For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘Mom Moments

The drive to preschool has become definition time. If B has heard new words he does not understand, he often asks about them during the quiet drive. I enjoy his inquiring mind, and the challenge of explaining something in terms he will understand.

Last week, though, it got complicated.

Mommy, what does “kill” mean?

As I paused to figure this one out, he went on to explain that some of the older boys (he is 3, but his class has children up to kindergarten age) pretend to be superheroes and bad guys, and they “kill” him. B said, “When Z kills me, I just say ‘puweee,’ and when N dies me, I say ‘pchoooo.’ That’s what you do when they kill you.”

I chuckled to myself at his nonsense comeback, and felt grateful that he did not yet understand what game they were playing. His question had afforded me the opportunity to give some explanation and interpretation, rather than letting him get all his information from his schoolmates. B has not had any serious exposure to death, so it was difficult to be honest and truthful in answering his question with no context at all. Even more, his simple quest for a definition raised a whole host of theological and moral issues for me.

When I explain death, do I just explain what it means, or do I offer theological perspective and insight? To be honest, I’m not even sure what theological perspective I would offer. I am confident in my faith that this world and all that is in it is not the end, that the God of Jesus Christ is a God of resurrection and new life, able to overcome even death. I do not claim to know what that means—whether heaven and hell exist, what the afterlife looks or feels like, whether our individual souls continue to exist in some form. I tend to believe that we are reunited with God and with the souls of those we have lost, but in my mind that bears absolutely no resemblance to a family reunion filled with hugs and catching up on lost time. This is barely comprehensible to me, and I can’t imagine explaining it to a three-year-old.

Add to that the questions arising from violent play. We have carefully sheltered B from violent images and realities so far in his life, but that cannot and should not last forever. The world is a violent place, and being a peaceful presence in the world requires confronting and understanding that violence. As he matures, he will come to know that reality, and we will not try to hide it from him. His question indicates, however, that he is not yet capable of comprehending anything beyond the feeling of fear that violent images might provoke.

I also understand that war play is a normal and developmentally appropriate part of children’s lives (great article on that subject here), and I do not have any need to forbid those kinds of games from his life. There is little bad and a lot of good that can come from games of cops and robbers, or superheros and villains, or my childhood favorite, Jedi Knights and Storm Troopers. I wasn’t disturbed or angered to hear that friends at school are playing these games. Still, I think it’s important to let him know that violence is dangerous and wrong, and there are better ways of solving problems.

All of those questions raced through my mind, but meanwhile I needed an answer, quickly. How I wish I could just offer a simple definition this time!

In the end, I decided to abandon theology, keep a matter-of-fact tone, and throw in a small dose of moralism. I told him something like this:

Dying means that someone is gone forever, that they are not alive anymore and we can’t see them or talk to them. Like the dinosaurs—they are all dead. When you kill someone, you make them die. Sometimes you can play pretend about killing and dying. That’s okay if you’re playing superheroes or cowboys and there are bad guys. That’s just a game. But in real life, killing is very bad, because it makes someone gone forever, and their family would be sad about that.

I’m not sure I exactly believe everything I told him, and there are things that I believe that I didn’t tell him. That answer just seemed logical and faithful. He seemed satisfied without being frightened. All the other questions and possibilities can remain unanswered for now.

B just got invited to his first birthday party. One of the girls in his preschool class is having a princess party next week, and he got an invitation. He is very excited!

Since he has never been to a birthday party before, we told him we should probably bring a birthday present for his friend, then asked him what he thought we should get for her.

“My orange car,” he responded. “I can give her my orange car, because I think she would like that.”

Suppressing a giggle, my first thought was to correct him—to tell him no, his friend did not want one of his old toys, she wanted something new. Thankfully, I paused. In that moment’s pause, I realized that he had it right and I had it wrong. Gift-giving should not be all about shopping, it should be about generosity. His instinct was to give his friend something he loved to play with, because he thought she would enjoy it too. Even if that meant he would no longer be able to play with it himself.

Isn’t that the way gift-giving should be? I am long weary of participating in the consumerist model of gift-giving, where showing someone love and affection means shopping for them, where the measure of one’s concern is found in the price tag on the gift or the fanciness of the wrappings.

