I cross the lawn to her right away as she steps out of the van, leaving the others to gather around Little M. She has been in my thoughts all night, and when I opened my eyes early this morning, it was her that I thought of first. I hold her close to me and hug her, tell her I have no words to express what had happened. Suddenly out of nowhere “But I love you very much, you are very strong” tumbles out of my mouth, without any effort. Her tearful face pulls back, a tired face like that of a little girl who has cried most of the night, and she says: “I know you know what this feels like.”
What “this” feels like is watching your child nearly die. “She” is my children’s stepmother, wife of my ex-husband, mother to their boy, Little M. I will call her Elle.
Mr. C. and I, my son P and my daughter G, had trooped out to our front yard, to greet Elle and my ex-husband, and their Little M, like they were surviving heroes. In a way, they are. They had just spent the night at the hospital, following Little M’s terrifying near-drowning in their pool the previous evening.
Little M stands in the driveway, bare-chested, with the two little stickie clamps still stuck on his four-year-old body; he is pale but talkative, and he seems almost proud to show them to Mr. C, like they were medals awarded to him by the paramedics and doctors for his bravery at coming through this most scary of episodes. We all stand and watch him munch on the cookie that G has given him, we are awed at him pulling through, and we’re quietly drinking in this moment of gratitude. I feel peace wrap itself around us in the morning sun, like a silky ribbon, a calm reassurance that it’s ok, he’s ok.
It had all happened very quickly, as these things usually do. G spotted him going under and yelled out. In a flash, Elle was in the pool, scooping Little M into the arms of his father. Everyone’s quick thinking and even quicker reactions probably saved Little M’s life. In tears, G had called me while the paramedics were there, and I drove over to see what I could do to help. Which wasn’t much, really, I had no idea what to say, what to do. So I hugged my kids and tried to reassure them and their dad that it was going to be okay, that I had met the ambulance carrying Little M and his mom as I was driving over, and they did not have their lights flashing, so he’s going to be okay. The three of them left for the hospital, and I drove back home, pushing down that horrible feeling that kept rising in my chest, that feeling of thinking your child will die before your eyes.
I’ve gone through two of these traumatic experiences with my own daughter G, and Mercy brought her back both times.
I ponder God’s hand in these experiences. I don’t believe God actually interferes in the sense that we think He should, because that raises the impossible question of why does He spare some and not others? Death is a part of life, and life and death are part of the plan, His plan. And, anyways, I don’t think that that’s the kind of power God has, to slice through humanity, deciding who lives and who dies, who He’s going to rescue today and who He’s not. I think that’s reducing God to something of a caricature, and who am I to say what God thinks? His power is above that. I’m not as Bible-savvy as I aspire to be, but there’s surely something to be found in there to reflect on.
This is what I do believe: God was standing right there on that pool deck last evening, knowing that Little M would survive. They may not have felt it at the time (then again, maybe they did), but His Spirit flooded the hearts of P and G, of their dad, and of Elle, as they frantically did all they knew to get Little M to breathe while waiting for the paramedics. In our darkest, most terrifying moments, He is the ultimate.
And there is nothing darker or more terrifying for a parent than to receive the sudden, face-slaping reality that you could lose your child.
When Elle married P and G’s dad, I thought I would find myself feeling bereft somehow, (as Mr. C. had not yet glowed into my life), but I wasn’t. I have liked her from the first time we were introduced at P’s soccer game all those years ago, when she wore her hair long and straight. Since she’s had Little M though, she has cut it into a stylish, practical bob, like most new mothers do. She is a vibrant woman with a fabulous smile, quick to help anyone in need, bravely soldiering on through her own difficulties and ready to shoulder anybody who needs it. She works hard to build a good life for her family, and I take much solace in the fact that she compliments P and G’s father so well; my children’s well-being is always important to me, and his happiness with Elle and Little M can only bring good blessings to my own children.
When I talk to people about Elle, I know they expect me to be catty about her, or to say things to disrespect her. But this is not how we roll in our modern, blended family. As revolutionary as it seems, the adults in the family have genuine concern for each other, and we all try to hold the children’s best interests at heart, even though we sometimes blunder through the maze of parenting. When I talk about Elle, I sometimes jokingly say: If she wasn’t my ex-husband’s wife, we would probably be friends.
As I think about the events of the past twenty-four hours, I wonder why I say “probably be friends”. We may not be girlfriends, but we are friends in the “I’ve got your back” kind of way, a friendship built on many unspoken things, a deeper understanding of two women whose families happen to overlap, who try to be allies in the growth of both families, and who now share another bond.
We are mothers in arms.