This has been a remarkably good week. Measured by how well-behaved my child has been, that is. Work has kind of sucked and the weather has gone from a beautiful spring weekend to windy, wintry mix. Lent has also begun, that bleak season of repentance and reflection marked my ashes and talk of sin.
All that gloom beside, my child has been unbelievably sweet and cooperative this week. Bedtime was off to a tough start at the beginning of the week. Perhaps one night of being up late refusing to go to sleep wore out her defiant resolve, reducing her to a wearied compliance. She’s eaten well, she’s been polite, and after that first night went to bed easily and quietly all week. There have been few tantrums, and they’ve all been short-lived and quickly redirected. She’s been good to say “thank you,” and effortlessly entertain herself and there have been no accidents in her panties or thrown food or time-outs and on several occasions I’ve heard her sing “Let It Go.” So I’ve had a pretty wonderful week with my daughter.
Maybe it’s just me, but it makes me feel like there is penitence in the air.
I know my daughter is not old enough to understand what it means to repent, to “turn away” from her sin, to ponder the ways she fails to live up to her best self. Honestly, I’m not convinced that a three-year-old is really capable of sin in any kind of personal responsibility kind of way. She knows what our rules are and that there are consequences if she breaks them, but she can’t grasp the inherent moral rightness or wrongness of her actions. But it sure has seemed as if she’s made a concerted effort this week to turn from her obstinate ways and live more fully into her better nature.
I don’t know that I can really say the same for myself. Not that I’ve been any worse a human being this week. I can say I’ve been a more mellow father, but only because that’s easy when your kid is well-behaved. But at work, and driving through town, and negotiating my usual adult responsibilities, I’ve made little to no effort to reflect and prepare. Lent is forty days, so I’ve still got time, but I’m off to a slow start. I spent Ash Wednesday running from one thing to the next like I always do. I had ashes on my head the whole time, but that’s about the only thing that was any different about me.
In the Southern Baptist church I grew up in, we didn’t do Lent. We skipped right victory and Easter. Stopping and spending forty days – forty days! – reflecting on our weaknesses and failings? Yuck. I heard some colleagues tell me yesterday that there was a Catholic church in town that did drive-through ashes. Literally, people drove through the parking lot and the priest put the ashes on their foreheads through the window. That’s a little more our pace, isn’t it? Quick, convenient, as little disruption as possible.
Then again, I’m not one for dramatic self-flagellation, either. Doesn’t seem much purpose to it, nor does it carry much grace. Like many of us post-modern Christians trying to recover from a strict conservative evangelical upbringing, I squirm at the mention of sin as if this is a slippery slope into Calvinist discussions of depravity and sinners in the hands of an angry God. And yet this resistance to self-loathing might close me off to the very real ways that I fail to be better at, well, being. For me, the challenge of Lent is finding the balance between self-hatred and letting ourselves off the hook for the ways our brokenness perpetuates needless suffering in the world.
Perhaps my daughter really is teaching me most clearly about the opportunity that Lent provides: to slow down and do better at being ourselves. Maybe penitence means to give thanks for small gifts and celebrate small victories and let our tantrums pass as quickly as they come. Maybe penitence means we can find some measure of contentment in where we are so that we need less time-outs. Maybe penitence means we can sing “Let It Go” and sleep easier at night. Maybe there’s still time this Lent for me to be penitent and have a little more grace in my life.
We read a lot of books to our daughter. It’s still part of our bedtime routine, and it’s not uncommon for her to want books at other times of the day. She’s getting more interactive and conversant with the books she loves, “reading” them back to us with remarkable accuracy and recall. She is also quick to relate them to her own experiences. One particular relation she often makes is with any of her books featuring sea creatures. “I saw that at the aquarium,” she often says.
