Sean has been taking a Sunday school class called Atrium. For 90 minutes on Sunday mornings, he is without any other member of his family, so when we get back together, we question him about what he's learned.
me: Sean, what did you talk about in Atrium today?
Sean: I'm not sure.
me: Did you talk about God?
me: Did you talk about Jesus?
me: What did you do?
Sean: We cut paper.
He might not be listening, but he sure is enjoying himself! The other day he was musing to himself in the backseat of the car while we drove, and then he piped up.
Sean: I really like my class on Sundays.
me: That's great! I'm glad you do. What do you like about it?
Sean: I like drawing pictures.
Cutting paper and drawing pictures: that's about the gist of it. I am not too hung up on him learning any huge tenants of the Catholic Church, but rather I like that the teacher introduces the kids to the idea of God and Jesus. I also like the fact that Sean is getting some freedom from us. I like that he's engaging with a teacher and other students, and he's exercising a sense of autonomy that's more positive than the defiance we see at dinner time - he's still refusing to eat dinner many nights. I also like that he's hearing about, learning, and discussing the existence of God; helping him get in touch with his own sense of God.
Being a parent what I find most interesting is the interplay of who God is externally for our kids and who god is internally. Who is that Great Spirit out in the universe that runs through all people and creation? Likewise who is that inner self, our true self, whom we come to know more and more over the years as we age? In Sean's class he gets to talk about and reflect on this Great Spirit, God, as a concept and a lived entity. And while being away from us he gets to exercise who he is as his own person, god within. I love seeing this play out on a daily basis, though he has started to wield this knowledge in a way I didn't foresee.
Sean: (at lunch, eating apples) Mama, I really like these apples.
me: Oh yeah? What do you like about them?
Sean: They have red skin on them. I don't like the apples with the green skin.
me: Why not?
Sean: I just don't. I just like the apples with the red skin.
Sean: That's just the way God made me.
Interesting. Basically he's laying the foundation for a time and space when I ask him to eat his apples, and he won't: due to the fact that he "doesn't like green-skinned apples". And why should he? That's just the way God made him! The way g(G)od intended.
The fighting over dinner time has strangely bled into other moments, too. Some of the arguments we use with Sean at dinner focus on needing to "try" new things. Even if he doesn't like something, he has to at least "try" it. So when we were down in the basement the other day, playing in the fake kitchen area with the fake wooden toys painted like food, Sean decided to turn the tables.
Sean: Mama? What do you want me to fix you today?
me: Eh... how about some fruit. Or maybe a sandwich.
Sean: (holding up a wooden toy painted like a raw steak) How about this one?
me: I'm not really a fan of red meat.
Sean: Well, you at least need to try it. If you want to have any dessert, you have to try it!
This is clearly the way g(G)od intended.
I see this interplay in Audrey, too. She is learning her own sense of what she likes and doesn't like.
On a cold morning, I pulled out a hand-me-down pink and brown vest from her Tia Astrid. The poofy vest looked so warm, I thought it would keep Audrey going all morning, plus it would be cute. I put the vest on Audrey, and it was indeed cute, but it also enveloped her entire torso, neck, chin and cheeks. The collar sat around Audrey's ears.
me: This vest is soooo cute, Audrey!
me: Yes, Audrey?
Audrey: (indiscernable talking)
me: Is your vest big?
me: Give me a minute and we will change it.
She knew she had to communicate this wardrobe malfunction, and though she didn't have the exact words, she got her point across; the way g(G)od intended.
I have also seen her stubbornness over the past couple weeks, because she's known how to walk for a long time, but she refuses to be forced. She could go from person to person and from chair to couch, but the minute we would encourage her to just walk around with no specific direction, she would sit down and crawl. She was clearly waiting for her own sense of comfort, balance and purpose before she took off on her own. When she finally did decide, a couple weeks ago, to let loose with walking, without any specific destination, she used her words to encourage herself as she went.
Audrey: awking... awking.... awking.... Awking! Awking! Awking!
She is also including herself in conversations more. Our friends, the Menkes, just had twin babies, and Tom was going to take them dinner.
Sean: Dada, where are you going?
Tom: I'm going to run to the Menke's with the food, and then I'll be back for your bedtime.
Audrey: Monkeys! Oooo! Oooo! Aaaa! Aaaa! Monkeys! (complete with arm gestures, tickling her own armpits)
When I've returned from teaching in the afternoons, and the kids come to give me a hug hello, I really enjoy Audrey's greeting.
me: Hi! How are you?
Audrey: gud. (with an umlaut above the 'u')
Ever the individual, Audrey's decided definitively, that she does not like green beans. No matter how many times I place them on her tray, she will take a bite of one, chew, and then take it out of her mouth. Now when she sees me coming with the green beans, she says, "No! Don' Like! Stop!" How about that for knowing yourself? The way her g(G)od intended.
