A Conversation That Was Hard to Hear

Jim and I left early the other morning for a trip to speak in south Alabama. As we sometimes do, we stopped at the local McDonald’s for a quick breakfast and some coffee to go. While we were sitting in our booth eating our food, there was a young woman sitting in the booth behind us, so it was impossible for us not to hear her phone conversation. She was alone in the booth.

School was out for the day because of the snow we had and she was on the phone with a grocery store or bakery ordering a birthday cake for her son who was turning eleven that day. The conversation was long as she kept spelling words and describing just the kind of cake she wanted. She wanted blue icing, no flowers (because it was for a boy), and she wanted it to say “Happy Birthday __________.” She spelled his name over and over and over because the person on the other end of the line couldn’t understand her very well, or couldn’t spell very well, or some other reason. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the cake order ended.

Then she made another call – to her son who was at home – asking him if he was ok. Maybe there was another adult there, but her end of the conversation didn’t sound like it. She wanted to know if he had had breakfast and described the strawberry and blueberry muffins she had gotten for him. He must have told her he didn’t like them because she then suggested that he fix himself a bagel. She then said these words, “You’re not ten anymore. You are eleven years old today.” She asked if his sister was awake yet and then proceeded to tell him when she would be home that evening and that they would do something for his birthday.

By this time my heart was aching. Birthdays are supposed to be special days, or at least they were in our house. Your eleventh birthday only happens once. 

I imagine most of you know where this is going, right? The reality that children are left on their own while mothers and fathers work makes me so sad. I know it is sometimes necessary. I know snow days happen and there often isn’t anyone with whom they can stay. I know eleven-year-old children are sometimes able to be home alone and be ok. So, before you get really mad at me, let me just say that I only want you to think about some important things:

  • “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).
  • “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when your rise” (Deut. 6:6-7).
  • “…When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them…’” (Joshua 4:6-7).
  • “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1:8).
  • “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
  • “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5).
  • “Older women…train the young women to love their husbands and children…” (Titus 2:3-4).

I was blessed to be able to stay at home with our children when they were growing up. I saw all of their “firsts.” I answered many of their questions. I handed out some of the discipline and daddy handed out the rest. I baked birthday cakes and cooked special birthday meals which were often served on china. I was at home when they came in from school, and I observed the look on their faces to discover what kind of day they had. This list could go on and on.

I’m not telling these things to make myself look good as a parent (our children could tell you I wasn’t perfect). I’m writing this to tell you how my heart ached for that young woman on that Thursday morning – the day of her son’s eleventh birthday. She was missing so much that day. Maybe she had to work, but she was eating breakfast out and alone while her son was at home without her guidance on that snow-day.

One of my favorite poems seems a fitting ending for this post. It is entitled “Two Pieces of Clay” by an unknown poet.

I took a piece of plastic clay and idly fashioned it one day,

And as my fingers pressed it still, it moved and yielded to my will.

I came again when days were passed, the bit of clay was hard at last.

The form I gave it, still it bore, and I could change that form no more.

I took a piece of living clay and gently formed it day by day,

And molded with my power and art, a young child’s soft and yielding heart.

I came again when years were gone, it was a man I looked upon.

He still that early impress bore, and I could change him nevermore.


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AUTHOR: Donna Faughn

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