This strikes me as memorable for several reasons. First of all, she’s always correct. She has indeed seen these things at the aquarium. Sea turtles, fish of various shapes, sharks, crabs, penguins, even divers. Secondly, she can pronounce “aquarium” correctly. Last of all, what I find most significant is that it’s been nearly a year since she went to the aquarium and she still remembers what she saw there.
There are lots of reasons that the aquarium should be memorable to her. She’s been twice. (There’s a Ripley’s Aquarium in Tennessee that we’ve taken her to the past two springs.) She really has two different experiences of this aquarium to draw on. Of course, the most obvious reason she would remember the aquarium is because it’s awesome. Aquariums are super cool. I don’t care how old you are, watching jellyfish float through a blue tank is a blissful experience. Looking at giant crabs is not something you get to do every day. Getting up close with a hammerhead shark is awe-inspiring and chill-inducing, even if there is a foot of plexiglass in between you. What kid wouldn’t remember these experiences?
It’s not just the aquarium, though. She remembers playgrounds and the equipment she played on. She remembers games she played with friends and activities she did at church. She talks about the pumpkin patch we saw in October and the giraffes she saw at the zoo. She remembers any out-of-the-ordinary sight she sees: a fender bender, a man in a tree trimming branches, a colorful display at the grocery store. It’s quite common for her to relate something she sees or hears to an experience she’s had. Or, for that matter, for her to just bring it up out of nowhere: “I saw kitties at the kitty show with Grandmommy.”
You know what I don’t hear from her very often? How much she loves her toys. Occasionally she may see a doll or figure and say, “I have that toy.” But I don’t really ever hear her say, “I want to go home and play with my dolls.” That’s not to say she doesn’t play with her toys and enjoy doing it. I just don’t hear her remembering her toys with the same fondness as she remembers her experiences.
I’ve heard it said that people who spend their money on experiences – vacations, concerts, family outings, etc. – are happier than people who spend their money on things. This seemed odd to me when I heard it, because I don’t think that way. An experience is over; you spend money on a vacation, but then when the vacation is over, it’s gone. A possession lasts longer. Maybe not forever, but usually longer than an experience. I suppose that’s the appeal of buying souvenirs from vacations: I want to have something to show for it.
I’m clearly being too tangible in my thinking. My daughter is quickly and resoundingly showing me that the memories of life experiences outlast the impact of things. I feel foolish that I have to re-learn this lesson, but what better teacher than a four-year-old who is encountering the world through fresh, curious eyes? A toy will get buried in the back of the closet and she’ll forget she even has it. But seeing zebras at the zoo? She hasn’t forgotten that. Chasing bubbles through the yard with her buddies; sliding down the slide at Plaza Fiesta; seeing the fire truck that one day that the fire department visited her daycare; playing with the water puzzles at the museum; petting the dogs at the park on a Saturday when the dog obedience class met; doing anything at Monkey Joe’s. God help us, we can’t drive by Monkey Joe’s without her shouting, “Monkey Joe!” She never comes home to her room and shouts “My toy train!”
I suppose it could be argued that experiences like these mean more to her than they would to me. After all, I’ve lived thirty more years on this planet than she has. I’ve had a lot more experiences. Seeing a real live zebra is always a pretty cool thing, but it’s not the new experience for me that it is for her. She has much more to learn from experience at this early age in her life than I do. Right…?
When did we in our culture learn to substitute things for experiences? Objects for life? Perhaps it’s an extension of the ways we learn as children to internalize relationships through transitional objects like teddy bears or security blankets. We learn to feel safe about our relationships by transferring positive feelings onto things; this helps us as toddlers learn to be alone. Maybe as we grow older, we confuse these transitional objects for something more than they are. The security we feel in driving the right car or wearing the right clothes becomes such a substitute for the security we feel in our relationships that we mistake those possessions as the ultimate goal. Or maybe we buy things in order to facilitate experiences – camping gear, or hobby supplies, or musical instruments, or whatever – but the pursuit of having the things takes over from the experience itself. I don’t know, exactly. What I do know is that I feel humbled by the enthusiasm and curiosity that my daughter uses to engage the world around her.