I lost Sean at REI last week. One minute I was looking through the clearance section of shoes, with Audrey at my feet, and Sean running up and down the fake rocky terrain where people can try out their new hiking boots and shoes. The next minute Sean is gone. I called his name. I called his name again. Nothing. I looked back at the kids' play section. Nothing. I called his name in the back storage room. Nothing. I finally resorted to opening swathes of clothing on racks, expecting to see him sitting in the middle of the rack, staring up at the sky, saying, "I'm hiding." But nothing.
Finally I found a woman who worked at REI, told her that my son had just been by my side, but was now not in the close vicinity.... OR was hiding in a rack of clothing (as he's wont to do) and I'd yet to find him. The woman graciously began helping me look, alerting her fellow co-workers. My mind raced. I knew that the outer doors were probably too far for Sean to get to quickly. Moreover, I didn't think he would race out of the doors, he's not that adventurous of a kid.
I decided I would circle the closest clothing racks to where I'd been standing just to see if I could see his little self hiding.
me: Come on Audrey, we need to go find Sean.
me: Yes, we need to go, we'll climb on this ramp later.
I pick her up and begin walking to the first clothing rack I see.
Audrey: NNNNNNOOOOO. Awking! Awking!
I can smell that Audrey's pooped in her diaper. Great.
me: Audrey, did you poop?
me: As soon as we find Sean, then we'll change your diaper.
Audrey: Oookaay. Awking! Awking!
Finally, from over the loudspeaker, I hear.
Loudspeaker: Will Anna Marie Bushlack please come to customer service? Anna Marie Bushlack, please come to customer service.
Thank goodness! As I made my way to customer service, I realized that I hadn't told anyone my name. I stupidly hadn't told anyone Sean's name either. This meant that Sean must have fronted the information to the adult who found him. After reconnecting with Sean, I was firm with him about how he'd traveled too far away from me in the store, but I also acknowledged and praised his ability to talk to an adult who would help him find me. He had told the adult my full name - the way g(G)od intended.
Last night being Halloween, we took the kids trick or treating, and we had them help pass out candy when our doorbell rang. It was a huge success; not only did they get to walk around in costumes, looking cute, and gathering candy, but when we ran out of candy at home, Sean insisted on giving some of his collected candy away to more trick or treaters. Music to my ears - get that candy out of the house or I will eat it!
Last weekend we had brunch with friends who also have young kids around our kids' ages. We were talking about Halloween, and I was waxing philosophical on the positive side of Halloween. The costumes, yes, the community aspect of the shared tradition, yes, but I even like the aspect of seeing scary, spooky things out and around. I was relaying to our friends that I think it's important for our kids and our family to be able to discuss the darker side of human nature. I went on(!): I quoted one of my favorite performance artists, Anna Deveare-Smith, who talks about the need for our country to explore and better understand the "negative imagination" so we don't demonize it so much. I made a great case for Halloween being an opportunity to face our fears. Our dear friends listened to my soapbox.
Then last night, just as we were getting the kids ready for bed, one of the last groups to knock on our door was a pretty scary bunch. All three teens(?) were masked in ghoulish, dark, haggard costumes. None of them said much and none of them took off their masks. Sure they said the mandated "trick or treat," but that was about it. Because we'd run out of purchased candy, Sean insisted on handing out candy from his gathered stock. But as he eyed the visitors on our porch more closely, he decided that Tom should hand out the candy to them. Sean, recognizing his own internal compass, kept a safe distance. Facing his fears, just enough, he watched as Tom doled out candy and the scary people left. We made it through facing the fears! Well done!
After we shut the door, turned out the light, and moved towards brushing teeth, a barrage of feedback erupted.
Audrey: Peepull. Scawy?
me: Yeah, those were some scary ones, huh?
Audrey: Peepull. Scawy?
me: Were you scared, Audrey?
me: That's okay. They're gone now. They are going home to go to bed soon, too.
Audrey: Okay.....Peepull. Scawy?
This went on the rest of the night. All throughout reading books and telling a bedtime story, Audrey was telling us about those people. Even as Tom laid her down in her crib, covered her up with blankets, she still looked back up at him to say, "Peepull. Scawy?" Then first thing this morning at 6am, I pick Audrey up from her crib, and she's back on the same train.
Audrey: Peepull. Scawy?
Internally I applaud her sense of self and her ability to verbalize it. Yet, as I look to that Great Spirit of God in the universe, I wonder if I'm the one who's supposed to get something out of yesterday. Wanting my kids to be their own people, wanting them to bravely face the world head-on: these are not bad things. But perhaps there are times when I don't need to push them so much and so far. Instead of waxing philosophical about Halloween, sometimes it's okay to shield them a bit from the scarier parts of the world. Perhaps that's my lesson from yesterday; the way g(G)od intended.
Finally, the other morning at breakfast, Tom and Sean were at the table eating together.
Sean: (between munching on his toast) Treat others the way they want to be treated.
Tom: Oh. Nice. Did Jesus say that?
Tom: Oh. Who did?
Sean: I just made that up.
his mind, no one had ever heard that before. He'd just made it up on
the spot. The way g(G)od intended.