Every baby needs a nickname in utero, especially those whose gender isn’t going to be known until birth. In early 1992, the child became known as “Thumper” or, more properly, “Thumper the Wonder Baby” for several months before his parents found out his gender at birth. Truth be known, the massive internal soccer matches that gave him the nickname “Thumper” also convinced his parents early on that he was going to be a boy.
Every child needs a song that is special for Mama to sing him, and his turned out to be the one that has been chosen many times in other families, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray . . .”
Every child provides moments of joy and hilarity while young, moments which remain forever as perfect gemstones in his mother’s necklace of memories.
That first Christmas pageant at about age four in which Jojo joined all the other little sheep with cotton batting ears and tails. Things were going along normally and then one little sheep realized that Mama was sitting in the choir loft and that he would rather be with Mama than with that shepherd anyway, so-o-o . . . he crawled over in that direction and . . . suddenly, two little sheep’s ears and a sheep’s tail popped up amidst the choir robes of the sopranos up in the choir loft. “Hey, Mr. Shepherd, you lost one over here . . .”
Then there was the time that Mama was promoted to commander on a drill weekend, but then had a mandatory military dining-in until 1:00 AM. She walked into the house in exhaustion to find her father, her husband, and her seven-year-old son all lined up on the couch, wide awake, awaiting her return, like a scene out of “My Three Sons.” That night Mama still had to awaken at five and, when she did, she noticed that her wily little seven-year-old had managed to sneak into their bed and replace their pillows, so that both parents woke up with their heads on his back.
Every child has strengths and challenges. Hearing the words “communication disorder” when a child is four years old is definitely a challenge. It meant he would not always understand what his parents were trying to convey to him. It meant that his parents would not always understand what their child was trying to convey to them. An additional challenge, as though life wasn’t already challenging enough. But also a growing awareness that everyone faces a challenge of some sort, earlier or later on. No one leaves this planet unscathed. And the challenges, for those who believe, turn out to be the fingerprints of God on their lives.
And still those moments of joy and hilarity, amidst the challenges, because a child is, after all, first a child, even when facing a challenge that has a long technical name.
And even in the midst of a communication disorder, the language of love is clearly understood.
There were moments of sheer clarity, like the time a young Jojo walked in to find his mother in tears and said, “Don’t cry, Mommy! I’m always smiling.”
There were quieter times, like when Mommy slipped on black ice outside the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg on New Year’s Eve, falling down a flight of stairs toward the river, and six-year-old Joey came slowly down after her, sitting down up against her on the bottom step, and waiting with her silently until her friend found them there. Mommy, with her little protector.
Then there was the time when Joey was nearly grown, when another technical medical term had entered the family’s life and Mama was undergoing chemotherapy. While having a particularly bad night after her third chemo session, she became aware that her little protector was at work again when her sister-in-law left the bedroom after tending to her and nearly fell over him in the doorway, sleeping across the entrance to his Mama’s room, like a shepherd guarding his sheep.
And, in the end, we see grace, so much grace. Grace to have a child, grace to raise a child, grace to face medical diagnoses in that child. Grace to face life-threatening illnesses in one of the parents. Grace to embrace the life that God has brought that family, our family, and to realize it is just the path we are meant to travel safely until one day our Saviour brings us to our eternal home.