I lost a preschooler today.
I was the co-op mommy helper at the U preschool. Kate joined me. She's been anxious to revel in all the preschool fun and has asked all year if she could help. Today was the day.
During outside time I felt a sense of well-being. The air was perfect June air: soft, warm enough to seek for shade but cool enough to enjoy, a gentle breeze blowing. The preschoolers were humming around, painting with water, chasing each other in a game of Spiderman. Ben "cleaned cars for customers" and "worked hard all day."
During line-up time before returning to the classroom, a little boy tripped and fell and burst into tears. This little boy is The One. You know The One. There's One of them in every class. One time I helped, he grabbed toilet paper from the in-room bathroom and ran screaming around and around, making a trail of paper behind him. When I checked, I saw he'd already unwound two rolls in the bathroom itself. He always has one teacher assigned to him because he runs away any chance he gets, or colors on a wall, or uses inappropriate language (which I find kind of funny, but shouldn't. Like "Let go of my freakin' hand!")
So this little man tripped and fell and got hurt and broke into tears. I happened to grab him first and he snuggled right into me. His heavy, warm body and little boy smell triggered the mommy impulse and I went to work comforting him and loving him back to wellness. He stopped being The One and became a boy to love in that minute, and I loved him. (Isn't the mommy impulse a wonderful thing? If only I could harness it and use it better as an actual mommy.)
Soon all was well. We were heading back to class. I put him on his two feet and made sure Ben and Kate were near and we returned for snack. I felt all was right in the world.
Remember that part about him running away any chance he gets? Well, I didn't remember. I'd forgotten that he needed to be watched every single minute. And I didn't remember until a few minutes later when his mom showed up with him and said, "He was outside on the front steps."
Totally my fault. This little boy made his way OUTSIDE of the preschool building onto the front steps of a university campus and was just hanging out all by his lonesome. My fault. And suddenly all was not right in the world. Every terrible scenario that might have played out ran through my head, and I felt the guilt pile on. I hadn't watched closely enough. I hadn't taken my responsibility seriously, and I didn't even have a glimmer of remembering to see if he had made it into the class with me.
On a normal day, I might have been able to shrug it off, make my apologies to the teacher and the mother (which I did anyway) and whisper a prayer of gratitude that everything hadn't gone horribly wrong.
Instead, I remembered that I KNOW things sometimes do go horribly wrong, that sometimes the stars align and tragedy results. Just the wrong step, just the wrong choice, just turning the wrong way at an intersection, just diving under a waterfall at just the wrong moment. I wish I didn't know this down in my bones. I wish I hadn't learned this particular lesson.
Sometimes we're walking the tightrope and there's a lovely net underneath and when a mistake happens and we fall, we're caught in its happy threads. And sometimes a mistake happens and there is no net. None. And the ground (or the water) is hard and unforgiving. We never know when we fall off that tightrope whether or not the net will be there. Today it was there, and I am so grateful. But last year, on June 9th, it was achingly missing, and none of us have really been the same since.
Faith is getting back on that tightrope again and again and again. Faith is believing that the net will be there when we need it to be, and when it's not there, that we will be given the strength to manage the fall and its consequences. Most days I renew my faith, choose to get up on that rope again and keep moving. But some days the fall seems too overwhelming, the chance for pain too great. Today and for the next two days, I'm feeling the shifting of the rope under me, sensing my feet grip the cord and wanting to fall to my knees and hang on for dear life.
But instead, I'll go plan the barbecue we're having tonight. I'll pray for my dear dear friend whose wonderful father died unexpectedly last week. I'll clean the piano studio and put together the binders for my first piano students who arrive tomorrow morning. And maybe in the living of life I'll be able to fall back into believing the fable that the ground under me is solid. Because it's not. It never is. And it just takes losing a preschooler to remind me.