His mother closes the picture-book they’ve been reading, takes his hand, and leads him into a stark, white room. The boy wrinkles his nose at its harsh and unfamiliar smell. His mom lifts him up onto a table covered with paper. It is white, too, and he can hear it crinkling as he moves around.
She pulls his t-shirt over his head, smoothing down his hair. She takes his hand in hers. Even though he’s a big boy of almost five, he still likes it when she holds his hand. She points out the strange things hanging by the sink. They look at a poster of Noah’s ark and name the animals together. All the while, she strokes his hand.
A man walks in wearing a long coat; white, just like everything else. He smiles briefly, and goes to the sink to wash his hands. Drying them, he pulls on gloves and walks over. His mother squeezes the boy’s hand and lets it go as she steps away. “I won’t leave you”, she assures him. The man picks up a cotton ball and rubs it on the boy’s arm. It has a strong smell that makes his nose prickle. He doesn’t like it. His mother is still there, but she feels very far away.
The man picks up a long, sharp needle and grasps the boy’s arm. He looks at his mother in alarm. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” he hears her say. The needle is getting closer. Scared, the boy begins to squirm and cry. Turning, the man murmurs something the boy cannot hear. His mother nods and climbs up onto the examining table next to him. She pulls the boy onto her lap, wrapping her arms around him. Close like this he can smell her. The smell that is home and safety and love. His mother’s smell. “It’s going to be okay” she says again.
But, it’s not okay. The man is still there with the needle. Shocked, the boy turns his head to look at his mother. She isn’t saving him. She isn’t taking him away from the man. “No! Please, mommy!” he pleads. She continues to hold him with arms that are gentle, but firm. “I’m right here with you, sweetheart.”
No matter how hard he tries, he cannot twist free. “No, no, no!” Eyes opened wide in disbelief, he feels the needle pierce his skin with a sudden, stinging pain. He takes a shuddering breath as his mother rocks him back and forth, her head resting lightly on top of his.
No! The prickly smell is back. The man has another cotton ball, and is reaching for his other arm. Why is his mom letting this happen? Is it because he was bad? Doesn’t she love him anymore? He starts to sob and shake even harder than before. “No, mommy, no!” His mother tenderly turns him so they are facing each other. She holds his gaze. “Sweetheart, I know you’re scared, but I’m here with you.” She kisses him. Her cheek feels wet when she presses it against his.
She cups his chin in her hand, “I’m here. We can do this”. The boy hears love and confidence in her voice. He turns back to face the man, settling into his mother, and her arms encircle him once more. Breathing in, he can smell her. Faint at first. He closes his eyes and breathes again. It’s stronger now. He hears her whispering, “I’m right here.”
He is still scared. When it comes, the second needle still hurts. She is not taking him away, but she keeps holding him. She does not leave, just as she promised. “Hush, sweetheart. Mommy is here.”
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2