I started out parenting with the notion that somehow the goal of my parenting should be teaching my kids how to become functioning adults. That task seems a little daunting since I barely consider myself adept at "adulting". Changing your oil, balancing your checkbook, remembering to renew your license plates, buying life insurance, scheduling your dental visit. . .adulting is so boring. Who wants to prepare for that?
And then there are my kids. Hardly anything is boring to them. A bug! A funny cloud! A red bird! A piece of candy! Going to the Library!! Little Caesars Pizza! Watching The Lego Movie for the millionth time! Pancakes! Minecraft! The joy meter is high for whatever. Paul and I took them to downtown Indy a few years ago to see the lights and they were literally RUNNING down the street- "LOOK! A parking meter! LOOK!!! A man playing a saxophone!!" All of the things that our adult eyes gloss over were the most wondrous things ever, we hardly even needed lights to make it magic. They were making such a spectacle Paul and I agreed that perhaps we should get out more. (Is the grocery store "getting out"? If so, I'm nailing it.)
A lady stopped me in Meijer yesterday and pulled it all into focus for me. Meijer is full of blessings these days. I used to kind of dread going to Meijer before I had kids. . .it's huge, so many choices, pushing around a big heavy cart, trying to remember everything on my list. . .meh. Add tiny kids to that mix. . .eeeek! One time. . .true story. . .I actually almost blacked out in the frozen food section with a Baby Bjorn full of Daniel on my chest. The combination of trying to grocery shop for my family and some majorly messed up postpartum thyroid levels left me crumpled on the floor next to the chicken nuggets at east side Meijer. People sort of side stepped past me like I was just another crazy person. And maybe I was. (Seven years ago was a hard time.) But now that I have Noah, Meijer is an outing that I truly look forward to. I tell him we are going to Meijer and he squeals with glee. He skip-runs into Meijer, his feet light with joy. We stop and greet the greeter and catch up on his life. Noah thinks his name is Penny because he always gives him a coin to ride Sandy, and he always walks away shouting, "Bye, Penny!! See you later!!" We then visit the lobsters, the fish, the toys, swing through the home goods and hit up the seasonal decorations. We stop and make friends with employees and customers and take our sweet time, since mostly I'm just stocking up on beer, whiskey and random things like molasses and tahini you just can't find at Aldi. Yesterday, as Noah was gleefully looking at the fish and shouting out all kinds of exciting things about the ones in each tank, this friendly customer rolled up and stopped by us. She smiled as she watched Noah running back and forth in front of the fish tank.
"Wow, we should all be like that, shouldn't we?"
"I know," I said. "Don't you just love the excitement?"
"Yes. If we were all a little more like that the world would be a better place," she paused for another moment before pushing her cart down the dog food aisle, leaving me behind with a smile and new eyes for Noah.
She is so right! What a wonderful world it would be. And what a privilege it is to be a parent, to be in the presence of these tiny teachers. Because of them, it's possible to get excited about trains and fire trucks and inflatable Christmas decorations and maybe even Little Caesars pizza. Through children, we get to experience the magic and the wonder of childhood again, and isn't it just what we needed? The world today seems so. . .overwhelming. Crime and assault rifles and hateful rhetoric and abuse and corruption and war and refugees in crisis fill the news. Despair tempts every time we click an article in our facebook feed or turn on the TV. Yet as Henri Nouwen says, "When I have no eyes for the small signs of God's presence - the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends - I will always remain tempted to despair."
God's presence is all around us if we only have eyes to see.
There's the despairing and weary world.
And then there is Hope.
It's no coincidence that Hope arrived as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, and is born to us again each day in the spirits of children.
Daniel, my seven year old, is teetering on that that transition from little kid to big kid. Things that didn't embarrass him before now make him blush, he loves Pokemon and Star Wars and anything potty humor, and friends are now cooler than Mommy. I'll do anything I can to capture his little kid moments one more time, as I feel his babyhood slipping through my fingers with more than a tinge of regret. On our way home from choir practice this week, I heard his sweet little raspy voice from the backseat.
"Mommy, I know you are probably going to say no, but can we please, please, please go see the Christmas lights tonight?"
I sighed a little bit thinking about how it was going to be out of my way and I was going to have to make a left turn in crazy traffic to get to the light display at the local farm equipment dealer, and I would also have to figure out how to turn off my headlights which I had never even attempted, and we'd be getting home later. . .man I sounded like an adult in my head. Adult-y Jen started to say "Maybe another time."
Then I caught a glimpse of his face in the rear view mirror. Those chubby cheeks get thinner with each passing year, but behind the little boy gap-toothed grin I saw his baby face looking back at me, all hopeful, pleading eyes and sweetness.
"Sure, honey. Just promise that we'll go back again with Daddy, OK??"
"OK!!! I will! I promise!!"
And two little boys squealed with glee. I turned the car and took them to the lights. They were glued to the windows of the car as we made our way through the display, oohing and aaahhhing and remembering all of their favorite things.
"Thank you, Mommy," Daniel said. "This is awesome."
I am so glad I didn't get so busy adulting that I missed the lights sparkling in his eyes, the pure, unfiltered joy and wonder.
And as I navigated my van through the winding path, my eyes couldn't help but sparkle, too.
Help me see with new eyes, Lord.
Help me be tender and hopeful like Daniel.
Help me wonder and dream like Philip.
Help me imagine and giggle like Joshua.
Help me love and rejoice like Noah.
Help me see through their eyes, which are so much like Yours.