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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On Raising Benjamin Button. . .

For a totally different kind of post than I have ever done, here's an essay written as part of an upcoming collection.  You won't learn a prairie skill or a great way to re-purpose toothpaste, nor will the prairie or Ma Ingalls make an appearance. But you will get to know my amazing youngest son (and me, I guess!) a little better. . .hope you enjoy!

Noah sits cross-legged there, small in the plush green recliner by the largest living room window. Dappled flecks of soft sun filter through a thick stand of fragrant pines and cedars, but pause on the glass as if gathering strength before pushing through to where he is, quiet and alone. In his lap, a worn, black bible sprawls, obscuring any hint of tiny legs below. He reads for a time, peaceful in the early morning’s half-light, then pauses, eyes closed and smiling, pondering the things of God.

After a while, his soft-blue eyes open again and his gaze finds me, standing just beyond the doorway, half hidden in the shadows. I startle, caught, but say nothing as a comfortable smile spreads across his lightly freckled face and disarms me. He is about to speak. I wait, expectantly, always curious as to what he’ll say.

“What do you think of Gideon, Mama?” he inquires this time in his fading British accent. I hesitate, straining to remember the import of the story.

Before I can, he declares, earnestly: “Now Gideon was a man I could like. He talked to God even when he had doubts. He even tested God. But when God told Gideon to move, he moved!” Noah’s words trail off and his eyes begin to gently glow.

“Imagine,” he continues, no longer speaking to me, “having God announce that you are going to do something mighty for Him! Choosing you out of the whole world—to free Israel!” He leans deeply forward, his trembling chest resting in the open chapter, his voice quickening with excitement.

“And then sending 30,000 of your army home so no one could say it was you who won the battle!”

Collapsing back into the shimmering green fabric, Noah’s drenched in the truth of Gideon’s unwavering obedience and God’s indescribable power, and forgets that I am here. After a while, his soft-blue eyes fall back to the well-worn page and he reads on, enrapt.

He’s barely six years old.

That he reads at all is its own miracle. Come to think of it, so is his being born. Ten excruciating years of infertility and miscarriages left us believing we would never have a biological baby. But Noah ignored our disbelief and every doctor’s expectation and sparked to life despite us.

Arriving early for his birth, he upped the drama with a terrifying delivery, deprived of oxygen for dangerous stretches of time. Many worrying days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit stuck full of tubes and IVs, struggling to breathe on his own, he seemed an unlikely hero. But, Oh!—how we loved our scrappy little boy.

“Hope for the best!” our discharge nurse awkwardly encouraged as we finally left the hospital and stumbled uncertainly into the future. Our struggling, premature son, with remnants of hospital tape still sticking to his tiny round cheeks, might never function “normally,” we were warned. And with that, we brought him home.

Our first six months with him passed anxiously as we hovered close, mentally ticking off infant milestones as they were reached and mastered. His original due date arrived without infection. Then, his first spontaneous smiles thrilled and encouraged us. Later, he held up his head and rolled over and sucked his toes as if there was never any doubt that he would.

But then things got strange: he began to accelerate.

Premature babies often hit milestones when they would have if they’d been full term—slightly later than their actual age. But Noah began to hit milestones as if he hadn’t come early. And then he began to hit them early even for that.

By one, he was walking and talking in multi-word sentences. By two, he was fluently speaking and counting by fives and tens. By three, philosophy set in and he began to read. By four, he was devouring grown up chapter books and considering the ways of man. At five, he announced that he was weary of his children’s Bible and pulled his father’s off of the third shelf of our worn wooden bookcase and began to read.

“I’m starting at Genesis,” he explained carefully, “because a book should be started at the beginning, and because I want to know the whole thing.”

Each morning, before the rest of us have woken well or collected ourselves enough to start the day, he settles there in the plump green chair by the verdant alpine view. Determined pink lips silently move over words and phrases as he sinks himself into the Word of God.

It seems we are raising Benjamin Button.

Don’t misunderstand me: he has no peculiar malady reversing the natural flow of aging, nor is he so unusual that Hollywood clamors to tell his tale. But his mind does have the curious air of a wizened old man, reflecting on a life of experience and revelation. Instead of the excited charge of youthful discovery, Noah merely acknowledges most information with a knowing nod of his head. As if it was nothing new. As if he’s been patiently waiting for us to soak it all in and catch right on up to wherever his mind resides.

He isn’t an altogether remarkable child, though; he’s appropriately enthralled by sports and music and all things of the digital age. He has a lovely, cheeky sense of humor and a fondness for cuddling with me, but he quickly grows grave when he feels things come too close to the line: the things of God are no laughing matter to him. Nor does he like many of the childish whims that amuse the rest of our family: my husband, me, and three more children. All significantly older than Noah. Yet, somehow, not.

“Clouds are not made of cotton candy,” he quietly reminds us. “And leprechauns don’t turn our St. Patrick’s Day milk green.” He waits, patiently, to see if we will absorb these truths. He’s told us this before. He would prefer not to have to again.

I love this son. . .this strange little chap. I wonder at what he will become as his body stretches to accommodate the proportions of his mind. Will he no longer seem out of place, then—a grown man with grown thoughts? Or will his mind be ever just beyond the scope of his constricting, mortal flesh?

I wonder for a moment, mulling it over in my ordinary brain and praying that I’ll be here to see it all unfold. Then, acutely aware that I’m intruding, I turn to leave him alone: a child, visibly leaning toward the majesty of God.


  1. He sounds like a gift from God to me. <3 A truly "old soul." What a precious treasure.

  2. I kind of think so, too. He's a pretty precious kid. . .even if he acts like an 80 year old some times! :)


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