For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘conversations with children

B received a set of two adorable pajamas from a great-aunt a few weeks ago. They are made to look like the costumes from Woody and Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies. The shirts have the emblem that makes it look just like you are Woody or Buzz. I thought this was pretty nifty, and B could wear them and pretend to be a cowboy or a space guy.

He wants to wear them. Really, he does. But he is terrified. He still thinks the movies are a little bit scary, and he believes that wearing the costume/pajamas will cause the events of the movie to happen to him. If he dresses like Woody and Buzz, the bad guys will show up and haul him off somewhere. The very idea of putting on the pajamas puts him in anticipatory tears.

Don’t get me wrong—we are not forcing these pajamas on him. We talk about them every now and then, and ask if he wants to wear them. He always says yes. Then, as bedtime nears, tears explode. It takes a few minutes, but eventually he confesses he just doesn’t want to wear the Toy Story jammies. We reassure him that he does not have to wear them if he doesn’t want to, and remind him that there is nothing to be afraid of, that nothing bad will happen just because you wear a costume.

Watching the trauma over the last few weeks, I find myself awakened to the color and depth of his imagination. When he pretends to be someone else, when he plays at cowboy or astronaut or mother or baby or firefighter or race car driver, he becomes that person in his own mind. The sharp edges of logic and rationality have not yet hardened into points, cutting the painful gash between imagination and reality. (For a word about where B does get clear about real vs. pretend, read here.)

In my spiritual life, I find myself always trying to soften the jagged edges of reality, to enter the space between “real” and “pretend.” As Walter Brueggemann reminds us, biblical, prophetic faith is the product of a vibrant imagination. We must visualize the world to be as God’s prophets describe it, imagine ourselves into building that world, connect creatively to the stories and people of the scriptures. It is in that imaginative space that God meets us, to heal and challenge and renew.

Dwelling in imaginative space is risky. Like B, we can start to fear that the traumas of the characters will happen to us as well. We might be assaulted, challenged, changed, even crucified. Our world might be turned upside down forever. Putting on the Christian clothes might just make us into one—and the risk of wearing Christ, imagining a new world, pretending our way into it, frightens us. How often in my life of faith have I resisted the new clothes of Christ, bursting into fearful tears and burying the possibility in a drawer?

I am not a poet, and never have been. I am just beginning to conceive of myself as a writer. I can communicate a thought or concept with clarity, and occasionally concoct a unique turn of phrase. That’s about it.

Today, however, I wish I was a poet, because B has given me an image that a poet could put to good use.

He has already developed his parents’ love of words, and his vocabulary is especially broad for a child his age—but sometimes his desire to use a new word exceeds his understanding of it. It leads to some amusing malapropisms, but also some delightful imagery and new perspectives on the world.

This morning, he told me he “nibbled out of bed.”

I asked him what he meant by “nibbling out of bed,” and he tried to demonstrate with a kind of creeping, crawling movement across the floor. When I gently tried to explain that nibbling was a word that usually describes a way of eating rather than a way of moving, he remained insistent that he nibbled out of bed this morning.

So maybe he just intended to be poetic. I let the image unfurl a bit: to nibble out of bed, to let one’s toes taste small bites of cold air from beneath the blankets, to peck at the opening of the day, rather than bite into it whole and emerge from the night in one gulp…

But I’m not a poet. Perhaps B will be someday, and I’ll save these words to give back to him to explore again. Or set them loose in the world now, for another poet to take up and carry around.

Our local zoo has a new dinosaur exhibit that B saw for the first time last weekend. It has awakened a whole new fascination with him.

This morning on the way to preschool, he told me that he wanted to go with J to see the dinosaurs again, since J was not with us when we saw them last weekend. He described which dinosaurs he wanted to show them, complete with arms outstretched to show just how big the Tyrannosaurus Rex is. Then he put me in my place.

B: I’m just going to go with Daddy, not with you. Only me and Daddy.

Me: Well, what if I want to come? Can I come too?

(long, thoughtful pause)

B: Hmmm. Okay. You can drive your car, but I’m riding with Daddy in his car.

I guess it’s time for some father-son bonding with the giant reptiles.

As we continued the last few  blocks toward preschool, B began to describe a dinosaur movie. He told me in great detail about the time when the T-rex with the big teeth walked up to the Triceratops with three horns. The Triceratops said hello to the T-rex, but the T-rex just ate the Triceratops all up.

This was a little bit gruesome for B, so I really began to wonder about this dinosaur movie. I know that I have never shown him a dinosaur movie, not even a television show. So I inquired.

Me: That sounds like it would be a pretty scary movie.

B: Yeah, it’s a movie for adults. It’s not for kids. It’s to scary for kids when the dinosaur eats the other dinosaur.

Me: So, where did you see this dinosaur movie for adults?

B: Oh, I just made it up. Just right now, I made it up.

Okay, Steven Spielberg, keep it rated G until at least your 5th birthday.

B’s grandparents were here visiting for Easter and brought with them a super-cool new tool bench with about two dozen tools, a tool box, plastic nuts and bolts and screws, tool belt, hat and even fake wood for building. B has been thrilled with his new workshop and playing with it all the time.

