Makes Me Sigh

Lonesome Cowboy

He sat alone in a crowd of children, all sitting cross-legged on the floor, all wearing cowboy hats. 

Perched on the edge of the stage was a man wearing a cowboy hat and a cowboy outfit.  He was playing a guitar and working Jesus into western songs.  It was day one of vacation Bible school.

I stood in the back of the room surveying the scene.  It seemed that most of the children knew each other.  They whispered and giggled and fidgeted in groups of two and three.  I had sent him off alone to find a place to sit.  He seemed a tiny row boat in a great sea.  Sometimes I forget that he is only two.

He would sometimes turn around,  his eyes darting quickly and nervously around the room, searching for my familiar form.  Relief flooded his face when his eyes finally settled on me.  I would wave to him, raise my eyebrows and mouth “Hi Sweetie.”  This gesture offered him scant reassurance, but enough to refocus his attention on the singing cowboy.

After the singing, the children were directed to move across the room to gather in front of a cardboard cutout of a boat where there would be a skit. Sean did as he was told and moved toward the boat.  In the chaos of the moving sea of children, he knocked the boat over.  Some children pointed and laughed.  Others were too engaged with their friends to notice.  He froze in embarrassment and confusion.

I dashed across the room and propped the boat back up and assured him that it was no big deal.  I sat beside him on the floor to watch the skit.  I would be his friend. I never thought another thing about it.  But he did.

The next day, I enthused to him that tonight would be another fun night of vacation Bible school and I talked up all the cool stuff that he would get to do.  He fell silent.  His eyes watered up with tears that he would not release.  He looked away.  “I won’t knock over the boat this time,”  he whispered.

At that moment, every concern and regret that I have ever had as an older parent about having an only child and the inherant lonliness that comes with being an only child welled up in my heart in a painful knot.  And then it split cleanly and completely in two.

21 thoughts on “Lonesome Cowboy

  1. We have VBS in two weeks. I’m teaching, no I’m an adventure guide. Tell Sean it’s the overzealous VBS decorating committee fault not his for knocking the boat over.

    Oh, it’s so much harder when they’re stoic in their pain.

  2. Poor kid. I was an anxious kid always worried about doing things wrong, so I am full of sympathy.

    I used to babysit a precocious only child. She is now a (mentally healthy) adult finishing a degree at Oxford (which makes me officially old). There’s plenty of only kids who use their independence and early maturity to advantage. I’m sure Sean will be one of them.

  3. I was the anxious kid too, though the oldest of 8 sibs. It may be more a personality thing than a sibling thing…

    And, hey, a mom is SUPPOSED to be a 2 year old’s best friend!


  4. I had my now-20-month-old daughter at 35, and my husband and I are probably not having more kids. It’s just way too expensive where we live, and college will cost millions by the time our kid is grown up. Still, you have these regrets. In many ways I’d like to have another. But then I think, I’m so tired as it is! And I was an only child myself and it really was fine. To get over the regrets, I think of all the years I spent, before I got married at 33, thinking that I didn’t want kids. If I had never had my Peanut, I would never have had any clue what I was missing. That thought kind of appals me and comforts me at the same time. I am so blessed to know, now, that it was worth it all along.

  5. Oh, that hurts. If it makes you feel any better, I’m not even sure it’s an only child thing. My oldest (of four kids–almost nine years old) is just like that–so intensely sensitive in social situations. Sometimes it’s more than this momma’s heart can take.

  6. Poor little guy. It’s so hard when they look so much like a little adult to remember they’re really still so little in so many ways.

  7. Sean may remember the boat incident, but he will also remember the Mom who came to the rescue and who told him that it didn’t matter, that he is still as lovable and as perfect as God intended.

    It’s hard to watch our kids go through the growing up stages and to not fight their insecurities and battles for them. The best we can do is to love them through it all.

    Good job AM. Way to hang in there. There will be happier days for him to recall too.

  8. Sean may remember the boat incident, but he will also remember the Mom who came to the rescue and who told him that it didn’t matter, that he is still as lovable and as perfect as God intended.

    It’s hard to watch our kids go through the growing up stages and to not fight their insecurities and battles for them. The best we can do is to love them through it all.

