My first born, he’s just like me.

Starts the day out with a gold ribbon ceremony for showing honor, courage, responsibility at school and all he can think about is the reprimand that ended his school day.

All praise clouded out by a finger shaken in his direction. His breath fogs up the glasses that hide his eyes as we walk home. From the minute he shuffles down the school’s steps I feel the itch in him that something is out of place.

I try to hear him above the school buses and kids racing home toward the weekend. I bend and duck awkward toward his eye level to try and lip read his sadness.

“School is stupid. I always do everything wrong.”

The bright little golden ribbon stuck to his red shirt says otherwise, but it’s hidden beneath his thick coat now and the dread at having done something wrong is pasted across his face instead.

“But what happened?” and I try to get him to go back to the beginning and tell it to me step by step. How could a day that started with me taking his picture next to the principal end with him this defeated?

I feel the knot in my own stomach and the hairs of defensiveness rising on the back of my neck. I want to make it right, by pointing out how wrong everyone else must have been.

But the wind’s cutting off any words I try to get out and he’s so hunched against the cold and his sadness that I don’t think he can hear me anyway. My forehead is as scrunched up as his posture and I can hear the frustration mounting in my mind as I push the stroller, focusing on the puddle, the ice patch, the path with the too-close cars.

It’s the cold; it bites through my frustration and makes me notice other things. The minivan parked around the corner, the hill home, the Friday evening pizza and a movie night.

And then it hits me – I’m the grown up. I’m the grown up and Jackson’s just six and soon he’ll be seven, eight, nine, ten. I am not actually going to be able to barricade all disappointment or misunderstanding out of his life.

But I can help put it in perspective.

He gets in the car and slumps into his car seat- staring out the window. I pump the heat, look back over my shoulder and describe to him how the day started. We walk through the ceremony again; the ribbon, the hard work and 30 accumulated mini gold tickets it took to get him there.

And then, after I’ve heard the outline of what went wrong in the afternoon I tell him that’s ok. Even though it’s a bummer when a day starts out great and ends with a bump, that’s part of growing up. That I know how it feels because it doesn’t stop when you’re a kid.

Grown ups make mistakes too and wish they could have do-overs and feel frustrated when the one small thing they got wrong clouds out the big thing they got right. And it’s up to us to choose which thing ends up being the story of our day.

I suggest we make his Friday story about the gold ribbon. Hot chocolate at home helps the decision go down. As does an adoring baby sister, a little brother and a movie night with dad.

And somewhere in the middle there’s a moment – a moment when I get to look into the eyes that I know are mine and tell him that I don’t need a gold ribbon to know he’s special.

That I’ve known since a summer afternoon in Kyiv, Ukraine when I whispered to God what I wanted for my birthday. Since I walked Kreshatik street with Peter and met Heike and Cliff, Bob and Colleen, and all the Skinner kids for cake and ice cream at the Golden Gate restaurant. Since I looked up at the sun with squinted eyes and knew that God had saved the best till last.

Since I asked and God answered and the answer was Jackson.

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I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him.
~1 Samuel 1:27.

No gold ribbon and no mess up can add or subtract from that gift.

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