one thing: be safe

by bam

and so, like that, hair still wet from the shower, white t-shirt tight enough to catch each plane and shadow of the rower’s top-half topography, the babe i once rocked in my arms, the boy who never much took to tricycles, the now-man with newly-minted license in his tight-squeeze pocket, he did something i’d never seen before: he swiped the keys to the old blue wagon off the ring where they’ve dangled since the day we moved into this old house, and he ran for the door, for the driver’s seat, for the road and whatever lay beyond.

mid-stride, and without ceremony, he glanced back to check the clock, nervously (only because he was late not because he had an ounce of apprehension about the road ahead), as i tried to slow the exit, calling out, wait, where exactly are you going? and when will you be home?

as he tossed back words, perfectly sensible replies, and made one final lope through the door and down the steps, disappearing behind the crab apple that nearly blocks the path, i called out: “be safe.”

and the words hung there.

each crisp syllable so wholly capturing what i wished and prayed for with all my being.

be safe.

what more is there?

what deeper prayer does a mother’s heart hold?

above all, be safe.

come home whole. come home without a gash. never mind the fender or the tail lights. just be safe, my sweet beloved child.

and so for the next few hours, i went about my business. few noticed, i’m certain, that i was turning blue around the mouth. i held my breath. only half expanding lungs, i do believe, as i watched the clock hand glide towards ten.

till at last i heard the rumble, saw the headlights illuminating garbage cans as they pointed down the alley, came round the final bend into where we sometimes park the car, two bright eyeballs, blinking “we’re home” to me, as they clicked off, and the 6-foot-3 first-time-alone-ever driver slid from the old wagon as if he’d been out unencumbered a million times before and this was nothing, nothing really to have interrupted anyone’s lung-work for the eve.

i find myself employing those two words–be safe–often in these past few weeks.

both my boys, it seems, are pushing out the boundaries, laying new tracks, expanding their orbits beyond me. out of reach. into that terrain where we hold on only through the silky thread of prayer, the whispered murmurings of petition to the great protectors all around, or up on clouds, wherever is the place from where they keep their watch.

the little one now bounds up the stairs to his piggy bank, grabs a crumpled dollar bill, and tells me he is walking to the little not-so-far-away grocery where all the kids buy chips and candy. or to the comic book store. or, just the other day, over train tracks, across the big street, the one with five lanes of traffic, to get to the store where baseballs called to his friend, and my little one didn’t think to say, um, no, i can’t come with you without checking first at home.

and as he sweetly told the story–confessed, really–i could only gulp and think of safe again, that word that captures unbroken wholeness, the white light of safety shield that we hope and pray and beg surrounds our children, no matter what they throw against it: diving boards or busy streets or trucks with 18 wheels and drivers half-dozing at the steering wheel.

not one to rely on hope alone, and having grown up with rosary beads dangling from my bed post, at the bottom of my white straw pocketbook (the one with starched-cotton cornflowers and poppies on the lid, the one i carried each sunday into church), and, yes, amid the pens and pencils and assorted detritus in the pit of my high school backpack besides, i wasted little time before enlisting st. christopher to my back-up squad.

i ordered up a medallion, a dangly disc, of dear saintly chris, the one who carried baby jesus (i do believe) on his shoulders across a raging river, and who, along with st. babs, my namesake, got unceremoniously dumped from the heavenly chorus back in the revolutionary 1960s when the catholic church decided their miracles weren’t quite of the saintly stature, so they were stripped of rank, left to be mere lieutenants of goodness in the hierarchy’s eyes. which, of course, is all it took for me to promptly and fiercely promote them ever higher, in my book now patron saints of all of us who have ever suffered the indignities of being shoved to the back of the pack.

yo, chris, for you we have assignment.

and thus, in a white envelope left waiting on my keyboard (thanks be to my own personal patron saint of procuring–my holy blessed mama), there is the half-inch metal oval of mid-stream chris that will forever dangle from my brand-new driver’s key ring.

be safe, it will whisper, will send off vapors, will infuse the air my firstborn breathes when he is far, far beyond my clutch.

be safe, the holy mantra of the mamas, as we stand back and let our babies reach and stretch and take to the highways. st. chris, right there in that front pocket, where we can’t ever fit.

the photo up above is reality journalism, taken the very moment my firstborn cruised to the end of the alley, clicked on the blinker, headed north into the rest of his driving life. it was mere hours after the driving czars deemed him worthy of a certifiable driver’s license. and i was left, with quivering fingers on the camera clicker, having captured the stunning truth: my boy was driving now. i heard the snap of the scissors as yet another cord was cut.
whose safety have you prayed for of late? and what long nights’ vigil have you kept, waiting for the headlights at last to come to park?