somehow, the other night, i swallowed wholly one of the truest truths of growing a thinking child from scratch.
mighta been one of the hardest ones to swallow, too.
but in the end, i am convinced, i’m one inch closer to a place that’s wiser. even if the getting there was bumpy going down.
you see, somewhere deep inside my head i think i thought that passing on the flames you hold most deeply, dearly, was a matter simply of holding up the wick, turning to the ones we nurse, we diaper change, we spoon feed, we wipe off, bandage, and shuffle on their way. the ones whose ears we whisper into, the ones whose shoes we tie, the ones whose pencil grip we help to rearrange. the ones whose papers we are no longer asked to read, for they are thinking now wholly on their own.
to pass the flame, i thought, was merely this: we turn and touch our kindled wick to theirs. and, poof, the burning light continues.
only, the other night, deep in thought and conversation at the kitchen table, deep in one of those tete-a-tetes that starts out slow, builds, spirals and suddenly is way up high on some perch where air is thin, and grip is slipping, i realized that not all flames are so easily lit from soul to soul.
not when you have, all your life, raised your child to think, to ask, to sift through what he’s told, to make his own only what sinks deep down to a place where what fits is weighed, is looked at from all sides, is held up to the shadow-casting light.
the subject, more or less, was religion. and in this house that’s a subject that comes with many threads. we weave here. we are braiders. we sift for golden strands, we entwine. we understand that some are shared, and some are wholly different, depending on whose birth threads we are holding.
more than religious, though, i am of the spirit. i find God in the scarlet flash of papa cardinal in the snowy boughs. i feel the shiver of the holy spirit when i watch the moon shadow play upon the window panes, and spill onto the bedclothes that bundle up and over my baby boy.
i whisper the hail mary, but i brush away a tear when lost in prayer on yom kippur. i feel the breath divine in hebrew, latin, or plain-old sidewalk talk. i needn’t be in church to know that holiness is near.
and so, it was the burning flame of spirit that i assumed–no, i counted on–i’d pass to my firstborn.
as clearly as he got my curly hair, the dimple of his father’s cheek, i thought the one most precious breath i have, i’d turn and breathe easily, wholly, into my soulful child.
oh, he had it when he was little. looked up at me one night, when he was all of two, and asked, “who puts God to bed at night?”
he had it, just a year ago, when he stood on the bimah, proclaiming the words of the Torah at his bar mitzvah, brought down the house, i tell you, with his grown-up understanding that nearly made the rabbi’s pale.
but now, now he’s taken history for thinking children, he’s heard word of wars fought in the name of God. and philosophies that stretch his mind into interesting new shapes. he is, right now, in this interlude, not so certain anymore.
and as we talked, i ached as the words he spoke fell upon my ears, sifted down to where my soul does all its breathing.
i tell you, it hurt to swallow, and, yes, to breathe.
but he is mine, and that’s unshakable, and, besides, i believe i’ve glimpsed the outlines of that soul. even if, right now, he calls it something else.
late that night, tossing, turning, in the way a mother sometimes does, it came to me, the image of the seeds.
i realized that what we do, in the long, long years of planting, is we are merely sowers of the seed. we scatter all life long, the bits of truth, of hope, the few scant things we know.
we scatter as we turn the words, in conversation after conversation. we poke a fertile nugget deep into the soil as we take our children by the hand, show them places and faces unlike the ones they would otherwise know.
we sprinkle seed through the books we read them when we pull them on our lap, turn pages. and then, years later, leave tucked beneath their pillow, just in case they find a minute for inhaling thought before they fall to sleep.
and after all the sowing, i realized, we can only stand back. pray for rain and sunlight. keep watch on what’s out where we have laid our lifetime’s crops.
hmm, is that a little bit of green, poking through the loamy soil? is that a tendril, reaching for the sky?
we’ll not know the harvest for some time. but we will trust that all the planting, tending, praying, was not in vain.
some seasons, what comes up is rich, is plenty, fills the bins. some seasons, what you put into the ground, isn’t what comes up at all.
but there will be a reaping. and, God willing, it will be more than you had ever counted on.
that’s the way it is when it comes to growing a thinking child. we’ve no flame to simply light their way, only seeds to scatter on their path, and wait–and hope–for blossoming to come.
what hard lessons has parenting brought your way? what, in life, did you set out thinking would be a cinch, only to find it was not the way you’d naively imagined? how have you made peace when the lessons you hoped to teach didn’t sprout in quite the way you’d planted? for those of you who’ve forged this trail already what were moments when you knew, oh you knew, that raising a thinking child held glories all its own. even when their wisdom caught you by surprise?
and by the by, today’s the blessed day of our resident mountain bird, the one who sings as if a warble-throated mama bird. here’s to sweetness, pure light and heart-melting goodness. in song, in deed. happy blessed day, pjv-az.