Experiences don’t have to be expensive. Going for a walk, watching for birds, dancing and singing; these are all free. A few dollars just exponentially increase the options: playing cards, enjoying a milkshake, drawing with chalk or crayons. Experiences don’t come and then go; they stay with us. Particularly if we are impressionable. Of course, a toddler is impressionable. Maybe I, too, should make myself more impressionable. If there isn’t anything else for me to experience in this world – and that seems unlikely, given that I’ve experienced less than point-oh-one-percent of this planet – then at the least I can be a part of my child’s new experiences of the world.
So we’re going to start spending more money on adventures than toys. This Saturday, if anyone is interested, we’re going to the aquarium.
There is a drug that we are giving our children that is turning them into uncontrollable monsters. It destroys their capacity to pay attention, to play freely, to respond compassionately, to harness their own worst instincts. Its effects are dramatic and rapid; the drug hits the bloodstream and in less than a minute, it transforms them from sweet, thoughtful, creative, curious creatures into raging clouds of unmitigated id. This drug is unbelievably powerful and addictive, and yet it is not regulated or controlled by any government agency. Parents everywhere readily and thoughtlessly give it to their children, and up until now, I have been one of those parents.
But no more.
I’m on to you, sugar.
Last night, I witnessed the transmogrification in my own child. She was in a sweet and playful mood all evening. I picked her up from school and she was excited to see me, talkative in the car on the ride home, eager to do something fun with us. She went for a walk with her mother; they had an adventure and she met a new friend who shared her ball and they played together on the tennis courts. When we told her we were taking her to our favorite local Mexican restaurant, she got excited and announced her desire for quesadillas. We took a coloring book and she cheerfully announced to us which page she was going to color for each of her friends. She let us help her color them while we waited for our food. She was friendly with our server; every time he came and brought us something, she declared without prompting, “Thank you, sir!” She ate her chicken quesadilla and eagerly copied her daddy in using a tortilla chip to help scoop rice onto her spoon. But when they brought us a complimentary dessert, she announced that she’d like a piece of Valentine’s candy instead. And we, being the corner boy slingers we’ve become for cheap refined sugar, we agreed. Because, you know, who wouldn’t rather pass up a freshly made sweet tortilla sundae for a heart-shaped Ring Pop?
That damn Ring Pop hadn’t been in her mouth thirty seconds before the sweet, amusingly polite and engaging child turned into a fiendish monstrosity of opposition and defiance. She tore through the house like a four-foot tornado. Her clothes nearly fell off her body in shreds as the hulking beast of her unadulterated obstinacy ripped through her adorable exterior. Bath time became a hurricane of shrieks and tangled hair. Everything we said to her was repeated back to us through an echo chamber of sarcasm and sass: “No, you behave! No, you stop squirming! I will too get to read books!” She spit on me and hit her mother. The sugar demon had possessed my child and turned her into a Linda-Blair-in-The-Exorcist abomination.
We feel like we do a pretty decent job of limiting her candy intake. At Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter we limit her intake to no more than one piece a day and try to “disappear” as many pieces as possible when she’s not looking. But it’s easy to use candy as a carrot for our child: for eating a good dinner, for going to bed without a fuss, for cleaning up her room. During the early days of potty training we used M&Ms and jelly beans as positive rewards for successes. We are the ones who introduced her to sugar. It’s our fault she keeps asking for candy.
You remember that early-nineties PSA where the dad comes into the teenager’s room with a crack pipe and demands, “Where did you learn this?” and the kid shouts in earnest confusion and pain, “From you! I learned it from you!” Yeah, that’s us. We eat three times as much candy as she does, and I wouldn’t even say we eat a lot of candy. What’s worse is that we know she shouldn’t see us doing it, so we eat candy behind her back. That’s how we “disappear” her candy – we eat it ourselves. We are bad examples. We are her enablers, and dealers, and junkie peers.
