On Friday, our weekly pizza-and-a-movie night had to be postponed (and, yes, for those of you wondering, I make two: one deliciously normal for four of us, one dairy-free, wheat-free and “pizza” in name only for the middle child).
This middle child, our accident-prone five-year-old, had to be taken to the emergency room after a fall onto the cement floor of our garage. He came home late that same night happy to show off his new plastic dinosaur and the half-dozen staples on the back of his head.
I still remember, years ago, the preschool teacher who told me that if any child was going to fall into a puddle or trip on the curb it would be my son. Always. This has never stopped being true.
Twenty-four hours later, three of us kneel to receive communion. We prepare to remember death and taste resurrected life while the boy so recently knitted back together stands behind us. The boy who knows what death tastes like better than any of us. He does not yet receive the elements, but he is always given a short blessing, a gentle hand on his head.
Our servers are an elderly couple unfamiliar to me. They must be Sunday-morning regulars moonlighting at our Saturday-evening service. The husband places his hand on my son’s head and leans in close. He prays and prays until it seems that the attention of a whole room has condensed and fixed itself on this prayer for one small boy. I don’t remember a communion blessing that ever continued so long.
It is long enough for this memory: I am seven-months pregnant with my miracle baby, my-sewn-in-tears-and-reaped-in-joy son. I am filled up with a baby and with fear. Having waited so long for him, I am sure that this gift cannot be given with no strings attached. There must be some price, in pain, that I must pay. Until someone touches my own head and prays for me, and I see … well, I hardly know what I see, but it is as if my unborn son and his maker are alone together. Then I understand that I have only a peripheral role in the relationship between them, and I see that my love is small and weak compared with the love God has for the child he’s made.
Kneeling at the communion rail, I can see that the young couple next to me are also watching my son and the gray-haired man. I can see tears in her eyes and feel them in my own, and I know that this, this, is what it means to live in a beloved community. We have been so well-loved by God that our hearts break for how he loves everyone around us. We are loved, and we are loving, and our hands touching broken heads and fearful hearts are the hands of Jesus, always.
And the heavy burden of love that I carry for my son is shared. It is not, has never been, mine alone. Of course, my husband shares it, the firstborn (who runs to her room weeping as the car leaves for the emergency room) shares it, but Jesus also shares it and his beautiful church shares it.
We are a beloved community.
Fairies flying in my sister's yard.
Monday night witnessed our first visit from the Candy Fairy. For parents of highly allergic and/or cavity prone children (and I have one of each), she is a Very Good Thing. After the trick-or-treating, after the just-one-more-piece before bedtime binging, she empties the still-brimming candy buckets and drops a small toy into the plastic orange void.
For the firstborn: rosebud earrings and a Pippi Longstocking book. For the middle child: a Lego alien “blaster” (The language of a five-year-old boy is amazingly onomatopoeic). For the baby: a red Thomas the Train engine with an unpronounceable name stamped on his side.
This largesse came fast on the heels of another nighttime visitor: the Pacifier Fairy. When Jonathan noticed the baby’s teeth looking more than a little misshapen we took quick action (assuming, rightly I think, that delay would be deadly for our resolve). The baby was sweet-talked into stuffing the mailbox with much-loved pacis, and the Pacifier Fairy soon whisked them away, leaving a blue Thomas the Train engine behind.
Add in Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, and Easter Bunny, and our home is a busy intersection in the fairy/magical creature highway.
Since she was first old enough to string words into sentences, my daughter has asked me, “Mom, do you believe in fairies?” And I always say the same thing, “Well, I’ve never seen one, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” (And for the rational-minded among you, shuddering at my deceit, all I can say is how often have scientists discovered bizarre new species in ocean trenches or volcano tops, creatures more surprising than any fairy?)
I tend to think that belief (in anything unseen) is a subtle orientation towards the world. It’s a just slightly off-kilter way of looking around oneself. A way of seeing that goes beyond the physical perception of your eyes. To believe, is to be always ready to say, “Perhaps, there’s more (rather than less) than meets the eye.”
And so, I’ve introduced my children to more. Fairy rings and tomtens. Santa Clause and mermaids.
I don’t share this under the category “advice for parents.” Perhaps, you’ve heard me mention before that I believe in the sharing of stories but not the sharing of advice?
I’m sure any number of you could put together a highly convincing, highly reasonable argument for why I am wrong. Honestly, I’m already half-convinced, and we will probably be telling the firstborn the truth about Santa Clause this year (the truth: Santa Clause is a magical story that you now get to help tell for your little brothers).
But here is what I cannot do: I cannot give my children lists of beings worthy of belief (Jesus, the angels) without demonstrating for them a capacity for belief. I want them to see in me a willingness to be surprised, to be proved wrong. I want them to know that the world God made is always more beautiful, more startling, more good than what we previously knew.
