For The Someday Book

Archive for December 2009

B’s latest game is playing presents. We have a box in the living room that contained presents shipped from relatives far away. All day, B has been putting various toys and household items inside, shutting the flaps, and presenting it to us as a new gift. “Open your present, Mommy! Open your present!”

So far, I have received his blue dump truck at least seven times, along with his rock-n-roll truck, an old license plate, a “pretty thing” (fancy bow), and his stuffed doggy.

The best part is the note. There is a post-it note from FedEx that always goes in the gift, and every time, B “reads” it to us.

Here are some remembered reconstructions of the note:

“Dear Mommy, Happy Birthday!”

“Happy Birthday to you…” (sung)

“Dear Daddy, I hope you have the best birthday.”

“Dear Mommy, here is your present. Happy Birthday!”

Truly the gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving.

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B celebrated his first Communion today, a few weeks shy of his third birthday. We were visiting a parishioner in a nursing home, taking communion for Christmas. As I was setting it up, he got very inquisitive about what I was doing, and he said, “I want to have communion too!” That was enough to make me say yes.

As a child, my parents decided that we should not take communion until after our confirmation, usually around age 12. Because everyone in my home church went forward to kneel at the altar to commune, I remember feeling conspicuous, excluded and isolated sitting alone in the pew. I remember being angry that people thought I wasn’t old enough to understand, and a sense of righteous indignation that anyone would try to deny me access to Jesus’ own body and blood. Clearly, I understood what communion was all about–I should have been able to partake. This experience has given me a passionate commitment to the openness of the communion table to this day. Christ invited everyone to partake at the table–no one should be denied access to Christ’s table, for any reason.

In reaction, I decided I would never deny B the chance to come to Christ’s table. I also decided that I would not ever allow him to participate without some explanation of what we were doing. This is not “snack time.” Since we will be serving communion at the family-oriented Christmas Eve service, I figured that would be his first time. I had planned to spend some time explaining it in advance. But today he asked to be a part of Christ’s table, and I could not deny him. Prepared or not, today was the day, this nursing home room was the place.

As I filled the tiny cups and stacked the silver platter with wafers, I explained to him that this was very special juice and bread–that we didn’t eat until we heard the story, and that the story was about Jesus. This bread and cup help us remember the story about Jesus. Then I proceeded to perform the short liturgy for home communion. B listened carefully throughout, and paid attention appropriately. He was probably more attentive than the resident we were visiting!

When the time came to serve, I served my parishioner first, then broke my piece in half and gave some to B. He held it until I said, “take and eat,” and he took and ate. I had to tell him to wait, not to grab the tiny cup of juice that was so tempting, but he waited patiently while I served her and took a sip myself before giving him the rest. Then he drank, and sweetly collected the cups and carried them to the trash.

Oh, the life of a preacher’s kid! What an odd collection of spiritual milestones he will have!

Who knows if he will remember this, but it was a special moment for me, to include him in this holy sacrament, to bring him into the circle of Christ’s family table. I pray it will be the first of many, many tastes of the bread and cup, and that he will always feel welcome at the table.

Today, I took B with me to visit two parishioners who reside at a local nursing home. It is a large, well-run facility, where I have visited at least six long-term residents over the last four years. One small wing is for short-term rehabilitation, but the vast majority is for long-term residential care.

One of the women we were visiting has very little family, and no other children in her life. I have been taking B to see her since he was a newborn, and they have a very special relationship. She is weak and requires oxygen, she can barely hear and has a difficult time communicating. The one thing she’ll talk about–with anyone who ever visits–is B, and how much she enjoys his visits. She doesn’t even look at me anymore, it’s all about interacting with B. They play with her stuffed animals, he races cars on her lap blanket, he shows her whatever toy he’s carrying. He holds her hand and we pray together. I have only visited her one time without B since he was born, and she wouldn’t even talk to me.

Today when we showed up, with B in a Santa hat and carrying a gift for his special friend, we were turned away at the door. The receptionist informed us that, because of the swine flu, children under 14 were no longer allowed into the facility. At all.

At first, I assumed they had had an outbreak of flu and were under quarantine, but when I questioned her she said the policy had been in effect for several months, which means my last 3 visits with B were “illegal.” She then moved aside a wheelchair and another sign to render visible the poster announcing the new policy, and opening the door to shoo us out. At this point, I was getting really irritated.

Me: “So, you mean that no children are ever allowed in this facility again?”

Receptionist: “Well, some families get around it by meeting in the conference room, but that’s only for the residents well enough to get to the conference room.” (My two residents are not.)