Sugar, of course, is everywhere. It’s in all kinds of foods, many of which I have no problems feeding her. Fruits and starches, yogurt, even the healthier cereals. We don’t even let her drink juice because it’s basically nothing but sugar water. I think it’s probably fine to let her have desserts now and then. Cookies, cake, and ice cream all have plenty of sugar in them, but they’re homemade and their intake is limited by how their fat content tends to fill her up quickly. But candy is just mainlining sugar, and the worst kind of sugar. God help us, candy is tearing our family apart. Our household is just so unpredictable and scary when she’s using.
Obviously, I’m being a little overdramatic. But I do believe this is a significant problem. Remember the fuss about how Joe Camel made cigarettes appealing to children? Why is no one complaining about how the worst kinds of candy appeal only to children? It’s safe to say that the sugar content of a Ring Pop probably wouldn’t set a grown adult on edge like it does a four-year-old. But no reasonable adult would find a Ring Pop appealing. (I mean, come on – who would eat a Ring Pop in a world where sweet tortilla sundaes exist? Complimentary!)
I remember one year as a kid I went trick-or-treating and a woman on our block handed out apples. This didn’t just seem merely lame; it felt personally offensive. What is this world coming to when a well-meaning adult’s attempts to inject a tiny bit of health in a holiday that promotes juvenile diabetes seems like an affront to traditional American values? This is the result of some insidious marketing, people, and we have bought into it without a second thought.
So consider this post my second thought. I’d like to think that we could cut candy out of our lives completely. I’m admitting that we’re powerless, but I don’t know how ready I am for us to make amends. Any suggestions? I’m curious to hear from other parents who have developed strategies for avoiding the cheap refined sugars of candy without turning their children’s lives into funless wastelands of boredom. But I know that the rampaging sugar monster that got loose in our house last night is no longer welcome. It is time for us to make a change for the sake of our family.
My child is remarkably adept at being underfoot. I stumble to keep from tripping on her, or she blocks my access to some task or object, or she peppers me with interrogatives. At least once a week, this scenario takes place in the morning while I am getting ready for work. It does not take much of this to make me late, which only increases the inconvenience. This morning she decided to try on her mommy’s shoes in the closet with me while I attempted to get dressed. She swarmed around my legs like a squirrel while I tried to pull my pants on; she threw the door open while I tried to use its attached mirror to tie my necktie; she peppered me with questions that consisted mostly of repeating “Daddy?” I did all I could do not to lose my temper, but the morning was quickly moving from bad enough (it was morning, after all) to an official classification of a Bad Morning.
I sat down to put on my shoes, trying my best to ignore her intrusions and keep my cool.
“Why you wearing those shoes?” she demanded. “Is it because you want to?”
The logic seemed unbelievably simple – why else would I wear those shoes? Except, of course, that I didn’t really want to wear those shoes; I wore them because I was going to work and had a dress code I was required to meet. This strangely simple yet profound inquiry exhausted me, and it wasn’t even seven o’clock.
“Yes, honey. Because I want to.”
I bent over to tie them and then I felt her arms snake their way around my shoulders and her wet, warm lips mushed against the back of my neck. She kissed me, softly and without too much noise, then whispered in my ear, “I love my Daddy.”
At least as many times a day that she finds her way underfoot, she surprises me with spontaneous kisses. She likes to snuggle, to hang around my neck and nuzzle her nose against my ear. She still likes me to carry her sometimes, or sit in my lap, or climb up my legs. She’s an affectionate kid.
