Sometimes the best gifts come wrapped in nothing at all. That was the case one recent Valentine’s Day when my small son came home from school, opened his sweaty little hand and revealed a small pink sugar heart inscribed with the words, “I Love You.” He tossed me a smile that could melt the Sphinx.
“Whew! I was afraid I’d lose it, Mom, so I’ve held it real tight ever since after lunch. I want you to have it,” he said, prying it carefully from his damp little palm and dropping it onto mine. My eyes misted just a little.
“My friend gave it to me, Mom. She’s a girl, you know” he added, as though that made some kind of a difference. I scrutinized the crumbling, slightly worse-for-wear candy heart. There was definitely something brown around its edges. I surreptitiously tried to scrape off the brown stuff with no success.
“Aren’t you going to eat it Mom?” he quizzed, blue eyes anxiously searching my face.
“Eat it? Yeah sure. Just a minute,” I said, the candy now sticking to my palm like a wad of tape. I wondered what the brown stuff could be. Dirt or maybe a marker, something benign I hoped.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t get it home, Mom. I nearly lost it in the restroom, but lucky for you I found it. It rolled under the sinks,” he smiled with triumph.
“I think I’ll just put it over here for a few minutes, ok?” I asked brightly, peeling the heart from my hand and placing it on the kitchen counter. I made a mental note to spray the spot where I put it with some sort of anti-bacterial cleanser once I’d gotten rid of the candy. But first I had to get rid of the kid and he was sticking to me like a short shadow.
“Why don’t you go play?” I said, giving him a little pat.
“Because I want to be with you, Mom,” he said.
He wants to be with me, I thought. This sweet little boy who will someday grow into a sullen teenager wants to be with me. This child I cradled and rocked to sleep, his fuzzy little head in the crook of my arm, this child of the sweet, soft baby cheeks, with the sunny smile and the unique perspective on life. He’ll be moving on soon, to other things — big boy things. He’ll leave you behind in his rush to grow up. You should savor this moment and that dirty, germ-ridden dented little pink sugar heart. Go ahead, Carole, eat the heart. The kid kept it all day, carried it around especially for you. Eat the heart or break his.
My mind made up, I turned and slowly walked toward the counter where the heart, which was probably crawling with more bacteria than a toilet seat, rested — a small, dirty pink smear on the counter. But I was saved by the bell — my husband walked into the kitchen.
“How was your day, honey?” he asked as he absently reached down, snatched up the heart and popped it into his mouth. He smiled at me as he crunched it in his teeth.
“Well, it’s had its ups and downs, but ever since you walked in the door, it’s been terrific,” I said with sincerity. He sauntered off into the den leaving me alone with my son.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to eat your heart, honey,” I said. “But it was the thought that counted.”
“That’s okay, Mom,” he said. “It didn’t taste very good to me and Ryan when we licked it, so I thought I’d just give it to you.”
And they say there’s no such thing as a guardian angel.
Carole Moore welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.