    Good job AM. Way to hang in there. There will be happier days for him to recall too.

  9. I agree with a couple of the others who said it is probably not an only child issue. It is a “not knowing what to do in a new situation” issue. I was a very shy child (not that Sean seems shy) and always felt awkward in situations that were not familiar.

    Do not blame yourself. Besides, he will not even remember this incident in a couple of years.

  10. My oldest child (3-year-old boy) is like Sean. I treasure that he has such a sensitive heart, but it aches to see him in pain. I identify with this temperament (I’m the oldest child, too – perhaps not a coincidence), so I rejoice and cringe by turn on a personal level as I watch my son grow and develop.

    Be encouraged that being an only child isn’t necessarily a bad thing for him. I also have a daughter (18 months younger than my son) and it’s an interesting challenge. … I wouldn’t dream of changing the way things are, but I’ve often surmised that my son would do really well as only child. 🙂

  11. Bless his heart. . .and bless yours too. He will probably never remember the pain of knocking the boat over at VBS when he was 2. You will most definitely never forget it.


  12. Oh, gosh… it just never is easy is it? You know he will be fine and you’ll all go one, but really, sometimes it is just so tempting to want to keep them “safe” at home and away from the world with all it’s opportunities for hurt…

  13. And if you had another you’d feel guilty (at times) for not letting him be an only child.

    I agree on it being a “new situation” thing.

    I’ll bet he owns the place by the end of the week. (Does he go to daycare/school at all? The “crowd” thing can be pretty intimidating if he’s not dealing with it on a regular basis.)

  14. Hey, I had my almost 3 yr old at 42 (in addition to a 20yr old and a 15 yr old) and I know…. I know. Sometimes I feel a real anxiety, almost a shortness of breath that he’s growing up an “only” child. But when I am calm, I look around and see the variety of ways this works for many many people. Relatives don’t have to be siblings to create a feeling of warm family support, and siblings aren’t always a benifit to all kids (sometimes they’re just mean to each other!)
    My guy will be 3 next week, and he’s pretty cheerfully the opposite of sensitive, relentlessly “in your face” to his friends and cousins and at church nursery, (like his outgoing dad) so I really would agree with other commenters that its probably more just personality, and your heart would be breaking even if he had sibs.
    I love reading your adventures together, you are real highlight to my day. I wish so much I had had my life’s experiences and patience with my first two that I have now with this one.

  15. I think a lot of what crushed my heart was just that he looked so tiny and all alone sitting there in his cowboy hat. And then from there my mind leapt to an image of him being alone after we are gone and then all that was compounded with this idea that he was harboring this shame about knocking over the stupid boat and I didn’t even know it and then ALL THAT (yes there’s more!) was all topped off with a generous serving of perimenopausal hormones. A recipie for a good cry.

  16. I once had a friend tell me that motherhood is a study in guilt. . .you get to feel the guilt, you get to cry your cry, and then you get to look at this precious, marvelous creature you helped bring into this world and know that he will be strong and loving and have your spirit of survival along with the love of God long after you are gone.

    Victoria’s very first day of kindergarten, some little girls wouldn’t let her play with them. She was so sad. She wants everyone to play all of the time and just couldn’t understand why someone would NOT want everyone to play and have fun. I was, of course, furious. . .ready to lay waste to the 5 year old snippets who made my baby sad. . .then I realized that the only way God has to teach our children empathy, kindness, love, is to use pain as an example so that they know how it feels and will try their hardest not to inflict it on someone else.

    This being a parent thing is a tough gig. . .but now I’m listening to my 5 year old on Monday boy make lots of very creative motor noises with his Hot Wheels cars, and my girly is aking for art supplies. 🙂

  17. We all knock the boats of life over every once in awhile. Sean is lucky to have you alongside him guiding him through the capsizes!

    Thanks for the great read…love the new space!

  18. Sean may remember knocking over the boat right now, but in the years that follow, I’m sure he’ll remember the many many times you have and will be there for him – encouraging, reassuring, supporting, and always loving him. He’ll remember that more in the end, and that’s what will matter most. I hope he had a better second day than he did a first day at VBS.

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