The American psychologist Harry Harlow is known for a series of experiments in the 1950s in which he built two artificial “mothers” for infant Rhesus macaques: one mother was made of wire and wood but provided a bottle for feeding, while the other mother provided no food but was made of warm, soft cloth. The Rhesus monkeys preferred not the cold wire that fed them, but rather the warm cloth they could snuggle and sleep next to. This debunked the school of behaviorism at the time which argued that infants developed bonds with caregivers solely for the purposes of meeting physical needs. What became known as “attachment theory” through the work of Harlow and another researcher, John Bowlby, took seriously the ways that infants and children develop secure, healthy attachments to their caregivers through warmth, touch, and physical affection.
Let me interrupt this psychology lecture to announce that I am not, by and large, a touchy-feely person. I do not seek out physical affection and require very little of it from my friends and family. I’m not big on hugs or standing close to people. (My spouse, who is very much these things, will begrudgingly confirm.) However, despite my reticence for physical touch – or perhaps because of it – I am glad I have a child who is so physically affectionate.
Following the attachment theorists, I could describe how my child is expressing her secure attachment to me in her spontaneous displays of affection. In fact, I could make the case that she senses in those moments when she is irritating me underfoot how important it might be to keep her secure attachments, picking those very moments to kiss me and express her love.
But I’m not interested in talking about that. Instead, I’m curious how this behavior is good for my attachment. I don’t mean to suggest that I might decide to stop being my daughter’s parent if she didn’t hug me and express her love. As I said earlier, I don’t really need that. I love the people I love without needing to touch them all the time. I’m confident that my love for my child would endure regardless of how affectionate she would be towards me. However, I must admit that there is something grounding for me in being affectionate with my child. If there has ever been a human being that I truly want to kiss, hug, and snuggle, it is my daughter. My spouse is a close second, but there is something so affirming and disarming about the spontaneous affection of a child. It’s guileless and sincere; it’s as pure as a human’s behavior can be. Children don’t have the filters and preconceptions that adults have. Of course, as attachment theory shows, a child’s affectionate behavior serves her interests. But it isn’t calculating or even conscious; it’s literally unadulterated.
Some mornings she awakes in this magical time window where she is able to come to our bedroom but still sleepy enough to fall back asleep. She climbs into our bed and I am nearly always the parent she wants to sleep beside. I can feel her warm body curled next to my chest, smell her hair on my pillow, feel her feet as they push between my legs. I suppose she feels safe when she sleeps next to me. But the strange thing is that it makes me feel safe. I don’t understand that beyond what I’m starting to refer to as the “telescopic parenting effect” – that providing for my child the love, affection, affirmation, and safety that I received when I was a child causes me to receive those feelings all over again.
There are moments when I’m at work, away from my family, when I find myself wishing I could give my daughter a hug. It’s not the same as the longing I’ve had for my spouse as a lover. It’s a little like homesickness, but the pull doesn’t feel as sad and desperate. It’s fond and warm and helps me to remember who I am.
I can feel my attachment to my daughter when she is sweet and affectionate with me. I also feel my attachment to everyone else: my spouse, my parents, my friends, myself. The joy of experiencing that kind of genuine connection – through fingers, kisses, giggles – reassures me that attachment is in fact more than a behavioral requirement, but a deeply spiritual phenomenon. Maybe there’s a little bit of divinity in those spontaneous kisses. Maybe all we need to know of God is a sudden affectionate touch and a whisper that says we are loved.
It’s a new day. We are completely done with diapers. The final frontier of potty-training has finally been achieved: sleeping through the night in big-girl panties without an accident. She’s gone nine nights now without a pull-up on, and only one of those nights resulted in an accident. (Night Two, in case you were wondering.)
You may be asking, how did you do it, oh great father? Well, I’ll tell you. First of all, it was mostly her mother. Secondly, there was a good bit of promised positive reinforcement. Or, as it’s more commonly known, “bribing.” And last of all, and most effectively, lots and lots of consistency and structure.
