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Before They Swallow

Friday night, the Sanders four trekked up to Stillwater to take part in Oklahoma State University’s Walk Around festivities, a time-honored tradition.  It’s similar to a giant parade, only the floats are stationary and the people are mobile.   Before hitting the streets, we stopped to eat at Eskimo Joe’s, another OSU tradition.  Apparently, everyone else had the same idea, but the night was young (when we arrived) and we were willing to wait (for a while).

About thirty minutes into our two-hour wait, having already browsed the sale racks, we found ourselves huddled at the doorway separating the T-shirt shop from the restaurant, surrounded by parties of four to six with identical glassy stares.

Desperate for a little diversion, I began to people watch.  The party of eleven to our right was just the entertainment I needed.  Two little girls–cousins, I think—bedecked in orange and black from their feathery ponytails to their sparkly shoelaces cruised laps around a large, square coffee table in the center of several benches.  As they walked their hands around the table, they jabbered to an equally bedazzled yet bedraggled woman holding a hot pink diaper bag in her lap, kiddie cups with bendy straws in either hand.

For the longest time, the woman listened and responded to the girls absently, her wide eyes fixed on a portrait and framed letter from Laura Bush just inches from my head.  Suddenly, she blinked and refocused on the girls.  They had stopped moving and were arguing over something, a giant cup twice as big as theirs.  Slurping eagerly, the oldest held the other off with a jutted hip, her face a study in concentration.

“Wait!” The woman shouted over the roar of the crowd, “That’s not yours, Hallie!”  Hallie kept slurping, both hands holding the giant cup.  The woman quick-scanned the table as only a mother can do and gasped, “That’s not MY cup either! Hallie, where did you get that?”

The commotion got the attention of a man sitting near them.  When he saw what was happening, he sat up straight and grabbed the cup away from Hallie, terrifying her in the process.  As blue-eyed Hallie backed against her mother, the woman questioned the stranger, “What was in that cup?”

He didn’t answer, but shook his head and made a face as if to say, You don’t want to know, and went back to playing games on his phone.

Unsure what to do, the woman let out a little groan and looked at Hallie with concern.  “THIS,” she whined, holding out one of the kiddie cups, “THIS is your cup!  YOU drink out of THIS!”  But it was too late.  Hallie had already swallowed, and I felt sorry for the woman who would lie awake all night hoping the little girl was okay and wishing she had kept better watch.

Not ten minutes later, I got a shock of my own. My almost eighteen-year-old son Hunter and I were sharing a doorjamb, leaning at adjacent angles, our heads just inches apart.

“Oh, Mom,” he began, making small talk, “I read something interesting the other day.”  I turned my head his direction to hear him better and settled in for one of our chats, still perusing the crowd.

With passing interest, he told me about an interview he had read.   A minute or so into his monologue, my brain snapped back into focus.  I realized what he was saying and panicked like the woman with two toddlers and a diaper bag.  Suddenly, I lost all interest in the parties around me.

My son was expressing an interest, passing though it was, in a very worldly philosophy of marriage, that it was a burden and possibly not worth the commitment.   Though he hadn’t been swayed by what he’d heard, he had retained the information and was obviously still processing it days later.  My heart pounded in my chest, and I tried not to overreact. 

Surely he can hear himself, I thought to myself.  Surely he knows that the junk he’s currently swilling around in that brain of his is toxic.  Surely he won’t swallow.  

I didn’t wait to find out.

With all the grace and finesse of someone performing the Heimlich on a fat man, I opened my mouth and promptly slapped the world right out of the boy with my tongue.   I don’t remember what I said, but I know that I left no room for doubt…or further conversation.

For the next little while, simmering in Hunter’s silence, I went back and forth between being frustrated with myself for losing my cool and feeling justified in my response.  On one hand, I know that I’ve got to let go of Hunter at some point, trust God to remind him of the Truth he’s been taught, and trust Hunter to make God-honoring decisions.  On the other hand, he’s not gone yet.  The apron strings may very well be cut, but you’d better believe if there’s a fin sticking out of the water, I’m going to yell, “Shark!”

Next year, Hunter will be on his own, a student at Oklahoma State University, establishing traditions of his own and forging his own path. I may not be able to keep watch every minute.  At that point, I wouldn’t even want to try, but in the meantime, I can make sure he knows which cup is His.

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