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.