When I was a little girl, I had the most embarrassing case of homesickness. I would go hang out with my friends, play, eat dinner, get ready for bed and that feeling would begin to creep in. Timed just as the sun was setting, it began as a knot in the bottom of my stomach. And by nightfall, I would feel so incredibly sick and lonely. I would put on a brave face for my friends, climb into bed next to them or on a makeshift bed on the floor and would silently begin to cry. Like clockwork, their moms would come into the room (either because they knew I was on the verge of bailing, or just to be good moms and check in on us girls), but they would find me balled up in tears and would call my mom. Regardless of the time of night or the distance needed to travel, mom would show up. Just seeing her silver Pontiac pull in the driveway would lift the knot and part the waters cascading down my round cheeks. By the time I was in the car pulling away from my still sleeping friend, I was fine. I have no idea why I was like this. I have no idea what magical hold my mother held on my heart (and my stomach). But all I can say is that is was like magic. Her presence, her calmness, just her face, made me feel safe, secure, and loved. Mom never once chastised me for not making it though the night. I guess in a way she was always prepared for that phone call. And maybe super shocked when she didn’t get it.
This homesickness came and went as I grew older. It didn’t reappear so much at sleepovers but always the first day of school every year, like clockwork. I would be standing in my closet removing the tags from the new clothes I was about to put on and I would feel that ball in the pit of my stomach begin to toss and roll around. No, I didn’t want my mommy to walk me down the halls the first day of Ninth Grade but what I did want was that since of calmness, love, and security that came with her presence. I had learned more control as time passed and could hold back the tears, the anxiety. I would step out of the car, or off the bus and would fake it till I felt it. I would fake that confidence that I so closely associated with my mom’s presence. And by the time first period ended, the feeling of homesickness had passed or at least lifted so that I wouldn’t have to fake it so much.
Don’t laugh, but I experienced this same pattern of feelings the first day of college, and the first day I taught high school. Yes, even as a twenty-three year old standing in a classroom in front of clueless freshman, I was holding back those feelings of grabbing the phone and calling my mommy for just a few words of comfort. But, as the pattern has taught me, going through the motions and staying busy, the knot would gradually loosen and loosen until I no longer felt it’s presence.
It’s been a few years since I’ve really felt that old familiar knot. In fact, I had almost completely forgot about him. But becoming a mother has intimately reintroduced us.
The birth of Crews and Ryder clearly did not go as planned. I’m chuckling to myself because let’s face it, with God, why make plans? I’m sure He laughs right alongside me when He hears my perfectly constructed plans. I mean, you should have seen the birth plan I wrote, typed, and printed for the hospital. Yes, Type A, all the way.
Scheduled for 7AM, Jason and I arrived at the hospital on Tuesday, June 12th at 5AM. I’m not sure either of us slept the night before. Just the thought of them actually arriving was so surreal. Like Christmas morning and the night before your wedding all rolled together. On the 30 minute drive to the hospital in the dark that morning we had officially decided that Ryder’s middle name would be James after his police officer cousin who passed away from a job related incident when we were just college kids in love. Everyone says Jason looks just like Tim (James Timothy) and we just knew our sons would look like them both (we were right). But other than that major decision, the car ride and the hospital prep was fairly silent giving more proof to the phrase, calm before the storm.
By 6:50 we were separated; Jason to scrub up, and me for my spinal block. It all happened so quick. No joke, NASCAR professionals would be impressed with my phenomenal doctor and the crew of sixteen in the Operating Room. By the time, Jason entered the OR and sat down next to me, we didn’t even have time to speak. I had just asked him to distract me with conversation when our doctor said, “Dad, got your camera ready?”. Jason and I were both confused. Why? What did he need to take a picture of now? And then we heard those cries. Just as they are now, hot tears welled up in my eyes and blinded my sight. Before Jason could find his cell phone in his pocket under his scrubs, a nurse grabbed it, and we heard second cries. Born thirty-three seconds apart at 7:52AM, Crews Bradford and Ryder James entered this world and our lives. This was the moment I had prayed so many years for. This was the moment so many had prayed so many years for. I was a mother. We were parents. I turned my head to the side and could see both sons being attended to by their pit crews (no pun intended, dear Crews). Jason walked back and forth between teams and cut both cords all while a nurse snapped the pictures our hearts had been praying to capture.
Both sons were eventually laid across my chest and for a brief moment, nothing around us mattered. Ryder picked up his little arm and wrapped it across his brother and my heart burst open. I’m a mother. They are brothers. They are alive and healthy. God’s promise in my heart was fulfilled. I could not tell you what was going on to my body or what was happening around us. It didn’t matter. Only those tiny humans on my chest mattered.
