“Love Him, Hold Him”


Ensign Article Contest First Place Winner

“Erica! Help!”

I jumped when I heard the urgency in Simon’s voice. The book that I was reading to my younger children immediately slipped out of my grip. Swiftly I fled down the stairs. Panting noises came from the kitchen. And as I stood in the doorway I saw my husband with his arms wrapped around our eldest son, Roy. Roy’s slim fourteen-year-old frame strained forward, determined to lurch free, his long arms stretched outward toward our drawer of kitchen knives. Roy’s eyes gleamed wildly, his unkempt hair tossed abruptly about with every movement.

I joined Simon in the struggle with Roy. As I threw my arms around our son’s waist, I caused him to cough. I nearly gagged at the unfamiliar odor of drugs and alcohol. My son’s face tightened when he realized he couldn’t break free from both of us, and tears quickly filled his eyes.

“No, no! Let me at the knives!” he pleaded.

Together Simon and I pushed Roy out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the family room. When we were well into the room, I closed the door. I hated using physical force, but at that moment I felt that we had no alternative.

Simon wrestled him down to the floor, pinning his wrists. I just stood there unable to speak.

“Heavenly Father, our boy needs you badly right now,” sobbed Simon. I then realized that he was verging on panic.

Suddenly a message flashed through my mind: “Love him! Hold him!”

Instinctively I moved to Roy’s big mop of hair. I cradled his head in my lap and soothed, “Shhh! Darling, darling—everything is going to be all right. Shhh!”

Instantly I felt the long, tense body relax. Roy closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep. I observed the boyish features of my son—his closed eyelids, the bridge of his nose, his mouth now slightly parted. His drifting off to sleep so quickly puzzled me. Right now I didn’t want to let him go. Then I felt Simon by my side. Gently he placed his hands on Roy’s head.

“Roy, I bless you that you will sleep well tonight. And I bless you that you will wake up and feel your parents’ love.”

I sat absolutely still, stunned. Love! Was it that important? Why, I had not told Roy that I loved him in over a year, nor had I shown him any physical affection. I looked at Simon. He always understood about love better than I.

“He must be watched all night. We shouldn’t leave him alone,” Simon instructed. Somehow we managed to get our son up the stairs, into his room, and onto his upper bunk. Simon climbed into the bunk below.

Later I slipped into our room alone.

The phone rang. When I answered, loud rock music blasted in the background.

“Roy there?”

“He can’t come to the phone right now.”

Something tightened in my chest. It was Max, the boy who Roy and his friend were trying to reactivate. Max hung around an older, rough gang. When I mentioned to Roy last summer that I didn’t feel right about what he and his friend were trying to do, that Max’s inactivity should not be taken solely into their hands, irritation swelled in Roy’s voice. He claimed he knew what he was doing. From then on I reasoned that maybe he was old enough to take care of himself.

“Max, was Roy just over at your house?”

“Yeah. Just wanted to check if he got home okay.”

The tightness remained in my chest as I lay on our bed alone. After an hour of just staring, I went to a closet and removed a sleeping bag. Then I crept into Roy’s room.

The carpet felt hard and stiff beneath me. I always slept poorly on floors. My mind ticked endlessly away, remaining far too alert for me to relax. The blackened ceiling seemed unusually far away, and I kept concentrating on the heavy breathing of the people sleeping in the room.

What went wrong? We held regular family home evenings, we read the scriptures together, we prayed faithfully as a family, our children often spoke of their individual prayers, and each child was taught the gospel practically from the cradle. Tonight’s episode only happened to other people. I had often read about such experiences in magazines, and some of these articles said that children from all types of homes today are experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Parents, the articles explained, should not blame themselves for their children’s mistakes. But I didn’t care right now what the articles advised—was I responsible? If so, how much?

I shifted. A book on the floor was jabbing my ribs.

My mind reeled uncontrollably as memories assaulted me. And then the picture of a monkey with saucer-like eyes, clinging to a surrogate mother, focused in my mind. I was in college when we learned about rhesus monkeys. I could still see my psychology professor, standing up front in that huge room with his thick horn-rimmed glasses, telling the class about a popular experiment. In a control group the baby monkeys were raised by their biological mothers. In another group the baby monkeys were taken away from their mothers and fed only from a bottle. In still another, the babies were given surrogate mothers created from wire covered with soft padding. Huge metal eyes adorned the fake mother faces. A nippled bottle was attached to these lifeless creatures so that the babies could receive nourishment whenever needed.

“The motherless group showed a lot of maladjustment and insecurity,” reported our professor. “But the groups with real and surrogate mothers proved equally well adjusted and secure.”

At eighteen I took this information all in without questioning. But fourteen years later, long after I was married and had children, I discovered that the findings of this experiment had been incomplete. When the monkeys raised by surrogate mothers became adults, they proved to be brutal mothers. Only the ones nurtured by real mothers displayed kindness and love to their offspring.