We have trained our child now to have an inordinate amount of faith and reverence towards a mythical entity known as “a big-girl bed.” This as-yet-unseen creation is spoken of in hushed tones of awe and eagerness in our household, not unlike Santa Claus enjoys at Christmas. She has been promised that the Big-Girl Bed will come to live with her in her room when she is able to sleep through the night without incident. It will be soft and big and will wipe away all tears. Well, actually, it would absorb the tears, being a real mattress that has no need for repelling moisture like her current mattress. It has helped for her to have the motivation of working towards a goal that makes her feel a little more grown-up.
The most significant and helpful aspect of this final stage has been the consistency and structure, just like it was with every other stage of potty-training. We’d take her to potty every night before we’d put her pull-up on, telling her she could get up in the night to potty if she wanted. (She never did.) But when we’d be rocking her to sleep and she’d ask, “Am I wearing panties or a pull-up?” the answer was always, “Go to the potty!”
Then we opened our last pack of overnight pull-ups and a decision was made: this is the last pack of pull-ups we are buying. A countdown was started. Each night, it was announced how many pull-ups were left. “After that,” we’d tell her, “you’ll be sleeping in panties!” Then we’d tell her what that would be like: “You’ll have to be sure to go before you lay down, and then when you feel the need to go in your sleep, you’ll have to get up and go to the potty.” That routine lasted every night for the whole 24-count.
Then the night came. We’ve been giving her a little help. We wake her up before we go to bed – usually after she’s been asleep for a few hours – and we take her to potty. We sit her down, mostly still asleep, on the toilet until she pees, then we tuck her back in and go to bed. Most nights she does get up and come wake us up for help, but last night she made it the whole night without needing to get up.
So here are some things I’ve learned as we’ve crossed this new, slightly cheaper threshold of raising a child.
1.) Fellow adults, do not take for granted your bladder’s amazing ability to lock itself up for the night. One day, God willing, we will grow old enough that our bladder is less able to perform this task, and we will no doubt mourn its loss. But I hope we will remember that the bladder is not born with this ability and that it took some wet, sleepless nights to learn. So tonight when you close your eyes to go to sleep, thank your bladder for being reliable in waking you up if you need to go while you sleep.
2.) It doesn’t take long for a child to be motivated by the idea of growing up. This is bittersweet, of course, because we parents often nostalgically long for younger, sweeter, “more innocent” days. That’s foolish and false. Children don’t long for this, and neither did we when we were children. And, truthfully, we don’t really want this for our children either. Human beings just like to project good experiences into the past and pretend that the old days used to be good. From the moment we’ve developed some sort of consciousness, somewhere between our first and second year of life on earth, we recognize that maturation and growth is the goal and is preferable to staying immature. Children know it better than we do: deep down, everyone wants to grow up, if but a little at a time.
3.) It feels nearly magical how well children respond to consistency and structure, particularly when provided with kindness and patience. Everything that our child does well is due purely to structure, consistency, and patience. Setting and holding a structure with consistency and patience is very, very hard to do for our children. They seem to not like it; they fuss and cry and pitch a fit when we do it. But trust me, it’s the only thing that works. Your child might respond with happiness and joy if you give an inch somewhere, but you relax structure at your own peril. If you can divorce consequence from moral judgment and simply hold to your structures, there’s a very good chance children will thrive. You just have to survive the initial resistance.
4.) Along those lines, I’ve come to realize that my child’s usual bedtime shenanigans aren’t due to insecure attachment issues, or insecurity due to transition in her life, or fear of the dark. We’ve been inconsistent and impatient in keeping the structure of her bedtime. Poor thing, her success at nighttime potty-training has betrayed the ways she’s recruited us into creating an unhealthy bedtime routine. Bless her heart, this victory of hers has opened our eyes to our own failings. If she can go right back to bed in the dark without a thousand hugs at 11 PM after being awakened to go potty, then she could do it at 8 PM. So this weekend begins a renewed structure on bedtime routine. A crackdown, in other words. So check back next week…
As my child continues to develop her verbal capacities, she has taken on a keener interest in the books we read her. Following the plot, naming the characters, using particular repetitive phrases (i.e., “Sam-I-Am,” “I’ll eat you up,” etc.) are all behaviors that demonstrate a new curiosity about storytelling. Among these new exciting behaviors, she has developed a love for Curious George. As the primary reader or books in our household, I find this unfortunate. I do not like Curious George. (Not in a house, not with a mouse.) I’m unclear how a man who wears only yellow, lives alone with a monkey, and is referred to only as the monkey’s “friend” is meant to be a healthy character for a child’s imagination. I am also unsure how it is helpful to read our children stories ending with a monkey being hailed as a hero for barely cleaning up a mess he created in the first place. None of this matters, though; my child loves Curious George.
