The very first date Brian and I ever went on, we grabbed a bite to eat at Applebee’s and then headed to the ‘dollar theater’ to take in an incredible movie. We saw “Life is Beautiful,” starring Roberto Benigni. The entire movie is dubbed – this was a first for me. But within about 5 minutes of starting the movie, you lose yourself in the story and forget that you are reading the words underneath the screen. It’s an award winning screenplay about how a young Jewish gentleman in Italy falls in love with a beautiful young school teacher during the late 1930’s. The two marry and have have a son, but their story becomes painfully tragic when he, along with their now young son, are taken to a concentration camp in 1943. For many months, the father instructs his son on how to stay alive while they are imprisoned. More than that, the father turns it into a kind of game for the child, and in doing so shields his son from the horrific truths that are going on all around them. The story is a tearjerker, and I won’t say more in case you haven’t seen it, but the title always strikes me. Life is Beautiful. Funny, because World War II was anything but beautiful. However, moments arose from the ashes that were spectacular. And if you look for it in the movie, you see absolute, pure beauty. I try to remember this, because sometimes I feel like World War III is starting in the Graber house.
Jake is struggling. From the get go of life, he was a firecracker. There is no denying that. Crawling at 5 months, walking at 9 months, and falling down the stairs by 11 months old. A grand total of 12 ER visits in the first six years of his life. Jake = high blood pressure. For me, at least. But he’s also the coolest thing I’ve ever met. At 4 years old, he saw a boy bullying some girls in the park and he stood in front of all 5 girls, looked at bully E, and just waited for him to make his next move. When E saw Jake’s challenge of “You’re gonna have to get through me first to get to the girls,” he came charging at Jake, ready to throw punches. Jake waited until the last minute, jumped out of the way for a split second, and then grabbed little E from behind and held him down until the girls safely ran away. I was the proudest mama on the block that day. He is a true sweetheart, and when he has his mind set on giving you something – the money from his piggy bank, the legos from his box – well, you’d best just accept it, because to not accept a gift from Jake is a slap in the face to him. He will give you 1000%, every time. Which can be incredible.
It can also be really, really hard. Last summer we went through an AWFUL period with him. I mean, people still don’t believe the stories. It was hard on ALL of us. We sent Kate to camp for a week so she could have a break from the stress, and we all started seeing one of the top child psychiatrists in the entire Chicago area. A few small things were implemented but it never seemed like we got to the bottom of what was going on. He experienced defiance, depression, and most of all rage. I have read EVERY parenting book you can imagine, as well. “New Child by Friday?” He never showed up. “The Explosive Child?” Yes, he is, even after reading the book cover to cover. “Love and Logic?” I love that child so much I think my heart might explode, and we have approached this as logically as a mommy and daddy running low on patience and sleep can. I promise, we’ve tried. Miraculously, however, when kindergarten started, things slowly but surely calmed down and Jake seemed to have more and more control over his actions. Things seemed to make sense – to him, and to all of us. And he made GREAT progress over the course of the school year. We had a few minor bumps along the way but it all worked itself out rather quickly.
Until now. It is mid-July and I can’t help but feel like an absolute failure. The sucky thing is, I don’t even know what part I failed at. But clearly I have messed something up. Jake has been out of school just over a month and we are quickly falling back into some scary old behaviors. I love the little man so much, but these days I am finding it harder and harder to like him.
So today, after the worst meltdown we’ve had all summer long, he somehow managed to agree to crawl into bed. He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it. And I crawled alongside him, and after a few minutes of calm had passed, I whispered to him, “Life is beautiful, you know.” And he waited a minute before whispering back, “No, mom. It isn’t.” And I expected that. I don’t blame him for thinking that. But I sure wish there had been a way for him to escape the grasp of time for a moment and look and see that someday, this trouble that he is experiencing WILL get better. I don’t know how or when, but it will. Someday. And when it does, something beautiful will come out of all of it. I know this, because not only does God promise it, but because I have seen it in my own life. The valleys that have felt the deepest and the loneliest have led me right up to trails that absolutely took my breath away with unspeakable beauty. The experiences that unfolded only after traveling some of life’s hardest paths have been nothing short of life changing. Experiences you could never put a price tag on and certainly that you could never order up, see coming, or plan for. But sometimes, because of the mess that befalls us first, those following sacred moments leave us so richly blessed that we have to laugh, thinking that all the while we were just barely surviving heartache, God was using that crap to fertilize the soil ahead of us. And then, when we are in the midst of loveliness, it all starts to make sense.
I did try to tell Jake a little bit of that. I wanted him to hear the message again. For the fifteenth time. Because even if it takes a hundred times for him to start to believe that there really is hope for the future, then we are one step closer to getting there. It may not have stuck today. But it will. And I can’t wait for the moment he first starts to see the beauty sweep in and save the day, outshining the dark that was filling space as we waited for the sun to peek through. We’ll get there.