Last month I went on a one-night getaway with three of my girlfriends. It was a long time coming.
Two of us had mother-in-laws celebrating their birthdays across the country that day. I liked to think we were honoring them in a way that only we could, taking time to refuel so that we could return to our family — our mother-in-law’s children — as recharged women.
After a farm-fresh lunch in the sunshine, we were driving towards a winery, enjoying our last few hours of freedom and playing “Moulin Rouge” at an inappropriate volume, singing like divas. Until we spotted a little boy, naked except for a diaper, running towards the fast-moving road all by himself.
Naturally, there was shouting amongst us and we turned around, hearts pounding. I’ll spare you some details and tell you this: he was not, as we might have assumed, an escaped rebellious 3-year-old with a hysterical mother somewhere nearby.
Allegedly, the little boy we found on the side of the road was a neglected and abused 5-year-old child.
We discovered promptly that if we weren’t entertaining him, he was trying to run. He didn’t know his name nor answer to it. He was unable to speak except for naming letters. He gladly accepted and chewed a cracker, but didn’t know how to swallow it. He explored new objects by putting them in his mouth like a baby. He wore a diaper filled with poop.
You could blame the parents, or the grandmother who was watching him. She showed up an hour later — after the other children were taken away in an ambulance. She left the scene in handcuffs.
But there’s no one to blame. The world broke long before any of us were born.
We spent the afternoon with the little boy while the police and Child Protective Services turned his young life upside down, the hotel parking lot swarming with sheriffs and paramedics.
We remained present, keeping him contained and calm so he didn’t have to sit in the back of a cop car. Just the night before we’d asked, what can we do in the world? Why are we here? What is our purpose? How can we be of service?
We had already spent the night and morning singing to each other, so it was only natural for Jocelyn to pull out her guitar. We easily distracted him during his exam. Music was a savior, again.
We sang to him classics and Jocelyn’s Wee Yogis originals. He stared at us in turn like we were angels. This was his only form of communication, and it was soul-piercing. Maybe no one has sung to him. Maybe it was all four of us concentrating our loving energy so intently on him.
He was the true angel. He saved not only himself but also his siblings at home who were not strong enough to get out. He woke us mamas up; the divinely orchestrated afternoon sobered our group of four. Literally and figuratively, because we never made it to a winery.
The incident made a necessary puncture in my bubble of privilege.
Even for the luckiest, parenting is a challenge. It’s not even as simple as loving a child and meeting their basic (and constant) needs, it’s nurturing the child’s spirit and working to support the child while also filling your cup and following your heart.
This little boy humbled me; I may believe parenting is hard for me, but I am equipped to care for my children because my parents cared for me. Not everyone can say that.
We live in a broken world. But there are things we can do to start little fires of love everywhere. Like pulling over and pulling out the guitar and holding space for a young stranger.
How blessed we were that weekend, to be handed such an opportunity.
Please share this story with anyone who needs it.