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.