The grandparents left this morning, after we dropped B off at preschool together.

B came running in the back door at the end of the day: “I have to see if they are gone or if they are still here!”

Aww, I thought, he is looking for his grandparents. Until he exclaimed, “They’re still here!!!” and revved the batteries on the plastic drill.

He had been contemplating all day whether the grandparents were taking the tools back home with them, and he delighted anew in their wonderful gift.

Sitting in my lap, reading books, B says: “Mom, did you hear that? My stomach made a loud noise. I think it might be broken. There it goes again! Noises! It must be broken!”

It’s amazing what a kid learns in church. Today, in addition to learning about Palm Sunday, waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” , even singing along with the refrain to “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” B informed me that he learned that lemonade comes in two colors: pink and yellow. Usually, we have yellow, but today we had pink, and he decided pink is much better.

In every conversation about what we did on Palm Sunday, the pink lemonade featured as prominently as the palms.

That’s the question B asked in the middle of dinner last night: “Does God come to church?”

Me: I hope so.

B: But is God at church? If God is everywhere, is God at church?

Me: Yes. I think God goes wherever people are, and there are lots of people at church, and they are all talking about God, so I think God would be there.

B: Oh. Okay.

Part of me wants to say more, to draw deep implications from his question, to turn this into a diatribe on the petty concerns that can preoccupy congregations, or to bemoan the rhetoric of hate that seems to chase the holy out the door, or to lift up just the faith-filled hope that we all bring every time we gather in church for worship, that God will show up. But really, B’s question says it all, and my first response is the only one.

Does God come to church? I sure hope so. What else can I say?

In the last two days, B has started to use the phrase, “talk ’bout stuff.” Yesterday morning, he awoke and climbed into my bed so we could “talk ’bout stuff.” Then he told me a bunch of random stories about preschool and about our cats. Last night, when I was trying to put him to sleep, he wouldn’t let me pray or sing lullabies because he wanted to “talk ’bout stuff.” More random stories and observations about preschool and cats followed. I wanted to be strict and firm and urge him to go to bed in timely way, but I was powerless in the face of his irresistible cuteness.  This morning, it was more of the same. He wanted to stay in the car instead of going to preschool so that we could keep “talking ’bout stuff.”

I couldn’t say no. The day will come, far too soon, when “talking ’bout stuff” with his mother will be the last thing he wants to do. How long can I enjoy this privilege? Three more years? Five? Ten? Every time we “talk ’bout stuff,” I feel both the joyous delight of the conversation and the poignant pang of its fleeting nature.

Today, I took B with me to visit two church members at a  local (Catholic) nursing home. As we were leaving, he pointed out the window.

B: Hey! God is here! They have God here!

Me: What do you mean? Where do you see God?

B: Right there! Look! It’s God!

Me: You mean that statue?

B: Yes! That’s a statue of God.

This is what we saw from the window.

Here is the progression of my thoughts and feelings at that moment:

  • Fascination, to see what my little guy imagined God to be.
  • Delight, at his proclamation, “God is here! They have God here!”.
  • Sadness, to realize that already, in spite of my best efforts to offer contrary images, he already pictures God in classic renaissance human imagery.
  • Intrigue, to query him about exactly why he thought that was God.
  • Amusement, to get a closer look at the statue and realize that it was quite effeminate, like a fairy with angel wings.
  • More amusement, when I realized I hadn’t completely failed, because my three-year-old saw a statue of a girl with wings and daisies in her hair and called it God.

Here is a closer view, where you can really see the effeminate, fairy-with-angel-wings characteristics. Especially the daisies in the hair.

In the end, I decided to simply offer my opinion.

Me: I think that looks more like an angel. Angels have wings like that. You know, we don’t really know what God looks like. God is pretty complicated that way. Nobody really knows what God looks like.

B: Yeah. You’re right, actually. (Actually being one of his favorite words.) Actually, that is an angel. Can I run now? Will you race with me?

And we’re back to earth again. Except that as I watch him run gleefully, blissfully down the sidewalk, waving back at outstretched hands from nursing home windows, I think maybe I do know a little something about what God looks like.

The weather has finally gotten a bit warmer, and B was enjoying the opportunity to wear a new hoodie he received for Christmas rather than his bulky winter jacket. It’s a darling Osh Kosh red and blue plaid, with small jersey-style numbers at the breast pocket. On the way home from preschool, however, he raised some concern.

B: Why does my jacket have numbers on it?

Me: I don’t know.

B: Maybe I’m in a race.

Me: You think you’re in a race?

B: Maybe I’m in a jacket race!

Me: I think they just put the numbers on there to make it look cool. Do you think it makes you look cool?

B: (with a tone of incredulity that I would ask such a ridiculous question) No.


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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  • Graham: Thank you for writing about Susan Howatch. I like it that she is described as a mesmerising story-teller on front of book, and I do agree. I had long
  • revjmk: Tammy, I'm not sure the "he" you are referring to here (Willimon, Hauerwas or me--who goes by the pronoun "she"). I'm also not sure why you think th
  • Tammy Sanders: Has no one noticed he has the 10 commandments wrong. 1. You shall have no other Gods before me. 2. You shall make no images. 3. Don’t take th

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