Close your eyes and imagine something beautiful just for a moment. You're sitting on your phone scrolling through something useless just to pass the time when you hear the bathroom door burst open followed by a sudden flurry of soft pads racing your direction. Then out of nowhere he's on your back or climbing in your lap, still damp with warm droplets dripping from his hair down his cheeks. He smells of sweet shampoo, squeaky clean after a hard day's play. He forms his shape into a ball and simply snuggles against you quietly enjoying the natural love of your arms wrapped around him for a brief moment before he looks up into your eyes and asks if you're going to bed soon. It's less a question of your intentions and more a declaration that he's tired but doesn't want to miss out on even one waking moment with you. You hide a chuckle behind your smile and nod. Though he's ready for bed, the excitement of your joining him manifests as he jumps off of you then grabs your hand to guide you towards the room. Along the way he grabs tonight's favorite book and eagerly leaps in beside you, shoulder to shoulder. His reading skills are new and inexperienced, perhaps influenced by his fear of trying something new. But alone with you that trepidation is easily overcome by his desire to impress and earn your approval. Of course he's never in any risk of losing that but you'd never restrain any motivation to learn. Every sentence is a struggle but he's doing well and with each one completed he excitedly wiggles against you with a grin wild enough to melt the sun. Together you read a few pages between yawns before their frequency takes over and he decides to settle his bookmark until tomorrow. You reach to flip the light switch and pull the covers over you both. His smallish form shifts into you, snuggling up close, his head resting in against neck and you naturally slide your arm over him, pulling him into you. You hold your boy close, hearing his quiet breaths fill the room with soft white noise, so sweet and peaceful, his chest swelling under your arm until the warmth of your genuine love soothes you into a calming sleep.
A few weeks ago I joined my family on an annual houseboat vacation. For a week we were stuck together on a large yet crowded boat exploring a massive lake in the heat of the desert. It's not really my idea of a vacation but that didn't mean I wasn't excited. With us was coming, as my family calls him, my surrogate son. He's a very close family friend in whom I've found a purpose. I'll call him by his nickname Monkey, which I often do anyway. He's an adorable little Mexican guy. Cute, stubborn but cuddly. His dad has never been a part of his life though through God's grace we've connected in a way I only could have dreamed of. I can randomly show up at their house and his mom simply tells me I can bring him back whenever I'd like. So I get to have him for most weekends. He comes along to family events, stays over at my place, joins me at church and knows all of my friends. And as much as I know he isn't, I love him like a son.
Monkey likes to do this little thing that I find so charming. Whenever we're standing around, such as in line at restaurant, he backs up against me and holds out his hands for me to grasp. Then he stiffens his arms, palms straight down into mine, while I lift up. His feet come off the ground and he starts hovering around like Iron Man, leaning back into me to stay stabilized. It's so sweet and fun and we always get charmed looks from strangers around us.
Last month was his birthday. My little Monkey turned 9 and he was so excited to have me there. His mom threw a little party and I was the only person who wasn't a Mexican neighbor there but was so thankful I could be part of it. He loved including me in his little games with his friends and that smile is so infectious. He loves cars and I recently introduced him to Legos so I got him a couple Lego car sets. That night we built the first one. Several of his little buddies circled around us and watched the creation unfold. Being just a kid his patience wore out and he asked me to finish it, which I did. Then he showed it off to his friends and excitedly drove it around all over the house.
So when it came time for the family vacation he was literally counting down the days. It was a really long drive to the houseboat, most of which he spent playing on my phone or sleeping on my lap. Once we arrived he ran around with my little girl cousin who has a crush on him. Though him being a boy he'll continue to be completely oblivious to all of that for at least a few more years to come. The trip was full of board games, jumping off small cliffs, swimming, boating, and campfires. Then every night he'd race out of the shower into my arms, guide us to our room, read us a book and snuggle up against me until he drifted into the sweetest of dreams. And every night I laid there with him, a tear forming in my eye and a heartfelt smile on my face. God has given me something, someone, I never thought I'd have. Though he's not actually my son, I love him just the same. I don't currently have the time or money to be a full time single dad. I hope that's in the cards for my future, but for now God's blessed me with the perfect situation. In my arms I hold a boy for whom I'd give my entire world, and in return he loves me with a bond so genuine and pure that it continually makes my heart melt. There's no unsavory feelings here. Nothing wrong or unnatural. For this little boy, for my Monkey I have nothing but the sweetest love and care. In him, I have a purpose.
I don't know what the future will hold for us. It never goes according to plan. Though I know he will sadly grow up, I pray that I will continue to be able to be a part of his life. I want him to know that I'm here for him and always will be. But at least for now I'll simply take each moment I have with him and make it something special for both of us. Whether it's playing Fortnite, grabbing lunch, watching a cartoon or snuggling, loving him is always where I want to be.