The day was unseasonably warm, and the sun on my face felt like a surprise visit from an old, cherished friend. I grinned as I watched my son toddling around the playground, gathering sticks to put in a pile, a look of concentration on his face.
His tiny, dimpled hand reached for another stick, and he held it high, examining it from all angles in the sun. "Stick!", he exclaimed, to no one in particular. Then, he turned, and brought it to me, smiling, and saying again, "Stick!" "Do you like that stick?", I asked him. "Yeth!", he replied. He held the stick out, hesitantly, not speaking, but communicating with his eyes. "Do you want me to hold this for you, sweetie?" "YETH!", he shouted, before running off to resume his task.
I watched him from a distance, far enough to give him space to explore independently, but close enough to keep him safe. Every so often, he would stop what he was doing and come take my hand to see if I still had that stick. He would smile quickly at me, before turning to run away.
Working with children, I have been given many things to hold over the years - a paint-splattered paper, a colorful marble, a wilted flower, a dried leaf, a smooth stone. I can't even tell you how many times I would get home, and reach into my coat pockets to discover one or several of these items. It always seemed like a nuisance. Why were they asking me to hold it?
But, on that day, looking down at that tiny stick in my hand, it dawned on me. I was gaining his trust. God only knows why that stick was important to him, but it was, and he had given it to me. To keep safe. To respect. To cherish. To hold.
If I had thrown the stick on the ground, what message would have been sent? It seemed like such a small, insignificant thing - being given something to hold. But what about when he is older? Will he give me anything then? Will he sit beside me and share the stories of his days? Will he tell me about his new best friend, and why he likes him? Will he tell me how a classmates unkind words hurt him? Will he tell me about his first crush? Will he trust me enough?
I sure hope so. But, until then, I'll just clutch the stick, or wilted flower, or small stone, as if my life depended on it. And, if he does someday trust me enough to share those stories and those feelings with me, I will respect them. I will cherish them and keep them safe. I will hold on to them.