Seems to me I’ve read often, often that faithful people have moments, even decades of doubt. The doubting is part of the learning and growing. The seeds were spread on fertile ground. All will be well.
So far no bombs have been dropeed on me, but I love to see my 15-year-olds question the world around them.The wonderful thing about teenagers is their fluidity — the wind changes sometimes abruptly, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a swirl, but always unexpectantly. Since this is the period in which they pull away from the tug of their parents, and challenging authority is a lynchpin of their existence, I notice their words and actions are very black and white and, without the benefit of experience, not very nuanced. I remembering criticizing my parents for not moving away from where they grew up, how dull. And where I have happily spent most of my life…Stay tuned…the current chapter will be rewritten, edited, revised and new chapters will takes its place. The planting and tending is not in vain. As parents, our job is not to create mirror images of ourselves (Oy) or better images of what we would have liked to have been. At the end of the day, we are giving them the tools to fly away with independence, confidence and the innate sense that they are loved and know how to connect with their world.
what a gift it is that you have created a home where questions can be asked, doubts raised and dreams held safe. From the sounds of it he trusts you so much, that he is willing to show you the part of him that turns in a different direction. isn’t it the poet rilke who says, “keep living the questions, because even if you had the answers you could not live with them…. and maybe some day in the future you will live into the answers.” I hope this for all of us, that there is sanctuary that holds our hearts and questions.
Oh, amen and amen to everyone’s responses today. That boy seemed like a shoo-in, no trouble at all, didn’t he? Well, he is a thinker, as you say. And he’s doing right now exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. And this will go on for years and years, possibly. And the best you can do, beyond sowing seeds, is to pray. And to just keep loving.When my boy was younger–ever the doubter, at two he asserted he didn’t believe in God because people die; at four he explained why he wouldn’t wear his baptismal cross (“I don’t really believe in Jesus”)–I asked my priest, sort of jokingly, how long we are supposed to hold out hope for someone, how long are we supposed to pray for them to love God? He responded in his grave bass voice, equally absurdly, “until they are 35.” But his wisdom sank in and I stopped that panicky feeling from taking over, silenced the simplistic voice in my head which had so hoped for that “beautiful childlike faith” that one reads about all over the place. Since then my son has, surprisingly, become a great believer in God, as fierce in his belief as he was in his denial. And I expect, because he is a tumultuous-brained fellow, that this is not where we will rest forever.The point is that we give them what we have. Everything we have. They learn, receive, accept; then question, deny, reject. Then perhaps, perhaps, return, resettle, in their own new way which is wholly their own, to a place of faith, that is to say, of believing in things not seen. And as for us who are the parents, we must also trust in that unseen eventuality, the future. And in the hope that our God is big enough to be the best, truest, and most compelling answer to all the questions that even the thinkingest of thinking children can raise.
I’m sorry to be back with yet more, but I failed to answer your question at the outset of your bold blue type. Everything that’s happened, everything my children are, all of it, has not been the way I’d naively imagined. Heck, marriage is that way too. None of it has been cinchy, much of it has been botched, but hey, at least it’s always a surprise.
What is your son questioning? Is it human faith, belief, spirituality? Or, is it organized religions and their doctrines that often end with “my way or the highway”? I can see how he would question those..
jcv, you always take my breath away when you talk about, write about God. believing in the unseen….a phrase i could sit and ponder for awhile. and then i think of my rabbi who asks, “do you believe in wind? have you ever seen the wind?” it is his rhetorical set-up, his inexplicable proof–although i don’t think he would say proof, but rather ‘point toward.’ i love the easy way your words fall when you speak with such deep knowing. it is interesting, isn’t it, to hear how each of us puts words to the most poetic. now there is an exercise…..to see how each of us wraps words around the unwrappable…..your points, all of you, about sitting back and waiting are precisely what i intend to practice. continuing, of course, to sow and pray like mad. image: who is that crazy lady, out there in her field, deep in the dark of night, waving hands, apron filled with somethings, casting, poking into earth?stepping far enough away to write this, i of course see it as, most likely, a bracketed phase, not the last nor even the next to next to last. but in the moment, i tell you, it was searing. so much of loving someone is, isn’t it? and would i trade his thinking, probing, examining mind for a nanosecond? of course not. i too am toddling off to bed now. the morning comes so quickly.
