoned by camp counselors for Flynn, but the call never came. After that, the boys began enjoying sleepovers at one another’s homes.
“It’s okay if you’re sad about Hayato’s move,” I told Flynn before Hayato arrived for this final sleepover.
“I’m not,” Flynn said decidedly.
“It’s okay if you’re sad about our move too,” I added.
In a few months, our family would leave Mexico for India, so it wasn’t just Hayato—many more goodbyes were coming.
I’d never been much for goodbyes myself, always having been the sort to slip out of parties unnoticed. When I took a job as a foreign service officer that would uproot my family to a new country every few years, I thought more about the hellos—about the wonderfully diverse and interesting people we would get the chance to know.
Six years into expatriate life, despite lots of practice with goodbyes, I was actually getting worse at them. I’d learned that most people, however much I enjoyed their company, would be replaced in my life by new people whose company I would enjoy too. I told myself that since their absence wouldn’t impact me significantly, no emotional and uncomfortable farewell was necessary.
Then there were those rare few who weren’t so easily replaced, but I avoided goodbyes with them too, although for a different reason. It allowed me to stuff down my sadness about seeing such strong friendships go.
Yet like any parent, I wanted better for my son. I wanted him to be braver with his feelings, so I pushed him to face his goodbyes. Especially this one with Hayato.
At tonight’s slumber party, Flynn and Hayato finish their art, then change into matching Superman pajamas. They settle with an iPad atop piles of blankets on Flynn’s bedroom floor. They promise they’ll go to sleep very soon, but much later I peek in and see two grinning, wide-awake faces illuminated by the glow of a screen. In the morning, I have to wake them for a quick breakfast before Hayato’s mom arrives. They hug goodbye and say they’ll see one another at school. They act like everything is normal, probably because to them, everything isnormal. An eternity remains.
But little by little, day by day, their eternity dwindles. A few days later, they say another goodbye after a play date at our house. Standing by the door, Flynn whines that Hayato didn’t watch his new magic tricks. He clings to my leg. He cries. I wonder if what Flynn means but isn’t saying is that now, Hayato never will see his magic tricks. He never will because Hayato is leaving forever.
After the car drives off, Flynn collapses onto the floor. His tears flow freely. “I just wanted to do my magic! Why wouldn’t Hayato watch my magic?”
I sit beside him. I hug him. I’m crying too for the first time in I don’t even know how long, crying because my son is crying, because I think he’s sad about more than he’s letting on. I’m sad that Flynn’s sad, but I’m also sad for myself.
I’m happy in Mexico. Every bit as happy as my son. Like him, I’ve found some of those rare people with whom I really connect. If I had a choice, I probably wouldn’t go.
After a while, Flynn’s sobs stop. He looks up. “Maybe youcan watch my magic?” he asks.
With a few disappearing card tricks, he seems back to normal. And I stuff my own sadness back in.
Flynn and Hayato’s final goodbye comes a few days later. It happens at school, and I hear it goes smoothly—all smiles and no tears.And just like that, Hayato is gone.
Days pass, then weeks, and the sorrow I expected to envelop Flynn in the absence of his best friend never does. I don’t know quite what to make of this. It surprises me.Also surprising to me is that Hayato is gone but at the same time not gone. The boys exchange video messages recorded by us parents whenever they ask. Hayato takes Flynn along on Tokyo’s subway. Flynn tells Hayato about the latest class birthday party. Hayato plots a slumber party with Flynn once he gets to India. Flynn draws pictures he promises to bring Hayato in Japan. They plan a joint sixth birthday party at their favorite restaurant in Mexico.
Their understandings of geography seem as fuzzy as their senses of time, but I don’t correct them. When a bond is strong enough, maybe to five year olds, time and place stretch to accommodate it. Maybe that’s one of Flynn’s magic tricks.
I start to wonder if I was wrong in my assumptions about all Flynn was feeling on the playroom floor. Maybe he did just want to show Hayato his magic. Maybe he wasn’t and still isn’t devastated about Hayato’s move.
The weeks stretch to months, and the gaps between the boys’ messages grow longer. As Hayato’s family settles into life in Japan, our family says goodbyes in Mexico, stops for visits in the United States, and then arrives in India.
One day, out of nowhere, the boys decide they want to talk by Skype, something they’ve never before done. It’s been seven months since they’ve seen one another in person, and connected in real-time through screens, they struggle to interact. Hayato speaks in Japanese. Flynn asks in English what he’s saying. Spanish words and phrases that used to come naturally now escape them both. We moms try to translate, but they’re not having it. They both want to end the call.
And this, I think, is it. Two boys, once inseparable, were flung by the fates towards futures in different corners of the world, andI’m devastated to watch their beautiful friendship come to a crashing end right here, much like my own friendships recently did when I boarded that plane leaving Mexico.
Then, Flynn has an idea. He hops up, turns his bottom towards the screen and makes a fake fart. Hayato’s eyes grin, and he reciprocates with a fake burp. Giggles burst from Flynn’s mouth. I smile. Hayato’s mom too. Well how about that. Their friendship seems to have stretched again.
Now the boys are performing limb-flailing dances for one another, each move crazier than the last. They’re laughing uncontrollably, and Hayato can’t be thinking about how much he still misses Mexico, which I know from texts with his mom that he does. Flynn must not be thinking about the fact that in India, he hasn’t yet found a new close friend.
I never imagined I would learn so much from two five year olds, but watching them, I realize I have some calls to make. Some emails to send. Flynn and Hayato’s friendship may not last forever, but even without physical and linguistic barriers, friendships rarely do. Yet strong enough friendships, if we let them, can stretch and contract and bend and morph to last however long it is we need. It’s not magic, but it’s magical.
Alexis Wolff is a U.S. diplomat and mom to two young boys whose childhoods have been spent in Benin, Mexico, India, and the United States. She has an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University and a BA in African Studies from Yale University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Brain Child, Mamalode, Kveller, and others.