(*As you guys know, I very rarely talk about Seth on the blog. It's just one of those things. He's not ours, and sometimes it feels like saying his name --even though it's just the name we call him, in a public forum is disrespectful. I don't know. He's such a part of us, and he always will be. But he's not really a part we can acknowledge openly. It's confusing. But so many of you are so kind to ask me about him - if I know how he's doing, if we ever get to see him, that I decided to tell you this story.)
I've always wondered what I would do - if I ever saw him again.
I remember the last time we saw him.
It was the week of his first birthday at my parents' house. A couple of weeks before we would learn the decision by the Supreme Court.
Had I known then it was just fifteen short days away, I would've...
Wept. Clung to him. Given him a lifetime's worth of kisses. Sang "You Are My Sunshine" over and over to him until it was embedded in his memory. Begged God for just one more day.
Booked the fastest jet to a deserted island?
I've often thought about that. That it was good I didn't know. Good that I didn't have a chance to think. To react.
Good that he was back in the care of his sweet interim foster parents and that we were miles away back in Albuquerque. Good there was a 900 mile buffer between us that day when the phone rang at 11:11 and we learned that the last time we had seen our baby boy was, indeed -
...the last time.
Good that God, in his infinite wisdom, only reveals to us what He wants us to see, when He wants us to see it. Good that He is in control - He is still God, He is still good, His will is still perfect - even when our world shatters and we are left broken and numb.
We often return to the small town where we grew up...where our parents still live...where he lives with his paternal grandparents. Especially now that we're only a couple hours away, we love to go back. It's a small town. An everybody-knows-everybody kind of town. So I always knew it was possible that I would see him again.
Not as his mom. Just as someone who knew him. Who he didn't know anymore.
I've always wondered how I would react in that moment. Worried, actually. I've had this vision of me bumping into him in Walmart. Rounding a corner and BOOM...there he is in the chip aisle. I saw myself standing there. Stunned. Crying. Laughing? Being pulled towards him by a force stronger than I could resist. I don't know... I definitely saw myself being "that weird lady in Walmart". Not escaping gracefully.
I had in my head it would be at Walmart. In Small Town, America everything happens at Walmart. EVERYthing. And because of that, I've always been on guard at Walmart. For six years, I've been on alert. Whenever mom sends me there for something, my mission is always the same: Get In, Get Out. I'm like a stealth bomber. Grab the lettuce, drop the money...zoom back out. At Walmart, I am prepared.
I wasn't prepared at the China Restaurant.
About a month ago we went home for the weekend, and as she always does, Sophie requested that we eat at her favorite spot. Nothing says fine Chinese dining like red jello blocks and shrimp cocktail - woo! And in typical fashion, when she saw we were nearing the end of our meal, she asked if she could have a quarter for the toy machines up front. It's a simple thrill for her, and one I always try to oblige if I have any loose change. I dug one out, handed it over, and walked a few steps behind her up towards the lobby of the restaurant.
Just as we were almost there, a little boy darted up and fell in step beside her.
I didn't see his face. He didn't notice me. I remember thinking he looked cute walking up with Sophie, but he was just a kid. A kid with a cute back. He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Sophie at the machines, perusing the fine selection of googly eyes, plastic jewelry, stickers, gumballs, and various other assorted five-year-old Must Haves. They talked back-and-forth. Sophie mostly talked. He mostly listened and nodded.
Then Sophie's quarter got stuck. She jiggled the machine for awhile, twisted the knob, poked at the glass - trying her best to unlodge it before yelling in her oh-so patient way, "Mama!"
It was with that one word that they both turned around.
And there he was.
One-year-old-Him in a six-year-old body.
Same determined little jawline. Same cautious stance. Same searching eyes.
I gasped. Put my hand up to my mouth.
Sat quickly on the stool that God had conveniently placed by the toy machines that day.
Every fiber in my being wanted to hug him.
I sat on my hands to keep from grabbing him and I turned my attention to Sophie.
I tried to hear what she was telling me. But my mind was spinning...
Seeing her standing there. Seeing him standing right beside her. A million what-ifs whizzed through my brain in an instant. A world of emotions. So many possibilities.
I couldn't help but think, "He would've been such a good big brother."
He smiled at me. That crooked little grin.
No recognition. Just a hesitant smile for a stranger.
That's when Russ finished paying at the register and turned toward us. He saw his face and froze. I knew he knew.
Seth walked back to his table, where his babysitter stood chatting with some friends - oblivious to our little moment.
Sophie's quarter magically unstuck and she picked out a toy.
I exhaled and stood up. Legs wobbly, like a baby deer.
Russ and I each took one of Sophie's hands and the three of us walked out the door.
I looked back. Suddenly stuck by an overwhelming feeling that I was leaving something important behind. I squeezed Sophie's hand tighter. In the car just as we were driving away, we heard a little voice from the back seat.
"Who was that cute little boy, Mama? Did you know him?"
I guess she felt it, too.
All of a sudden my eyes filled with tears and I felt such a rush of gratitude. God had provided us the perfect moment with our son. It wasn't awkward or tense or confusing. It was just us...and him.
For three minutes.
And it was enough.