This world is full of magic. It’s evident in science textbooks and in fairytales.
I believe that the great magician behind it all has revealed himself to us in the figure of a man. This man walked the same solid ground that we do. In him, story and history intersect. Magic and flesh-and-blood-reality are joined.
He is the good news, too good to be true.
And he lives.
If there is one word to describe most parents of young children, it is this: tired.
However, the tiredness itself doesn’t always make sense. It isn’t always logical. For instance, there is this strange equation: I am less tired, less overwhelmed now with three children than I was with one (and my youngest has yet to learn to sleep all night in his own bed).
I’ve come to believe that many of the most difficult periods of parenting are like bad weather. The radar map of my early years as a mother was covered in angry reds and oranges. More recently, the forecasts have called for blue skies, occasional rain.
Is there some parenting secret to be tapped here? Have my years of experience brought me wisdom and thus fair weather?
I don’t think so. If anything I have abandoned my early intensity to always do the right thing. I have forgotten much of my new-mother knowledge.
Absorbed in the busyness of living, I can no longer recall the good advice of the parenting books I used to read. When the two-year-old refuses his bedtime and asks for popcorn instead, I sometimes remember how firm and controlling we once would have been. Now, more often than not, our evening couples time is spent in the company of a toddler. We talk over his head and share our popcorn. Maybe it isn’t ideal, but it isn’t terrible, either. He’s very cute eating his popcorn, this one is.
And yet, the “secret” if there is one doesn’t lie in a relaxation of standards or parental laziness. The weather is fair, but I’m convinced that we can take little credit for this.
The little girl who was overwhelmed by life (and so overwhelmed her mother) has shifted into the child who starts her homework as soon as she walk in the door after school, the child who makes her bed every day because she likes her room to look nice. Knowing firsthand how emotions spiral out of control, she says to me, “The girls will probably fight to sit next to Emma at the birthday party. But, I’ll be okay sitting next to someone else.”
How did this happen? And why did I assume that the weather would always be rough? Why did I listen to the well-meaning older parents who said, “Oh, just wait! If you think it’s hard now …”
Jesus has said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself.” And, yes, I find that each day does have its own trouble. But far worse than the particular trouble of each day is our despair when we believe that all we can hope for are storms. The storm is one thing, but the hopelessness that says, “morning will never come” is much more destructive.
Morning will dawn, and the one who is beaten down by life’s storms will open the door and find sunshine. Perhaps that day is coming sooner than you think?
Taken yesterday by Yours Truly. Ok, it was six years ago. It just feels like yesterday.
I read tall, teetering stacks of parenting books when I was pregnant with my first. Not one told me how much it would hurt.
Oh, sure, they talked about childbirth. The pain of it. I read a lot about that, and I was prepared. Well, as prepared as you can ever be.
But not one of those books prepared me for the pain of loving.
To love a child is to hurt. Desperately. They seem to grow and change by the minute, and this growth is both a good thing and a terrible loss. Every day you are saying goodbye: to the baby you held, the toddler who made you laugh, the brave one who left for her first sleepover. And on it goes. They’re relentless, these goodbyes.
I have never looked at old photographs without an almost physical pain. Of course, there’s pleasure too. But you expect that. It’s the pain that feels so strange. It’s the pain that seems to demand some sort of answer. God, does love have to make us cry?
There’s a song by the group Mumford and Sons called “After the Storm.” My favorite line is this: “There will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears and love will not break your heart.”
Do you believe that? Do you believe that one day love, like everything else, will be perfect and whole? That one day there will be no more goodbyes?
Peter told us that “[Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything” (Acts 3:21). And I can’t help but wonder: when he says “everything,” does he mean everything? Will God restore everything that we seem to lose in this life?
Will there come a day when love will not break our hearts?
This comes from one of my favorite poets, the Irish writer Eavan Boland.
Reading it again this morning, I remember that myths are some of the truest stories we tell. The myth of Persephone is not merely a way of explaining the change of seasons before our age of scientific discovery. More than this, it is a story of loss and restoration. This poem reminds me that I have been Persephone. It also reminds me that my oldest child is swiftly becoming Persephone. I say, with Boland, that I will not deny her her own unique life story, though no good story is without pain.
The only legend I have ever loved is
The story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
A city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
An exiled child in the crackling dusk of
The underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
Searching for my daughter at bedtime.
When she came running I was ready
To make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams.
And wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
Winter was in store for every leaf
On every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
And the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
My child asleep beside her teen magazines,
Her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
And ended the story and all
Our heartbroken searching but she reached
Out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
The French sound for apple and
The noise of stone and the proof
That even in the place of death,
At the heart of legend, in the midst
Of rocks full of unshed tears
Ready to be diamonds by the time
The story was told, a child can be
Hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
Can a mother give her daughter but such
Beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend must be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
The papery, flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
– Eavan Boland