Me: “So you mean to tell me that none of the residents are allowed to visit with their grandchildren or great-grandchildren for Christmas?”

Receptionist: “Well, we’re trying to protect them from getting sick.”

This is a nursing home–this will likely be the last Christmas for many of their residents. And they have to spend it alone? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Of course, at this point, I just feel awful for the woman we are planning to visit, who had been promised a visit from her special friend B before Christmas, and now gets to be told she is forbidden from ever seeing him again. And for B, who is looking increasingly forlorn. After we get outside, he says, “You can’t visit because of me? I want to be Santa! I want to see (friend)!” He looks like he’s going to cry.

I told him it was not his fault, that there was a sickness going around and they were trying to make sure that no one got sick. But I wanted to cry as well. I will fight this. Before we even got to the car, I had left a message for the chaplain at the facility, who I know well and knows about the special relationship between B and this resident. I haven’t heard back yet.

I understand the need to keep children away from medical facilities, including hospitals and even rehab hospitals. Those are temporary situations, and unless they need to say a final goodbye in the face of a terminal illness, there is no reason young children need to be in a hospital. But this is a RESIDENCE. This is people’s home, where they live for years. This policy basically means that once Grandma goes to live at the nursing home, she’s never allowed to see her grandchildren again until they turn 14. Absurd!

I know B will see his special friend again, because they need each other and I will fight and even sneak him in the back door if that’s what it takes. But I am so sad for all the residents who will have to spend the holiday season isolated from the grandchildren and great-grandchildren they love, those who give light to their lives and meaning to their days. This is a season when those in long-term care facilities feel a special sense of isolation and loneliness–this policy of isolation cuts off the one lifeline most of them have, their connection to family and the next generation. I am so sad.

I have been singing Christmas carols to B before bed every night. A nice break from the usual repetoire of songs. Being a minister and a singer, I know multiple verses of most of the carols. He has started to sing along, and I often wonder what he is hearing in the antiquated language. The other night I figured out at least one.

At the end of singing Silent Night, with the closing line, “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!” B. repeated it back to me: “Jesus wore a diaper!”

He thought that was hilarious, and so did I. But I also think it’s pretty profound.

Jesus wore diapers. The God of heaven and earth, Creator of all that is and was and ever will be, came to earth in the most humble of circumstances–born in a barn to a homeless unwed mother, a helpless baby needing his diaper changed just like the rest of us. For God so loved the world, that God came to live among us, to experience human life and show solidarity with all of life’s aches, pains and humiliations. Emmanuel, God-With-Us, Alleluia!

B was arranging the nativity this morning, and announcing every move:  “Sheep, shepherd, mouse, mouse, treasure guy, Mary, camel, treasure guy, horse, cow, Baby Jesus, treasure guy.”

I went to the local funeral parlor today to meet with a family to plan a funeral service. As I was leaving the funeral home, I stopped by the office only to discover Santa Claus standing there. A really good-looking, neat and clean, authentic beard kind of Santa Claus.  A bit bewildered, I smiled and said, “I guess it’s really true that Santa Claus is everywhere!” To which he replied with a jaunty wave and a “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Definitely strange.

As I made my way out the front door, I saw him climb into his Cadillac and drive away, waving to a bus full of schoolchildren driving by.

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry?

Tonight at bedtime, I led B. in the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. When we finished, he said, “I want another one.” So I started on the Lord’s Prayer, but he interrupted me to remind me, “Hey Mommy, when I was at your church today, they had chips. I really like those chips.”

We had just been talking about his role as a sheep in the pageant next week, so I thought of Psalm 23. He is interested by shepherds, and knows that they protect sheep and lambs, so it seemed like a good approach. I just shared the first few lines, through “God restores my soul.” Trying to explain a metaphor was not easy.

Me: “You know what a shepherd does, right? So if God is like a shepherd, who does God look after? God looks after you–protects you, gives you good food like green grass, and good water to drink. Takes care of everything you need.”

B was nodding affirmatively, so I thought this was making some degree of sense to him. Until he started repeating what he had learned. The conversation went something like this:

B: “But I don’t like water.”

Me: “Yes you do, you just drank water.”

B: “I like that kind of water, but I don’t like the kind of water like sheep drink. That’s yucky.”

Me: “Yes, that’s true. Sheep water would be yucky. But I’m sure God would give you good water you would like.”

B: “So God will be the pretend shepherd and I will be the pretend sheep?”

Me: “Well, not pretend exactly. It’s just that what God does to take care of us is like what a shepherd does to take care of the sheep.”

B: “God is a shepherd–that’s silly. I think I want to be a cat.”


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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