Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.
Went to bed with his stockings on.
One shoe off and one shoe on.
Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.
This refrain keeps going through my head today.
(Thirty-four years ago we gave birth to a son and I became a mother. There is a joke going around Facebook where a six year old is asked how old his father is. He replies “6” and the inquirer is a bit appalled until the youngster clues him in to the fact that his dad became a father six years ago, when he, the child, was born. That makes me 34 right?)
Other than the fact that I am spending the day focused on making a birthday gift for John, I am pondering. Years ago, as a new mother, I identified with Mary who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” There is nothing quite like being a first-time mom and I’m pretty sure every mother does the same thing: going over and over her birth story; being amazed by the miracle of life; feeling flooded with love for this child, this babe. Treasuring. Pondering.
Johnny was a fun kid. He was bright, interesting, curious, and fairly easy-going. He loved being read to and asked a lot of questions. By the time he was 3 or 4, he had developed a pretty impressive imagination, an imaginary friend named Jack. By 4 or 5, we started teasing him about “being on Mulberry Street” when he insisted that his wild stories were true.
When he was five, we considered sending him to a Lutheran school since our neighborhood schools were a little rough. The kindergarten teacher came out to meet us and a week later we got a letter in the mail saying the school didn’t have room for him. He accepted this with a shrug and went along with Plan B, which was to homeschool. Years later he asked me if I remembered when he “tried to get into Kindergarten and had failed.’ Oh dear.
He bravely went off to first grade in Elmhurst, but was disappointed that school wasn’t that fun place he’d imagined. He fought us tooth-and-nail for a week before resigning himself to his new reality. He struggled a bit socially, a big surprise to us because up to this point he’d spent his life surrounded by church and family friends and never seemed one bit shy. He finished first grade but we opted to homeschool 2nd and 3rd grade before returning him to the public school system for the duration. Fourth and fifth grade went well, as did his transition to junior high. And high school, for that matter.
But sometime around the middle of 7th grade, Johnny seemed to be struggling. He hit puberty and developed a good sense of humor, but also struggled with homework. He was well behaved so teachers never complained about him. He just seemed to slip through the cracks.
High school started well. But six weeks in, things started to fall apart. We still joke that it was because John & I took a business trip to Disney World and didn’t invite him. It was a rough year, but we made it through. Around the fourth quarter, our doctor gave him a trial of Ritalin and his grades immediately went from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. Problem solved. He soared through his sophomore year with little effort and good grades, becoming active in Young Life. We hosted an early morning Bible Study for a couple years.
That spring, he was introduced to marijuana, though we did not discover it for a few months. By the early weeks of his junior year, we were in full battle mode, trying to figure out how to handle a drug problem. Eventually, we signed him up for an outpatient program. When that failed, we sent him to a Survival Rehab program in Utah for 68 days the following summer. He came home with new skills and interests, but not totally convinced that his lifestyle needed to change. He spent the first semester of his senior year at the community college (gaining college credits) and returned to high school in the spring to finish his credits for graduation. We celebrated the end of high school with a trip to Alaska, his birthplace.
He was quite interested in philosophy at this point, so we dangled Switzerland in front of him, offering him a semester at L’Abri. (We came of age in the 60s and couldn’t think of anything cooler than getting to study in the mountains, asking questions, and living in community.) Looking back, we realize that he wasn’t ready for that and in the end, he crashed. Folks at L’Abri housed and nursed him for a couple weeks and then sent him home on Easter Sunday. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with bipolar II.
That was 15 years ago. It’s been a long journey of ups and downs, highs (joking) and lows. Two steps forward and four backwards. In college he met up with some high school acquaintances that led him further into the world of drugs. A three month stay at a farm-based rehab facility brought hope, and then distress and disappointment. Tough love tactics precipitated an arrest and two years connected to a court-appointed program for the mentally ill. When he turned 30, I tried a “tools not toys” campaign to encourage him to grow up. He ended up in the hospital.
So, here we are at 34.
Earlier this year, John (Dad) called me on my way home from my class, saying Johnny was having a problem. I couldn’t do anything but pray as I made my way home. I prayed aloud for a few minutes and then decided to be quiet before the Lord. I listened to worship music and pondered. An image came to mind of John (son) as a fully mature man. I told the Lord that it was my desire to see John grow to full maturity before the year was done. I knew it would require a miracle, but I figured that if God can grow a baby in nine months, He could do this as well. And I just rested in that. When I got home, things had calmed down.
As the year progressed, I kept praying, kept hoping. Little things happened along the way that gave me hope, though I knew it was a long shot. From October on, I simply asked God to give Johnny the desire to grow and be mature. Because in the end, he has to want it. I actually believe that God has been planting that seed in him, although we’ve seen little evidence of it these last few weeks. He told me to go easy on him because this time of year is so hard for him, from Thanksgiving through his birthday. He says things usually get better after that, and then he will deal with some of the hard things he knows he needs to face.
Granted, I’ve heard that before. But hope springs eternal and I’m watching for those small sprouts of new life. Watching and praying.
My son John.
P.S. The birthday project is a kilt. His request.
My son John has an endless list of interests and hobbies. This is is somehow related to his rugby team. I made it following a variety of instructions I found on the Internet.