We plan to encourage B in his desire to share and be generous. We will also go to the store and pick out a new toy for his friend, but we will carefully avoid any indication that his first choice for a gift might not be good enough. Whatever we bring to the party will be topped off with that orange car, wrapped up separately and placed on top, with a note explaining that it is a gift from the heart of one child to another, in the spirit of sharing.

It’s exactly the kind of gift I always want to receive. How about you?

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.

Palm Sunday this year was a microcosm of the ups and downs of being a preacher’s kid. It was a big Sunday at our church, with a special event that more than doubled our normal attendance. J does not come to church, so B usually hangs with me and runs around the fellowship hall before worship, then sits with the nursery worker (Ms. F) and her family until after the children’s sermon, when all the children head to the nursery or Sunday school.

However, Palm Sunday begins with a Blessing of the Palms with our neighboring churches. We all gather in the back yard of the church, lay the palms in the grass, bless them, sing, and process back to our own churches for worship. I figured it would be nice for B to stay with me during this part. Everyone stands in a circle, so he could just stand with me in the clergy clump. He got to hold my hand and lead the procession into the church, singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” I had been practicing the song with him all week, so he knew the first verse and chorus for us to sing together. And what kid doesn’t love waving a palm branch in the air, leading the parade? High times.

Me & B in the clergy clump

Once we arrived in the sanctuary, I deposited him in his normal spot with Ms. F and her family, and everything flowed smoothly. He came up with the other kids for the children’s sermon, and departed to play with his friends in the nursery.

After church, I always have a hard time getting back to see him, so he sits at fellowship hour with Ms. F. She makes sure he gets cookies and lemonade, and I try to work my way through the crowd before he’s finished with them. But this was a big Sunday. A really, really big Sunday. After church was a full luncheon and program, and crowds of people trying to talk with me. I breezed by to check on B at one point, and he looked overwhelmed by the crowds. “I want you to sit with me,” he said. “I’m sorry, B, I can’t right now—I still need to talk to some people. You enjoy your lunch.” He looked disappointed, but the fruit and cookies on his lunch plate quickly restored his spirits.

The luncheon wore on, and I was helping to lead the program. I managed to get to the food table and load a plate, but there was no chance of eating. I weaved my way to the table with B and Ms. F’s family and set the plate down. B said, “Mommy, I want you to sit with me. I want to eat all together.” I noticed his lunch was mostly untouched. “I’m sorry, B, but I can’t right now—I’ll come back and sit with you when I’m done leading up front, and we can sit and eat together.” He looked sad.

Then it was time to hand out gifts for the special occasion, so I was walking from table to table handing out gift bibles. I got to B’s table with Ms. F and family. “Mommy!” He was so excited to see me. I smiled back, but I was talking into a live mike and I had to keep moving. When I was two tables away, I turned to see him standing on his chair, looking over the heads of the crowd directly at me: “Mommy! I want you to come sit with me!” The look on his face was forlorn. “I’m sorry, B. I’m almost done, I promise. My plate is with you, and I’ll come sit and eat with you as soon as I’m done.” His face fell, then wrinkled, then pulled tight into a cry. Mine almost did too. I watched him take a deep breath and pull himself together to avoid a meltdown in public. He sat down quietly and waited. I felt awful. No one else seemed to even notice this moment, or the tension I was feeling as mom and minister.

Finally, I said a prayer to send the crowds out, and tried to work my way across the room to where my son and my lunch awaited. It felt like people were swarming around me—everyone wanted to say something, to congratulate me on the successful event, to tell me a story, ask for a prayer or just have my attention. I finally made it to where he was sitting. Ms. F had carefully preserved my plate and his, even as the volunteers were busily clearing the tables. I greeted him, but his response was half-hearted. I tried to sit down, but three more people lined up to talk to me. Ms. F and her family left, and two more people came to talk to me. B got up and stood next to me at the table, and I picked him up and let him interrupt the adult conversation, once again promising to sit down and eat in just a minute.

Finally, there was a break in the flow and the hall began to empty. I sat down in my chair and put B in his, only to discover that our food was gone. We had been standing there the whole time, but someone had come along and cleaned off the table—including our food. Poor B just lost it. You just don’t break a promise to a three-year-old. Especially one who has been so patient and so good while for the last two-and-a-half hours his mother paid attention to everyone in the world but him.

