Once a year, a friend of mine gives me a set of four tickets to the Texas Rangers baseball game. The seats, which are are not too far behind home plate and slightly down the first-base line are pretty cool and allow for a great, up-close view of the field. Though I have taken friends in the past, a lot of times my friends could really care less about baseball and are just there because I asked them to go. I would much rather take a kid or teenager who can enjoy a new experience and learn about the sport I grew up loving.
At the last minute, I had one ticket left and I thought to ask Aaron (not his real name) a 9-year old whose mother was killed three years ago. I hadn't spent time with him in quite a while and I thought a baseball game would be perfect.
As soon as I got to his house, he bounded out and gripped me in a strong, tight hug saying, "I missed you!!" We hurried into the car, hoping to get there in time to see Dirk throw out the first pitch. As we drove, Aaron talked non-stop. He told me that science is his favorite subject, that he was now doing martial arts a lot and has a purple belt, that his sister was home (she's stayed with her dad ever since her mother's death), that he's no longer in football, that he has a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and that he gets in trouble because the teacher thinks it's always him causing the problems, but the teacher gets him confused with another boy in the class (which I thought was a very amusing way of looking at it!).
As we walked to the ballpark, he would periodically grab me to give me a big hug saying, "I miss you so much!" While we were in the seats, he put his arm around me and told me, "I just want to stay like this for a little while." When I told him I appreciated the hug but couldn't take the heat with him leaning on me, he responded with, "Yeah, I know. I'm hot, too. So just for one more minute...maybe less...and I'll be done."
Aaron has always been a hugger. He's also always been one to get in trouble and to be incredulous when you discipline him for something. He's always been active. And he's always very well behaved and listens well when we're together one-on-one. Tonight was no different...or so I thought.
We watched the game, tried to catch foul balls, and got fries after the 7th inning stretch. As the game was about to be over, Aaron turned to me and said, "I'll never forget this night," in his always very appreciative manner. He told me, "I know I won't see you again for a long time and I'm going to miss you soooo much!! I already know!" which drew a kind smile from the lady below us.
At the end of the game, we realized it was a fireworks night at the ballpark...and the Rangers have the best fireworks shows! So, excited to see it myself and to share it with the kids who were with me, I called their parents/grandparents and we stayed.
The fireworks show lasted about 20-30 minutes. We sang along with all of the current songs they played and bee-bopped in our chairs. I noticed Aaron had gotten really still. As the lights came back up, I looked over at him and his eyes were glossy with tears. I asked if he was ok. He said he was sad. He said he was thinking about his mom. My heart clenches and my eyes fill with tears thinking about it. He was six when he lost her. Three years later, he still longs for her presence.
As I reached out for him, he burst into tears. I had too much stuff in my lap. The seats were between us. I hugged him for a minute, but wanted to pull him closer and let him cry. By the time I emptied my lap and was ready to take him into my arms, he had composed himself.
I wanted to hold him. I wanted to let him cry. I wanted to be there for him if only for a minute. But he's a strong kid. He pulled himself together and showed no sign of breaking down again. It wasn't a toughened approach. He simply pulled himself together. He knew what he was feeling. He just wasn't crying about it. It breaks my heart to think he couldn't and probably won't ever get to empty himself of all of his tears.
As we walked up the stairs, he turned to me, "I'm sad." I asked if he wanted a hug and he nodded. I gave him a huge hug...so big it lifted him off the ground and carried him up a couple of stairs. He laughed and told me he could top that and proceeded to squeeze me beyond a 9-year old's strength. We laughed a little more but as we continued walking to the car, he told me a few more times that he was thinking of his mom.
I told him that my best friend lost her mom when she was nine and she's now 39 and she still thinks about her mom all of the time. (You can read her reflection about her mom here.) I wanted to comfort him, but didn't know how. He often says some violent things and referred to them then as he angrily talked about the "stupid idiot" who shot his mother. I wanted to agree with him, but tried to do it in a way that encouraged him to re-direct his anger in a way that wasn't violent so he could help other kids when he grows up.
Once in the car, he continued to tell me some things and I felt like if we spent more time together, he may confide in me more...which actually scares me a little since I don't know that I have the skills to deal with all that goes on in his mind. He talked about seeing his counselor each week, but I'm not sure he feels the same confidence in a counselor as he does in an adult who used to be his mom's friend.
I don't know how to help him. I know I need to spend more time with him. I know I need to love him. I know from his willingness to confide in me that he wants to talk about it. I want others to know him, too. I want his teachers to b able to act and re-act accordingly...without lowered expectations.
He lives with his granny and has an unwavering love and appreciation for her. But he still needs to feel the unconditional love that only a mother can give. I want him to know that her love is inside of him, even though I know that knowledge can't fill the void. I want him to feel complete so that he can grow and develop and be everything he ever or she ever wanted him to be.
I know there are other Aaron's all around me...and my prayers go for them as well.