But that moment was just that, a moment. The nurses noticed that Crews was still turning more and more blue and he was quickly grabbed and whisked away. Jason was asked who he was going to go with, me or Crews. He did not even look at me when he responded, “Crews.” In that moment, I knew it. Jason had become the father I knew he would be. The father he had been so afraid he wouldn’t be.
Ryder and I were both cleaned up and pushed across the hall to recovery. Being the first birth of the day, it was quiet and empty. There I was alone with this tiny creature wide eyed looking at me. Again, not the picturesque vision I had imagined with two sons and a doting father by our side. It was just us. For some reason, in that hour alone, I didn’t feel like a mother. Maybe it was the fact that I literally couldn’t feel anything. But even as the spinal block wore off, something was amiss. I was eventually rolled up to my room on the second floor with tiny five pound Ryder where two sets of anxious grandparents sat with questions I had no answers for. After just a few minutes with Ryder, he was also taken from me to transition due to his low blood sugar. So just three hours after my miracle moment, I was baby-less. I just remember thinking, “Ok God, once again, I surrender control.” Clearly, I could not hustle or negotiate my way out of this. I couldn’t even get out of bed or use the bathroom on my own.
Those first fews days in the hospital are one run-on day. Eventually Ryder was brought back to us. Jason and the grandparents would go up and down the floors to visit Crews. They would bring me back news and pictures of my poor son hooked up to all kinds of tubes and equipment. Once a day, Jason would roll me down to see him. And eventually I was allowed to hold him for 90 minutes at a time. Again, it did not feel real. He did not feel like my son. I began to slowly, internally panic that we wouldn’t bond. That he wouldn’t know me. I wouldn’t know him like I know Ryder two floors up.
But as the days and minutes together progressed, that fear inside of me was quickly replaced with the old familiar knot. It took me a few days to identify with words that familiar feeling. I said it first out loud to my mom while laying in bed just a fews days after being discharged with Ryder. Jason and I were still making our daily trek down to Gainesville to see and hold Crews during his “handling times.” Again, just once a day for 90 minutes. Not enough. Would never be enough. That knot would slowly build once again in my closet at home. I would be putting on my pants and he would appear. The sickness for leaving Ryder. The sickness for seeing Crews, knowing he was alone most of the day and that I would also be forced to leave him too. Did he feel abandoned when I left? Did he feel my absence as I felt his? That stretch of 365 from my house to the Gainesville hospital exit will never look or feel the same for me. That was the road that separated me from two sons for seventeen long days. I would fight back the tears coming and going. I would fight back the tears while holding Crews. I would fight back the tears while returning to Ryder. I am fighting back the tears now (and failing miserably at it). Homesickness has never felt more real to me in my life. Not as a child being separated from my mommy for a sleepover. Not as an anxious preteen entering high school, or an insecure young adult embarking on a career she was clearly unprepared for.
But I never had time to wallow in those feelings. I was too busy. We were too busy. Going back and forth, tending to the needs of two sons who desperately needed us in two very different ways. The same week we returned home with Ryder, two dear friends of ours lost loved ones. One friend lost his son in an mysterious tragedy. Another lost his father to a sudden passing. While swaddling one son at home and praying for the other in NICU, we also attended two funerals. Talk about a heart check. Jason and I both felt a deeper sense of loss for both our friends. We now got it. We finally feel it ourselves, the love of a parent to their child, the love of a father and his son. And when I think about that feeling, homesickness creeps in again. That feeling I have never been able to identify, that feeling I have towards needing my mom, that feeling I now have towards needing both my sons, what others may call bonding or parental love, I will forever call homesickness.
And yet, how can I not reflect upon how deeper and greater our Father’s love is for us? Does God feel homesick for us when we are astray? Does He yearn for us when we choose to walk this path without His guidance and presence? I now know He does. Just as I feel that pit, that knot begin to arise when torn away from my sons, God feels it exponentially more for us. We are His creation, His children. His beloved, and He wants us to draw near, to need Him, to love Him, to have a relationship with Him. I truly believe that is why God’s wrecks our plans (at least mine). He knows me better than my mom and dad know me. Better than Jason knows me. He knows that when I make plans they don’t always include Him. So, why not wreck those plans? Why not force me to surrender and include Him, my Father, in those plans? After all, God does not want to be homesick for us. He wants us to feel that magical, spiritual feeling of security. Like He is pulling in the driveway rescuing us from a night on the floor in tears.
Drawing near to my sons, I know they are safe, secure, and loved. Drawing near to my Father, I know I am safe, secure, and loved.
How deep the Father's love for us?
How vast beyond all measure?
That He should give His only Son,
To make a wretch His treasure.
The Big Bang Theory, Series 03 Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation