Of course, thirty minutes later I was snapping at her for not listening. Seriously, how many times do I need to ask to put some socks on? It’s not that hard. Thankfully, I checked my irritation before it led her into open defiance and revolt, instead of the benignly clueless lack of attention that comes with a four-year-old waking to a new day. After all, poor thing, she doesn’t know how blessed she is to have socks and shoes to ignore.
It’s amazing how quickly children can help us forget how lucky we are to have them. This very day, parents in my city will be told that their children have been taken from them through illness, incarceration, infertility, or death. I learn about shootings and bombings and disasters and I think of all the parents the world over who have lost their children and my heart breaks both for their pain and for my fickle appreciation for my own lovely child. Children who have lost parents are called orphans, but have you noticed that our language doesn’t have a word for parents who have lost children? It would just be too harsh a word to form on our tongues.
Most of the time I am able to move through the world and keep my eyes focused on the light of mundane and routine things, the darkness of tragedy merely fleeting shadows on the periphery of my vision. But I get weary sometimes, and I turn to stare at the blots of nothingness that creep around at all times, swallowing up other people whether I am watching or not. It makes me want to hold my child tightly, never let go. Well, at least until she starts squirming and kicking. And then we’re back to dragging ourselves around in the fake florescent light of comfort and privilege.
I’m not saying anything new or particularly insightful. This world is fragile; we all know it, or at least carry an inkling around in the back of our minds. We know, at least rationally, that there are no guarantees. Children are a blessing; cherish them; blah blah blah. Nothing takes me to the cheap intellectual assent of distant hypotheticals like a child who won’t put her socks on. I suppose that is its own blessing, that in an intense week of feeling the suffering of the world, I had a respite in my annoyance that my child wouldn’t listen to me. (Imagine that! A four-year-old not listening!)
Children are magicians. They will break your heart while simultaneously mending them and then irritate the piss out of you so fast that you forget you even have a heart. They build an expressway straight to the center of what’s most valuable to us, that One Thing without which we would sink into eternal despair. Then they litter that magnificent heart path with rubble and detritus so we close it down to all traffic until further notice. Children crack us open, in every possible sense, even as they crack us up… in every possible sense.
I understand why Jesus said we should become like children. I understand the service my child provides me every day, provoking me to new levels of frustration and empathy. I understand the mixed joy of weeping at the death and destruction in the world and laughing at the absurdly maddening details of not getting my way. They go hand in hand, really. I think that comingling of irritation, hope, sadness, and joy is what the Kingdom of God is all about. A place where darkness and light – real light, not the false glare of manufactured light – this is where the Divine invites us to dwell. And my child leads me there every day, her path littered with giggles and stains and those freaking socks she won’t put on.