My son appeared in the doorway shaking and crying, “I did something awful.”
This was the third time he’d come out of his room in the 42 minutes since I’d tucked him into bed.
The first time, he asked if he could have a sleepover with his sister (they take turns sleeping on the floor of each other’s rooms on non-school nights) (I know. It’s adorable.).
“School night, Buddy.”
The second, he claimed his back was hurting so he couldn’t walk, although somehow (magic? the Force?) he’d managed to get from his room on one side of the house to my room on the other side.
“Well, the best thing for a sore back is rest, Little Man.”
So this time, the time when his scared, tear-streaked face appeared at my door, should have been the point when I’d had enough.
But I didn’t get upset.
I got worried.
His words, “I did something awful,” hit me hard.
Awful is an adult word. A word we might think we understand as kids but only when we hit the land of grown-ups do we realize not getting asked out by our 7th-grade crush or having to settle for the chorus in the high school musical instead of a solo are not literally awful.
But awful, no.
Those of us with fully-developed frontal lobes paying more for insurance than for the things insured, we use awful to describe homes burning to the ground, fatal car wrecks, a cancer diagnosis, infertility, an affair, tornadoes ripping through towns.
Those types of life-altering events are awful.
Little boys sleeping in rooms with cityscapes on the walls and Wonder Woman standing on top of a lightning bolt do not know “awful.”
My five-year-old son’s room overflows with Transformers and superheroes and poke-balls and the mine-field of Legos. It’s simply impossible he could have done something awful.
I leaped off the bed in a single bound, scooped up my son, wiped his precious wet face with my hands, and as he nuzzled into my neck, I whispered in his ear…
“Baby, whatever you have done cannot be awful. There’s no way.”
I carried him over to my great grandmother’s cedar chest to sit him on my lap. “Sweetie, look at me.” He slowly raised his head, carefully avoiding looking me in the eye.
“Before we go to your room, before I step one foot inside to see what happened, you need to hear me say this: You can not do a single thing to make me stop loving you. Not a single thing. I will love you forever and ever and there is nothing you can do about it. You are stuck with me.”
His big blue eyes flanked by those swoon-worthy long eye-lashes found my own eyes pleading with him to trust me to love him in all the “awfuls” of life.
But on this night, my miracle wanna-be ninja warrior son did not do something “awful.”
There’s no way.
“Okay, Momma.” And he wiped his nose on his sleeve.
What he had done was something silly. He had attempted to climb his closet door using the plastic shoe organizer pockets as footholds so he could reach his Mickey Mouse stuffed animal at the top. Not surprisingly, the flimsy plastic pockets didn’t hold him up and he ripped open almost all of them on his way down.
After I assured him the seven-dollar plastic organizer could be easily replaced, I reminded him scaling things other than the rock wall at our ninja gym or the park playground equipment is probably not a safe idea. A better idea would be to ask Momma for help. Just perhaps.
I carried him into bed, tucked him snuggly under his Captain America blanket, and whispered to him again, “I will always love you no matter what awful thing you do. Always. And there is nothing you can do about it, Little Man.”
Then I closed his door grateful for the opportunity to love my son unconditionally in his five-year-old awful. Maybe when awful really does come to his life, he’ll remember his momma telling him she would love him no matter what.
And there’s nothing he can do about it.