The day I dropped my youngest off at college these words came out of my mouth…words that I did not know were there.”I am giving you back to the universe.”The long drive home I realized that the universe had given me this child, that the incubation time was over. It was time for her to be the person she was meant to be…that she could in fact exist without me, that she would flourish with new found experiences and relationships that neither of us could imagine.I think I scared her. Her college blog was called…”How I am dealing with the universe and more….”We are lucky to have our children as long as we do, share our ideas about life, our beliefs….then it is time to step back and see what has taken root.It sounds like you’ve taken your fist steps to giving your son back to the universe.
Ahhh….Annie, new to the group, but not to me! Welcome my dear – I read the beginning of your comment and thought, hmmmm – I think I know that girl that was dropped off at college and the universe and then thought “Oh my goodness! It is you!” Well on behalf of all gathered, I am so happy to “hear” your voice at the table. The questioning and challenging of my children is so hard because it just pulls up the knowing that I really don’t know. I struggle with the same questions they do, but perhaps even deeper as my life experience continues to teach me that there are no easy answers – if any firm answers at all. I guess that is where our faith – fragile as it may be some days – holds us in place and allows us to be the anchor while our children express their questions, wonders and fears. You do a wonderful job of that bam…thus thinking part of your boy is allowed to unravel and explore. How sad if he did not feel safely anchored enough to stretch and explore. One of my boys was really struggling with the question of God- which caused me to struggle too. A wise and dear friend suggested one way of framing a response might be to ask my son if he believed in the “unknown” and if he replied yes…then to suggest that perhaps him just might believe in God after all. It all comes down to the “unkown”…and so thank goodness for faith and hope and a bit of charity. Happy Birthday dear pvj….I hope your voice is lifted in song today and you are appropriately celebrated – again! 😉
well said, all.i have long believed in the planting of seeds where children are concerned. my son turns 26 in a few weeks and he has taught me with each year a patience i may not have otherwise learned. i realize that his father and i are not the only ones sowing, but i see that our seeds germinate the longest, set the deepest and sturdiest roots, and burst forth in unexpected leaf and flower, thought and deed.like the farmer, once the seed is set in the soil, we can tend, and water and fertilize, but we also must step back (as annie says). we cannot control the sun, the draught, the floods. and that, i think, is the hardest part.
goodness gracious, annie, welcome. here, how do you take your coffees? modified, as pjv’s husband calls it (is that right, or have i botched it), or amended, or paled with a splash of skim or cream? (by the way, if you’re a friend of lamcal, you’re a friend of ours. but even if you weren’t her friend, we’d make plenty o’ room here, because we love anyone who’s willing to pipe up and say something. and, for the quiet ones, we love you too….)your words all ring so true. and of course we know that we must let our children –if we really love them–dance in the wind. i remember a hundred years ago when i was a nurse at children’s, talking late into the night with a mama of a child born with sooooooooo many struggles. and that mama told me words i’ve never forgotten, about how her child was not really hers to keep but merely placed in her care for a good long spell. i’ve held that truth so close to my heart, palpably so. knowing that these children have their own mind and heart and soul. watching them climb the mountain then, is so invigorating. but i’d not be honest if i didn’t say that sometimes i gasp and hold my breath hoping against hope they’ll find their footing, make it safe onto the upward spiral trail.sosser, your words are so true. about all the sowers of seed in our children’s lives. and the older they get, the more seed is scattered. it’s what makes them so very rich. there are ones all around whose seed is more than mine can ever be. thank God. i wouldn’t want my children bound by the same fears i’ve struggled with, the same rules i’ve tousled with. thank God for sowers who bring new drumbeats, bigger ideas, bolder truths than their little mama could ever bring.
I’m late to the table on this one … days away from the computer, so unusual for this devotee.Welcome to the table, Annie! Pour yourself a cup of coffee … dearest bam, mine’s polluted according to the hubbie! Annie … that’s code for ‘cream & sugar’ in my house! We’re glad you’re here … that lamcal is quite a gal! By the way … thanks for the birthday greeting … turning the big 5-0 isn’t so bad after all.Having grown up in the church pews, it was never a question that I would ‘walk in the way’. But, there was a day when I had to decide for myself if I would continue that walk. I had questions of my own, but I love jcv’s comment about God being big enough to answer even the deepest queries.The eldest child of the house is indeed a thinker … he’s a well of deep water. He will most likely find out that, as the scripture says, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. We believe in a God that we cannot touch, yet we feel Him move in our hearts and lives. We pray, we believe, we trust, we love, we worship, and with eyes of faith, we see.The seeds that are being sown are going into fertile ground. Continue to water and tend the seeds … the bonds of love are a powerful thing.
For both parent and offspring, a quote from Japanese Haiku poet, Basho, writing in the late 17th century:EACH DAY IS A JOURNEY,AND THE JOURNEY ITSELF HOME.