I felt awful. And exhausted. And hungry. And embarrassed that my three-year-old was bawling in my arms, but proud of him for standing up for his needs the only way he knew how.

In one short Sunday, B had journeyed from the head of the parade  to the back of the line, from the center of attention to the only one who couldn’t get my attention. This scenario gets repeated week in and week out. Everyone wants to greet him and talk to him. They bring him gifts and talk about how cute and smart and beautiful he is. He is everyone’s darling.

But they aren’t his darling. I am. He loves the attention and he has extra grandmas everywhere—but the only person he really cares about is me. I’m the person that meets his needs and calm him down. I’m the one he wants to share his lunch with, the one he wants to show his new truck to, the one he wants to hold him. And on Sunday mornings, I’m the only one he can’t have. And it must seem from his perspective that he’s the only one who can’t have me. When he is not being darling, when he just needs his mama like any other three-year-old, he can’t have me—because those same people are keeping mama busy listening to their medical concerns and church business and questions about the Mother-Daughter banquet. They are needy children too.

I feel every week the stress and strain of being both minister and mom, attending to both the needs of my son and my church members. But he feels it too—the stress and strain of being the preacher’s kid, who is simultaneously the head of the parade and the last in line, but never able to be just an ordinary part of the crowd, a kid enjoying worship and a church potluck with his mama.

After some hugs and rocking, we went to the kitchen together, and because I am the preacher they opened the foil wrappings and put-away casseroles for us. We managed to cobble together enough leftovers to resemble a lunch. As much as I wanted to just go home and kick off my shoes, we sat together in the church fellowship hall at the same table where B had waited so long with Ms. F and her family, and quietly ate our food while the volunteers wiped tables and mopped floors around us. It was the best this minister mom could do that day.

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.

I’ve only seen two episodes, but I am already hooked on the new NBC show Parenthood. At first it was just my love of Lauren Graham and Peter Krause, but now it’s bigger than that.

I realized in the first five minutes that I was exactly the target demographic for the show—an educated, thirty-something parent passionately concerned about my child’s future, filled with anxiety about my ability to balance my work and family life, wanting my child to have the best of everything and fearful of my ability to offer it. The show is even set in Berkeley, where I went to seminary. It’s like someone took an idealized version of what I might like my life to be and turned it into a show.

Except it’s not completely idealized. The writers and actors manage to capture on the screen the anxiety and competitiveness and floundering of contemporary parenting, along with the heart-wrenching love we all feel for our children. Most of the television I watch is an escape from my life. Parenthood hooks me because it draws me toward my life, in all its angst and foolishness and ego and even the beauty and honesty I yearn for.

I watched tonight after a long and exhausting day. Throughout the episode, I felt my tension rise with the tension of the show. Will the child get into the right school? Oh no, she’s having a bad mom moment in public! How can even the best-intentioned parents still blow it sometimes? After a few minutes I considered turning it off, because I feared it would keep me awake and tense about my own life. When a particularly tense and poignant moment broke into a commercial, I expected the show to be over until the next week. It was an ideal cliffhanger—relationships strained, events incomplete, tension intact to hook the viewer for the next episode. But I looked at my watch and there were eight minutes left.

Then I realized what was coming. The same thing as the week before. I thought it was just something for the pilot, but now I see it will likely be a weekly trope. A closing scene with the whole extended family together, enjoying each other’s company, playing or eating or laughing or working together as though their problems have all resolved, or at least been set aside for a temporary reprieve. Showing us, the audience at home, that everything is okay as long as we love each other, no matter how many mistakes we make or how impossibly imperfect life is.

And I cried. Just like I did last week. I cried because I felt all the tension of the show, of my day and of my own family wash away. I cried because it gave me just what I wanted—a camera shot of the whole mess of family and relationships with a wide enough angle to see the big picture of love, and music that makes everything beautiful and whole again.

It’s easy to make those moments happen in the last eight minutes of a television episode. Sometimes those vicarious, created moments can wash over into feelings of peace and contentment in our own lives. It’s much harder to find those moments in real life, but they do happen. The lighting is not perfect, the houses are not designer, the people are not slim and fantastic, but the beauty is even more amazing, and the warmth and laughter and love are real.

And on the days when the real-life moments seem impossible, I’ll take eight minutes of television to remind me.


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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