After we read,
after lights out,
after we pray,
after we are tucked beneath warm covers, my oldest drives into wide-awake nightmares instead of drifting into his normal peaceful slumber.
He begins to sob, asking through tears, "Mom, do kids get cancer? Or do just older people?"
And just like with most unexpected veers into darkness, I find myself swallowing my own fear at this sudden jerk of the car toward the edge of the cliff and try to calmly recover the direction of the conversation, steer it back onto the safety of the well-paved road.
I answer as simply, honestly as I can -- yes, sometimes little kids do get cancer, but that it doesn't happen very often.
He continues to weep next to me as I gently explain and whisper-pray for the right words to become my words to become his words of comfort and understanding.
His small body shakes next to mine, and I pull him close as it becomes clearer that he's not just asking hypothetically.
"Is the lump in my throat that won't go away cancer, mommy?"
I don't know how he's taken this leap from simply just telling me earlier about this lump to equating it with cancer, but I'm all too-familiar with how such leaps are made; I bridge the gap between these mountains all too often, linking symptoms and fear with disease and what ifs.
Though I gently whisper that I don't think the lump in his throat is cancer, he still can't rest, so I ask him what made him think about it and he reminds me that we've been praying for my Grandpa Filippi to be healed from cancer.
"Do people die from cancer?"
My heart flips again and sags heavy, holding his question
I steady the wheel, regain traction on solid grand and pray peace over him from the One Who knows our bodies and our hearts and thoughts; the One Who loves and protects. And the one who heals when we need to be healed.
His cries soften and fade into rhythmic breaths as he drifts to sleep.
But now I am wide awake
mopping up the soppy mess in my own heart
sad and dripping with the reality that
at just five, he would even be internalizing such heaviness
that at just five, there are even such heavy things to ponder.
Frustrated, I wonder aloud via Facebook at why none of the parenting books address how to explain things like cancer and such to soft and permeable five-year-old hearts.
I swerve my car toward the edge and into darkness, but she catches my hand at the wheel and she does, too,
and they calmly steer me back toward solid ground
just as I reminded him
that we know Who really does the driving around here.
It's just that sometimes it takes those who have been on the road a little longer to remind you
to let go.