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Little Indians

One little, two little, three little Indians…   

Four little, five little, six little Indians…

Ever since I dropped my third child Joseph off at College this past Thursday, the above nursery song has been running through my mind. I haven’t thought about it for over 20 years I’m sure. And I’m also fairly sure I never sang it to my kids. None-the-less, it keeps creeping into my consciousness.There were no dramatic scenes, no fits of hysteria when I hugged him and turned the car around to head south. Possibly leaving my son disappointed. I think of all my children, he would have secretly delighted in some kind of visible, parental meltdown. Surprisingly, I didn’t even sob on the way home. Where was the complete breakdown? For years I have been tearing up, moaning and groaning even in anticipation of the “empty”, or rather “reducing” nest.   Reality hits—and—nothing! Just driving home. Listening to my sermons. Normal.

Mourning, for me, doesn’t always come when it is “supposed” to. Probably because I have an unnatural ability to disconnect under distress and become stoic when pressed to an emotional precipice. Michael and I refer to this as “going Schindler” because years ago when watching Schindler’s List in the theatre, instead of crying, I laughed a little and was perfectly unmoved as he sat sobbing for hours afterward.   In my case, sorrow often comes by surprise attack when I haven’t braced myself for impact. Grief sits there silently like a sniper waiting for the opportune moment when I’m defenseless.  Like at the grocery store, when I’m bagging some perfectly luscious tangelos and as I load down the bag it occurs to me, Timmy doesn’t eat fruit. Joseph is my fruit eater.   And so, one by one I remove the little globes of orange goodness back onto the stand and leave with an amount suitable for my husband.

Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians…

Why has it been so uniquely hard this time? After all, I have done this twice before? It was hard, I remember! Many tears have been shed over the loss of my two precious older offspring, Meghan and Mikey.   But this transition is undeniably worse. Certainly not because I love Joseph more than all the others. It just—is. Maybe the subtraction of children could justifiably be likened to the adding of children? Going from one child to two felt pretty “doable”. In fact, I managed it quite well. God knew that I needed a bigger family. Otherwise I would have been the most conceited, arrogant, prideful, condescending parent in the world. I had the perfect little family. One gorgeous girl and one beautiful boy—and then my third was born. Changing the whole ballgame. There was something about adding Joseph and subsequently less than two years later, Timmy, that left me decimated physically and humbled spiritually—praise our Lord in heaven! Interesting! Note to self; it would seem that Joseph is that sort of “trigger” child in our family mathematics.

Seven little, six little, five little Indians…

This morning, as I was drinking my coffee, I caught my little Havanese dog trying to sneak up the stairs. Having neglected to put up our doggie gate, I reached for him and said (because I talk to my dog as if he is a human child) in soft, high-pitched babytalk, “Marty, you bad boy! Don’t you go up there and bother the boys.” Boys—plural. There was that sneaky sniper of sorrow again. And he nailed me right in the gut. Where you have to stop—press your hand to your center—and take a deep labored breath. Oh yes, I remember, it is now only boy.

This is serious. Please don’t trivialize it. This is real grief. For twenty-five years I have been a mama. I have held my womb tenderly as each child caused my stomach to go from bump to a ball. A ball that I carried around twenty-four/seven the size of a beach ball and weight of a bowling ball (or maybe two). I have carefully potty-trained and packed lunches, worked puzzles and wept over spankings. Nothing can compare to the agony spilled out to God on your knees and on your face in prayer over their souls—little lives and big lives that have been my life. I make no apologies and I have no regrets. Maybe if I had invested myself heavily in a career, I wouldn’t be experiencing as much loss right now? I wouldn’t be losing as much of me? But my husband—my children—my home—ARE my vocation—my primary field of ministry.

Instructing my children in the things of the kingdom of God is my great passion. I can see in my mind’s eye, sitting Indian style on the floor opposite Meghan, as we memorized scriptures accompanied with elaborate hand motions out of a little book that I had purchased from the Christian bookstore. Hours and hours of Bible stories, Bible songs, teaching in Sunday school and VBS (okay, so maybe I’m romanticizing a little, or a lot, when it comes to Sunday school and VBS. I always enjoyed my children so much more than other people’s). Some of my favorite memories were the home-schooled years. I only managed to homeschool 4 years, but each year was an adventure. Sharing bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with Meghan and Algebra in the park. Living at our own pace, without the demands of the hectic societal “systems.” When the cool air would finally set in, often the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla permeated our home and late in the afternoons. We would sit and have “tea-time”, which naturally included tea with cream and sugar, something home-baked and spiritual instruction through a book, radio program or sermon series. I can easily conjure up the images and sounds of all three boys, in assigned character, as we sit in a circle reading aloud the 17th century version of “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyon. What joy! What wealth!

Now the sniper lurks…

At church when I sit in “our” pew that used to be full and find these words on my tongue, “Sure—go ahead—there’s room.”

When I respond to the hostess at Cracker Barrel, “Table for two, please.”

When I no longer come home to cars lining the streets because the driveway is full.

When a house feels just like a house and not a home.

Four little, three little two little Indians…

One little Indian boy.


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