Now in the darkened room, the significance of these experiments penetrated my every fiber. The mothered monkeys observed wise parenting while growing up, and these experiences had made such an impact upon them that wise parenting came naturally to them as adults. With people, too, wise parenting comes more easily to those raised by wise parents. Wise parenting is learned and not instinctive.

A chill shot through my spine. My cheeks felt wet. “Why, I have been behaving no better than a rhesus monkey.” Although I had never mistreated my children, I knew that I was far from a perfect parent.

I saw myself as a little girl, too young for school. My mother had died when I was a year old, so the only parent I remember was my father. We lived just a couple of miles from an Air Force base, and I saw many propeller airplanes fly overhead. Then one day while playing in the backyard, I suddenly heard monsters screaming in the sky. Their intense noise filled the air. Yelling in panic, I sped into the house, running, running to my father. My behavior angered Papa, and he scolded me severely. I crept timidly away. Then those monsters screeched again, causing the very walls of our home to shudder. Again I ran to Papa. He exploded at me and turned his back.

The next day when the monsters came screaming again, I was more prepared for them, so when their deafening noises filled the air, I cautiously crept outside and cast my eyes upward. I beheld, for the first time in my life, jet aircraft. And all fear left. But to this day, I wish Papa had taken me by the hand and led me outside to show me that there were really no monsters after all.

As I grew up, I often sat in the same room with Papa, but for hours we never communicated. If I came home bubbling with excitement, I would eventually stop my jabbering as Papa impatiently waved me away. I wanted to be his friend. I sensed his deep loneliness, but I just couldn’t fill the void.

Shortly after Simon and I married, we joined the Church. The Latter-day Saint life-style came easily to us. We related well with the LDS people and many of their philosophies. I learned quickly that casseroles cheered those in need; it was so satisfying to visit the sick. And over and over I was taught that it was okay to have feelings, it was okay to long to be loved. Until that time I wasn’t sure.

But now that I was a Latter-day Saint, I noticed that certain members of the Church had ideas about child rearing that confused me. For instance, my bishop had a mischievous son. He was a bright boy, but he could turn his entire Primary class into a frenzy. I never saw this bishop berate his son, even after a horrible day in Primary. He would take the boy aside and talk quietly to him then ruffle his hair. And he kept telling his son that he loved him.

Then one day this bishop confirmed his son a member of the Church. I still remember his words: “Benjamin, as a father I see that you are an extremely choice spirit.” I was astounded. To me, this boy was the terror of the Primary!

Then I remembered Rachael, another member of the Church who had strange ways of treating children. In addition to having a house full of children of her own, she always had a few others around, no matter what race or religion. Whenever her children whined, she remained calm and asked them questions to find out the cause of their behavior. I always thought that was a waste of time. And then, when her children reached their teens, she didn’t seem alarmed when any of them voiced “way out” ideas. Sometimes they even laughed together when they disagreed. I couldn’t see why she didn’t constantly pressure her children to keep on the straight and narrow.

But my relationship with my children wasn’t the same as that my bishop and Rachael had with their children. They talked and laughed more. As my children grew older, I noticed with discomfort that often we sat in the same room not communicating for hours, like the way Papa and I used to sit. And I never knew what my children were thinking. I often spotted a hardness in my eldest daughter’s eyes as she looked at me, and my son spent long hours away from home.

I had heard that people tended to fall into the same patterns of child rearing that their parents used, even if they hated their upbringing. Abusive parents often were abused as children. Happy, well-adjusted parents often were nurtured by people of the same nature. Yet, since my children’s teachers often told me that my children were bright, creative, and obedient in class, I rationalized away my uneasy feelings concerning our home situation.

As we struggled with Roy this evening, however, it finally dawned on me that I should have listened to those uneasy feelings from the beginning. Close relationships cemented the foundations of a celestial home. Such a home I did not have.

Faint streaks of light slowly penetrated the curtains. Birds softly began their morning chirping outside. The steady stream of light seemed to bore into my brain, gently uprooting and revealing an experience I stashed away a few years ago. I was sitting in the temple when it happened. My mind was following the gentle cadence of the ceremony when suddenly I found myself in an extremely bright place. I was speaking to someone I could not see. My words were simple, “I’ll come back! I’ll come back!” And the determination in my heart swelled in my breast.

I sat up. Again a chill swept up my spine. I’ll come back. Father, help me learn. Teach me how. I want us all to come back. I knew this goal was possible. It would take a lot of prayer, a lot of study, a lot of observing, some help from Church leaders and from classes. But we were coming back!

My son stirred. Simon’s words, “… I bless you that you will wake up and feel your parents’ love,” echoed through my mind.

“Hi, Roy!” Simon called from the lower bunk. Roy leaned over and peered down at his dad. He didn’t see me. I saw a strange look on his face.

“Hi there, Roy,” I spoke cheerily. Then uneasily I added, “I love you.”

Roy stared at me, the strange expression still upon his face. He remained wordless.

Boy, I loved that skinny, long kid!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Richard Brown