Monday, February 9, 2009

Happy 9th Birthday, Bran


“Mama, I know this is a hard Christmas for you since Tricia died.”
Jamie cleared her throat and agreed with Branson that yes, it had been a difficult Christmas.
“But Mama, we know she’s in Heaven with Jesus.”
As tears formed in Jamie’s eyes, Bran again reassured her, “Mama, it’s ok to cry.”
We’d arrived earlier that evening in Eagle Nest, looking forward to about ten days with Mama and Papa for Christmas. We hadn’t talked with Branson about Tricia in months, probably since her death last June. But the kids had watched Jamie fly to and from Dallas several times last spring, spending precious last moments with her best friend. Our kids figured out pretty quickly how dear this friend was to their mama, watched as she grieved with Tricia and her husband and her children as Lou Gherig’s ebbed away at her life.
So months and months later, in a quiet and tranquil moment, Branson made it a point to express his sympathy to Mama. Somewhere in that little eight-year-old compassionate brain, he tucked away Mama’s sadness and grief and tried to encourage her at Christmastime. Somehow he knew instinctively that this would be a hard year for her, missing her best friend.
This is the up side of Bran’s mature personality. I’m learning that there are a lot of upsides. He’s always come across as more mature than his years, and for this Mommy, it’s not always been easy. Since he could talk, Branson has been interested in adult conversations. He relates to adults as well as children, sometimes better. He is intrigued by adult themes in music and movies, and by age four wanted to know the difference between PG and PG-13 and R, and why in the world would someone make a movie with an R rating??! As a six-year-old, he peppered me with questions about Toby Mac’s song, “Gone.” We talked through the lyrics for about half an hour, and he remained curious about the world of divorce and hurt and why sometimes grown-ups can’t make their marriages work.

Halfway through the school year, Branson’s first grade teacher asked us to please encourage him to refrain from telling all his classmates that Santa wasn’t real. She also told us that she had to be careful throwing other teachers knowing glances, because what most students never caught, Branson invariably noticed and understood. His second grade teacher repeated those themes, sometimes surprised by his interest in more mature matters.
By the middle of second grade, he’d learned every word in the book, wanting to know what each meant, and again, intrigued why anyone would use words like that. While he didn’t want to actually use the words, they aroused his curiosity. On our drives home from school last year, I braced myself for yet another question-riddled conversation about “inappropriate words” and phrases, and at one point I told Corbin, “If Bran asks me one more question about another curse word, I will absolutely fall out of the car. Not because he knows another word or phrase, but out of sheer exhaustion.”
Branson’s drawn to older kids, boys and girls, and although he relates to kids his age, he is naturally drawn to the more mature ones. I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve put my hands on his shoulders, looked deep into his eyes, and pleaded, “Bran, be eight. Just be eight.”
Corbin and I endured quite a learning curve the past couple of years with this little guy. Wanting to give him room to be “Branson” and be himself, and spread his wings. But also wanting to reign in his influences and exposures, knowing that he picks up on every word, every nuance, every song lyric and dramatic scene on television. I decided months ago that if the Lord created Bran to be “old” for his age, more “grown-up” than I preferred, that I would embrace it. In a sense, I grieved his maturity. I felt like in some ways we were all cheated of his boy-hood, cheated of those precious, innocent young years that boys simply play outside and climb trees and throw rocks and dig tunnels.
So months ago I told the Lord - and Corbin - that I would embrace this child and his grown-up-ness, even though it’s not what I wanted. And while I couldn’t stuff him down vertically by putting bricks on his head or stunting his physical and emotional growth, I could enclose his boundaries a little tighter and embrace him and pull him in close. So I’m accepting his height (almost as tall as me!) and his knowing smiles and his ability to pick up on absolutely every adult-ish word or conversation or scene in his surroundings, but I’m not leaving his exposures and influences to the wind. If he’s going to grow tall, he’s going to grow in purity.
We just celebrated Bran’s ninth birthday. This blond-headed, dimple-smiling boy effortlessly drenches us with joy. He will always greet you when he walks in a room, always. So relational it’s crazy. Takes his responsibility as a third-grade kinderpal seriously, "mentoring" his assigned kindergarten boy. Prays sincerely and often for our adopted Compassion boy in India. Asks a hundred questions a day to anyone who will answer - “What’s your favorite book? What’s your favorite movie? What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen? When did you feel the most sad in your whole life? What was your favorite year in high school?” Yes, these questions and more... without fail one of these obscure questions arises every night after we tuck him in...
It doesn’t take long in this journey of parenthood to realize that we learn as much or more from our children than they learn from us. So far, that’s the theme of Branson’s childhood and my education into the world of parenting. I’m a different person because of this little guy. I’ve been knocked off my feet, faced stinging regret for my actions (yelling, losing my temper, etc), and basically been deeply humbled. As the oldest, with all these kiddos falling in behind him, we’ve held him to high expectations. And as I’ve never parented a nine-year-old before, I fail often and hard with him. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten down on my knees, put his face in my hands, looked into his eyes and told him I’m sorry, asking his forgiveness. And that precious boy continues to forgive me, continues to talk with and open up to me, and continues to tell me he loves me - every time he or I leave the house.
Some specific attributes come to mind when I think about Branson - clean and pure. We’ve given him Christmas ornaments the past couple of years to represent that - clear, glass bulbs that shimmer and reflect light. I pray that he lives his life with a clear conscience, that he draws near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having been cleansed of all guilt. In Christ, he is already “clean,” and we desire for him to live in that. Corbin and I pray for his confidence, that it will be unfailing and strong and unwavering because of its foundation.
I tell Branson every day that I’m proud to be his mommy, that I’m thankful God made me his mommy. Every day. He’s the only one in the world like him. And it’s worth repeating - I’m a different - and better - person because of him.
Happy birthday, sweet boy.