A towheaded bear cub with an inexhaustible grin, my youngest from the time he could walk tumbled through his childhood with glorious abandon.
As a preschooler and then a kindergartener, Jonah hurled himself headlong into any bit of fun, oblivious to danger and frequently leaving broken toys or household items in his wake.
The not-infrequent sound of a crash somewhere in the house meant the young adventurer had, once again, toppled something — or someone — in his enthusiasm.
Invariably, the sound of the crash was followed by a young voice calling, “I’m OK.”
At first alarmed by our son’s frequent misadventures, my husband and I soon grew accustomed to the pattern. Crash, brief silence, then a cheerful, “I’m OK,” letting us know all was well and our youngest was back to happily conquering his world.
And Jonah usually was OK, accepting the occasional clunk on the head as a matter of course and shrugging off the bumps and bruises that might have left another child in tears.
When he stepped on and broke a glass window ornament, slicing his foot open, he watched with interest as we washed and bandaged the deep cut.
He put up no fuss when a doctor had to glue shut a gash above his eyebrow after an overenthusiastic dismount from a chair.
Jonah was about 5 when he slipped off a coffee table in the living room.
The fall seemed no worse than any other, and his blond head bobbed up from the floor with the usual, “I’m OK!”
He wasn’t, though. Blood oozed from his mouth where the edge of the table had smashed into one of his front incisors, shoving it out of its socket so that it hung at a sickening angle.
I don’t remember what we did right then and there — when you’re a parent, you just jump in and tackle the emergency as best you can and hope you get it right.
I do remember the dentist’s office, where a woman in a white coat said the tooth couldn’t be saved.
Perhaps it’s standard practice in such cases, but I was — and still am — deeply impressed by what the dentist did next.
She asked me to sit in the dental chair and helped me hoist Jonah onto my lap.
She had to pull the tooth the rest of the way out of its socket. It might hurt, and it might be scary, and she wanted Jonah to have his mom right there, arms around him, helping him feel safe.
The procedure didn’t take long, and he did great, and he spent the next few years charming everyone he met with his gap-toothed grin.
But, for those few minutes when things weren’t so OK, he got to lean on the mom who loved him endlessly and wouldn’t let him go through his tough time alone.
I like people to know that I’m OK when life bumps me around.
Though a heart-on-my-sleeve type with a regular need for facial tissues, I try to keep a smile in my pocket so those who love me don’t have to worry about me or feel burdened by my tough stuff.
And, no matter how teary I sometimes get, I really am (usually) OK.
Except when I’m not.
Not gonna lie — lately it’s hard to feel OK.
I’m not one to say that this time or that time or any time in which we currently live is the worst the world has ever encountered. Any study of history will turn up dozens of periods in which folks had it really rough and society seemed to go haywire.
But there’s something about now that has put a knot in my insides. It’s everything. All of it. It’s just so much. It scares me. It makes me feel extraordinarily not OK.
How I cling, when the not-OK-ness gets too close and too strong, to that memory of holding my child on my lap, chin in his hair, his back against my chest, wrapping him in my love even if I couldn’t take away his pain.
I’m the child on the lap.
I’m the not-OK.
I’m the one wrapped in arms bigger than mine and leaning against a strength more solid than mine and OK even though I’m not OK.
I’m going to keep getting knocked down, often by my own bumbling stubbornness and overzealous charges in the wrong direction.
I’ll keep getting back up, too, shaking off the emotional bumps and bruises left by a rough-and-tumble world and marching toward the next day and the next, because that’s what we humans do.
But the One who went toe-to-toe with death for me and won, stronger and bigger and more full of love than I could ever fathom, doesn’t leave me in that world alone.
He holds me close, wraps me in forgiveness, and quiets my shaking as I lean into the comfort of His nearness.
And I’m OK.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.