When I close my eyes, I can still hear him crying.
I’d scoured the baby books for advice and tried every trick they offered up. Nothing worked. After eight long months of effort, my firstborn simply would not go to sleep anywhere but in my arms.
It was sweet and all, but I couldn’t keep rocking him until he was in middle school. I chucked the books and — certainly born of desperation — decided to let my son “cry it out.”
On a Tuesday night, I informed his baby ears that Mama was going to bed and wasn’t coming back until morning. I kissed his warm cheek, tucked him and his jingly turtle under the quilt, and made my exit.
The protest began before the door was fully closed, and I nearly relented and went back in. As he rustled up from under the covers, I got the door shut, plopped down on the floor in the hallway and waited.
The little boy was not happy that his adult-sized security blanket had left the room. He whimpered … he wailed … he sang his grief, powerful voice piercing, holding, and vibrating all the way down the scale in a devastating opera of unhappiness. I could hear him standing, screaming in his crib, hands clutching the rails, little legs bouncing and stomping in agitation, confused, tear-bright eyes dark with grief.
I sat outside the door and quietly wept. Ached. Sat there for an hour and a half as my son’s little heart cried out – Mama, where are you?
The thing the books don’t tell you is that it hurts to be a parent. It hurts to see your child, your so-dearly loved one, feel pain or grief and to resist every urge to rush in and make it all better.
Eighteen years have elapsed. The baby is a young man, jingly turtle traded in for drum set and laptop and Rubik’s Cube. Tomorrow, I will drive him to college for the first time. I’ll get him moved in, give him a hug, and drive away, knowing that behind me he is anxious and alone.
I’ll come home, lean my back up against a wall, and want desperately to rush in and make it all better.
He’ll get through it, all on his own. He knows that and I know that. And he will be stronger because of the experience.
But it’s still going to hurt.
I still have to drive away and leave him there alone.
Parenting is holding close and taking care. It’s also letting go. Letting the hard things happen. The books don’t tell you about that part. They don’t tell you that to be a parent sometimes means letting your heart break.
It’s been many years since I watched from a dorm room window as my parents’ car pulled out of the parking lot that first time. I watched them go with a rock in my chest, feeling vulnerable and abandoned.
That rock comes back now and again. Trials come and go, bringing with them the miserable feeling of being alone, defenseless, exposed to the whims of the world. Things go wrong, a day gets hairy, the news is bad, I look around me and see no rescue, and my heart cries out to my Maker … Father, where are you?
No loving parent can watch their child suffer and not want to make it stop. We want to dry the tears, solve the problem, take away the pain.
Sometimes … oh, my children, how it aches to think it … sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we have to let them hurt. It’s better for them, and it’ll be okay, but how it hurts to watch your child struggle and not rush in to save them.
We’re all the struggling child. We all cry out in the night. As our Parent listens to our cries, His loving heart cannot be unaffected. How He must ache when we hurt and call out to Him, how He must want to reach in and make it all better.
I sit on the kitchen floor in the midst of my tears and wonder why I have been abandoned. I forget, as I sit, that my perspective is small. What is not seen is still there. I may be hurting, but I am not alone.
On a cross on a hill on a dark night, a broken voice cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
A Son called out to His Father in the devastating anguish of separation. And the Parent could not rush in and make it stop. For you, for me, so that we could become His sons and daughters, He let His Son cry.
Because of that dark night, and because of the morning that followed, that morning of joyful reunion, we are, each of us, eternally loved children. Our hearts offer up tear-filled pleas, and our wordless cries are heard by One who will never forsake us.
Cry out in the night, little one. Your pain is felt. You may be hurting. But you are not alone.
Julie Riddle is the mother of three boisterous children and the wife of Pastor J. Derek Riddle of Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers City.