by Beth Saadati
My nine-year-old son slides his hand into mine as we wander the aisles in search of a gift for his sister. He desires closeness. He wants connection.
I cherish the moment. After all, I know what he doesn’t—that the days before he’s no longer a young boy are numbered. That time speeds by and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
That’s why we’re here. Because, after nearly three years without a teenager in the house, we’re about to have one. In a few days Christa will turn thirteen.
“Do you know what you want to get your sister?” I ask. Reaching over, I brush his hair to the side so I can see his eyes.
“A sword. I already told her.”
“Yep,” he says, “so she can fight. I just need to find the right one.”
The mom in me is tempted to tell him to save his money since she’ll outgrow it too soon. Instead, I hold my tongue, because Josh is smiling. He looks happy.
It’s been a long week of uncommon bickering with the sister who’s secretly his best friend. He’s deep, battling thoughts no nine-year-old should have. He’s been fighting fear.
Fear that, lost in new teenage ways, Christa will pull away. Fear that she’ll enter a world of hurtful bullying, listen to lies, and lose her way. Fear that he’ll lose a playmate and sister. Again.
I speak words to comfort and assure him. “Christa’s a great kid. She’ll be a terrific teen. Everything will be okay.”
But, as much as I look forward to the joy of living life with my own teen in tow, I feel the fear too. I know no family is immune. And I couldn’t bear the grief of suicide a second time.
“Mom, WalMart doesn’t have it. Can we try another store?” Josh’s words pull me from imagining what I don’t want to see.
So on to Target we go. Same scenario, same warm fingers wrapped in mine, same perusal of plasticized products.
“There it is,” says Josh. He points, and I pull the Nerf sword down.
“It’s $15.99. Are you sure you want to pay that much? Maybe there’s a cheaper one.”
“No, Mom. The black and green is cool.”
“There’s a problem. Read the title.”
“Zombie Strike,” says Josh. “Dad will never go for that.”
We decide to buy it anyway—and remove the cardboard packaging before we wrap it. Josh can keep a secret. As long as Dad doesn’t ask what the “Z” stands for, we’ll be fine.
At the checkout, Josh asks for help. The zipper on the pocket that secures his wad of piggy-bank bills is stuck. I dislodge it while the cashier waits.
“Could we try one more store?” asks Josh before he hands over his money. “I’d rather not lie to Dad.”
Though I’ve never enjoyed shopping, I agree.
Three strikes and we’re out, I think, as we enter the store across the street and locate the sought-after section. I see it first, hanging up high. The same sword in green and black.
But beside it is another, with “Only at Toys ‘R Us” emblazoned on its packaging. It’s white and gray, with a cross adorning its black and blue handle.
“That’s the one!” says Josh. “It’s perfect.”
It is. Soon it will belong to our family’s new teen.
Wednesday arrives. The party feels small with my family of four. We’re thankful when evening comes and Grandpa and a friend come to eat homemade strawberry and key-lime pie.
“I already know what this is,” says Christa when Josh hands her his gift. She beams when she pulls off the paper. “But I didn’t think you’d get me one this nice!”
Patiently Christa and Josh sit, as the adults converse, until Christa can no longer resist. She palms her new sword and winks at Josh. “Come on,” she says. “Let’s go.”
Grinning, Josh jumps from his chair and runs to find his weapon of foam.
Fifteen minutes later they return from their front-yard play. Josh, a sweaty mess, sticks his head under the kitchen faucet to wet his hair. We look at him and laugh.
“How was it?” I ask.
“Great!” they say.
That’s when I understand that Josh had gotten it right. He’d picked the perfect present.
Because she’ll need to fight. When the world tells her she’s not enough. When friends may betray. When the weight of sadness seems to last a lifetime. When whispered lies sound like truth and darkness tries to squeeze its way in.
I know what I want to tell her—know what my heart longs to say.
Even when you feel like a wounded warrior waging war with a kid’s weapon, Christa, hold on. During these tumultuous years, know that you’re not alone. We want you here with us.
So wield your weapon well, my teenage daughter.
Pick up your sword.
Fix your eyes on the light.