My son and I have this thing we do. It's a version of a game I played as a child, one where everyone stands in a circle holding hands. One person starts by squeezing the hand of the person standing next to them. You wait for your hand to be squeezed, and then you squeeze the hand of the person standing next to you. The game continues like this, with the squeeze traveling around the circle like an electrical current, until eventually there is no stopping and starting, no more waiting for your turn to come. You have been miraculously welded into part of a continuum, your existence reduced to nothing more than a circle of faces and a pulse. My son and I play just the two of us holding hands. I squeeze, then he squeezes, then I squeeze back, and so forth. It's not the same thing playing with only two people, because we always end up squeezing each other's hand at the same time. But I love it just the same.
He really is a good-natured boy, my son, at this point in his life -- though it hasn't always been such smooth sailing- - and because of this, I've become unpracticed at handling matters when he surprises me by deciding to act otherwise. Such was the case weeks ago when I found myself sitting on his bed and trying to soothe him through angry, choking sobs -- his. It was his bedtime. It had been a long, humid day. I was exhausted. And I'll admit that I didn't feel at all like being called to the task of mothering right then. My other two children had already been tucked in for the night, and now it was his turn, fair and square. But this clearly wasn't going to happen anytime soon.
Earlier that day, my son had received a postcard in the mail from his school, notifying him of who his teacher would be for the following year. He learned that he had not been placed in the same class as the boy from kindergarten whom he considered his best friend. To make matters worse, my son made sure to point out, this outcome was entirely my fault. As luck would have it, his best friend was placed with the one teacher that I specifically requested my son not have. Apparently, I doomed his fate from the beginning.
I tried to stroke my son's face, but he was having none of it. I could feel my irritation begin to rise like a warm internal fountain, slowly at first, and then shooting way, way up. I thought for a second about pointing out the obvious: that this boy wasn't really his best friend. That while my son had always spoken affectionately of him, there was no evidence that the feeling had been mutual. The two of them had never even had a real play date! There I was, drowning myself with these kinds of heartless thoughts. I didn't know how to stop going where I was headed, so I made a last-ditch effort and prayed.
The unlikelihood of my son settling down there in his bedroom wasn't entirely lost on me, so I invited him to come downstairs. He took a seat at the kitchen counter, and I stood opposite him, behind the stovetop. He looked up at me with wet, bloodshot eyes, and those impossibly long eyelashes of his, and it was right then that I remembered the cookies. I never buy cookies, but I did buy these. I'd seen them at the store before Christmas and recognized the round, cobalt blue tin immediately. They were the same cookies my grandmother kept in her house when I was a child: Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies. My grandmother loved her cookies.
My son and my grandmother; it still seems inconceivable to me that the two of them will never meet and yet, it's also because of this that I'm convinced they share a piece of the same soul. I remember when I'd been just a few weeks pregnant with him and having some bleeding. The nurse I'd spoken with over the phone wasn't optimistic. But, she told me, all I could do was ride it out. The bleeding was still there two days later when I found myself in the doctor's office for an ultrasound. The technician pressed the wand against my lower abdomen while we both studied the amorphous gray picture on the screen, growing and shrinking and changing shape. And then, as if she'd been hunting for buried treasure, she suddenly spotted it. "Here it is. Here is the heartbeat."
I had no idea at the time, but while I was receiving confirmation of the life burgeoning inside of me, another heart, my grandmother's, had stopped. I was driving home, drugged in a cloud of relief, when my husband called me with the news. The loss of my grandmother sank into me, creating an instant heaviness; it felt like my insides had been filled with gravel. Tears fell, pooling around my collar bones. And yet I remember the entire ride home how, even as I mourned, I could not stop picturing the churning heartbeat of my baby.
It was hard to believe that this baby was almost 7 years old and sitting right in front of me. I popped open the tin of cookies and presented them to my son, who chose one that looked like a pretzel and was covered in sugar crystals. He gave me a half-smile, and I sensed my grandmother's presence at once, smelled her Elizabeth Arden perfume, felt her small wrinkled hand pressing a lock of hair behind my ear.
Then I thought about the prayer I'd said earlier
Of course I needed to be reminded of how grateful I am for my son's beating heart. And about the fact that we are never really alone, even when we feel like we are. We are all inextricably connected, fibers of the same landscape, and we are constantly surrounded by love. We move around our own threaded ribbons, weaving in and out of each other's lives. Sometimes one strand picks up where another has left off. But in the end, we are bound together by that which we cannot see.
This post originally appeared on Nourished Mom