We church awkwardly around here.
OK, so, to tell you what I want to tell you, I have to take you back a few weeks to my house. It’s around 6 and, by some miracle to rival the loaves and fishes, dinner is actually on the table and everyone that I have married or given birth to is actually sitting there. Not on the table, but actually in chairs. It’s pretty amazing. Which makes it extra painful when some peas hit me right in the face. Now, I don’t know who started throwing peas. Odds are good that it was the 3-year-old because she likes to throw things. And she has an arm like a cannon. But you can’t count out the 5-year-old. He had a rough morning at preschool, something about not sharing a toy car. And the 7-year-old has one of those tempers that simmers and simmers until it just explodes. Usually around the end of the day. And, while I don’t think it was the baby, you can’t count him out; he watches all of them, real quiet-like, and he is learning way more than I think he knows. Could have been him. Could have been any of them. That’s really the point; I don’t know who starting throwing peas and that kinda makes it worse.
Naturally, I lose it. Yelling, crying, screaming. Stood up, so hard and fast, that the chair fell over. And they all freeze. Like mid-throw. And I realize that this is a teaching moment and I have to get this right. This is the moment where I can convey to them that normal families do NOT get into food fights over who is going to lead the dinner prayer. I mean, I don’t really know what normal families do, but I imagine what we are doing isn’t it. So, I am standing there, thinking about the perfect was to phrase this, eating peas off my shirt, because we haven’t prayed yet and I am hungry, and the baby thinks this is just hilarious and he starts to laugh. Now, I know that all of you, at one point or another, have heard a baby laugh. And it is one of, if not the, best sounds on earth. It just took all my mad away and, so, I smiled. Which made my husband smile, which made the children relax. And I picked up the chair, sat down, and let them say every prayer they knew because the food was cold anyway. And I want to tell you that this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Stuff like this happens all the time.
You see, my life is so. (And I don’t mean s-e-w because I haven’t sewn anything since the first one was born.) I mean, s-o so. Because that’s the way it is in a house with little children, if there is 1 child or 20 children, everything is just so. So messy. And so noisy. And so frantic. And so much. Which makes me worry that in all that massive so-ness, where is there room for God? Of course, this is a silly question because God is the very definition of so-ness, right? So He moves into the chaos; in and around and through until He is right in the center, where He should be anyway. And I think I always knew that God would be there for the important parent stuff; births, baptisms, sacraments of any kind really, those scary ER visits, maybe the first day of school. But what was a surprise, and really what enables all of it anyway, is that God is there All The Time. All the time. In the middle of the night. In the morning. At the end of the day when they are climbing the walls. At the park when I am afraid of the moms that look more put together. For every temper tantrum; theirs and mine. For every diaper change. And when someone vomits. And when I think I might throw up myself if I have to read Good Night Moon one more time. The good. The bad. The excruciatingly boring. God is always with me. Which is the only reason that I can do this. Because this is pretty out of control. Out of my control anyway.
The thing about parenting little children is that there are very few plateaus. It’s a lotta peaks and a lotta valleys. And you usually go from one to the other in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. It’s equally parts exhausting and exhilarating. And I can’t go up and down like that by myself. I know this. God is always here. And I want my children to know that, but sometimes I think they know it better than I do.
I had these charming fantasies about educating my children spiritually. Hushed reverent talks about Jesus and adorable Norman Rockwell scenes with the 4 of them lined up in the pew, by height and in perfectly clean church clothes. The reality is a little different. Church is really more 5% listening and paying attention. And 95% keeping them from drawing on all of the donation envelopes. Oh, and dropping the kneelers. And Lucy isn’t allowed in the church much at all. Lucy is my 3-year-old with the arm like a cannon, and the child certainly lives up to her name. But rather than being, you know, a nice warm glowing light, she is really more of a towering inferno. She attends the children’s nursery during mass because when allowed into the church she attempts to re-baptize herself. Full immersion. To date, she has achieved this twice. We joke that it must not be taking… But it really must be because the child is so very full of the Holy Spirit. Of course, this doesn’t manifest in the quiet reverence that I think it should. When we walk down to the nursery and she sees the crucifix. She eyes light up and she waves and she shouts Jesus! at the top of her lungs, all love and happiness. And before she could really articulate, it sounded like she was shouting Cheezit! but I am sure Jesus understood. He gets her. She definitely isn’t quiet or even particularly reverent, but she is full of awe and wonder, which I think counts.
They so innately know that God is with them. All the time with them. I don’t always have their certainty. Sometimes I think it is because I can’t hear Him over all the noise. And I really need to hear Him; I need to know that I am doing this right. Well, as right as I can. As right as they let me. Right enough. But God knows this. He still talks to me. It is just not so much in the stillness of my heart anymore. I hear God when they finally start playing together, after almost a whole afternoon of near war-level fighting. I hear God when I find another adult to talk to at the park. I hear God when my husband calls me just to say hi. I hear God when I text a friend at 4:36 on a Tuesday just to stay sane. I would call her but I wouldn’t be able to hear her because the children appear to be acting out Lord of the Flies. And she texts me back to tell me that this too shall pass and she’s gotten run because her toddler is coloring on the wall. With her lipstick. I hear God through my friends a lot. And I know that I have heard God through each and every one of you. Lots of messages; all encouragement and hope and love. This all makes sense; God is gonna sound like all the best sounds, right?
And the big message is that these days are not forever. And it might not feel like that at 4:30 in the afternoon because 4:30 in the afternoon is full-on forever. These days, when they are little and loud and so, well, so; these days are really a very brief, precious time of my life that is going to be over well before I truly want it to be. And I don’t say that in some lame Pollyanna way to guilt myself if I don’t thoroughly enjoy the stuffing out of every second. That’s silly and impossible. There are plenty of moments of pure frustration and annoyance and angry and thrown peas. It’s OK to be human and not enjoy all of it; all of the mess and chaos of raising little children. But what those many voices of God are telling me is the truth that I already know deep in my heart; I many not love every second of parenting, but I do I love my children every second.
His current favorite voice is baby laughter. It’s a good one, especially when delivered with a side of tossed peas.
The one and only time we let her near the baptismal font willingly.