Recently we read one book, Curious George Goes To a Chocolate Factory
, in which – spoiler alert! – George goes to a chocolate factory. Being always curious, George makes his way onto the assembly line and hilarity ensues, followed by the factory owner congratulating George for sort of fixing a mess he makes by eating lots of chocolate. You can see why a kid would love this. Anyway, at one point, the story describes George in the gift shop perusing all the different types of candy, including a chocolate bunny. At this point, as I read the book, Curly Fries stopped me.
“How did he catch it?” she asked me.
I was eager to zip through the book and be done with it, so I was a little annoyed she stopped me. “He didn’t catch the bunny, it’s not real.”
She repeated her question.
“It’s not a real bunny,” I explained. “Remember when you got that bunny at Easter that was made of chocolate?”
“That’s what this is. It’s a bunny made of chocolate. It’s not a real bunny, so George didn’t have to catch it.”
“Not George,” she said, “The bunny. How’d the bunny catch it?”
By this point I was frustrated and tired, about to give up on my child ever understanding. “The bunny didn’t catch anything! It’s made of chocolate.”
“You read that the bunny caught George’s eye.”
Which completely stopped me short. Because, indeed, I had read out loud exactly those words
: “A chocolate bunny caught George’s eye.” In a strange flash of comprehension I saw the world through the verbal lens of a three-and-a-half-year-old. What a silly thing to say! She completely understood what I’d read; that’s why she stopped me, because it made no sense.
Now, my grown-up brain read over the line “A chocolate bunny caught George’s eye” and never for a moment understood that as anything other than “George took particular notice of a chocolate bunny.” But I’ve done thirty-two more years of reading than she has, and I take figures of speech one-hundred percent for granted. I began to imagine what images that sentence would conjure in the mind of a young child who has not yet learned to speak in idioms. So, yeah: I suddenly saw her confusion. What on earth does it look like for a chocolate bunny to catch a monkey’s eye? That’s, you know, kind of a scary image…
I tried to explain to her what it really meant. I told her that no one actually caught anything, but that it just meant that George saw the bunny and was interested in it. She seemed marginally satisfied with this explanation… but only marginally. After all, that’s not what I really said.
My daughter has a pretty good command of the English language. She’s still working on tenses and plurals and all that, but hey, English has a lot of rules and even more exceptions. Where I see her grasp of language flourishing is in how it’s become a part of her mental processing. Words aren’t merely the vehicles of communication for her; they are what she uses to understand the world. Words are concrete pathways to grasping the realities of her lived experience.
She understands the words “chocolate” and “bunny,” and she understands that these two words together signify a bunny made of chocolate (because she’s eaten one before). She knows what a “monkey” is, she knows what an “eye” is, she knows monkeys have eyes. She knows what it means to “catch” something, because we play catch with her balls. These words play like pieces of an equation she is balancing in her brain, and when the answer didn’t make sense, she used a word to seek more information: “how.”
On a drive home from school this week, I watched – well, listened to – her work out a different set of reality equations in her head. We passed the site of a car wreck, where a tow truck was hooking up a totaled car. The windshield was covered in a spider-web of cracks and the front bumper and hood had crumpled like cardboard. I said, “Uh oh,” and pointed.
“What is it?” she asked.
“That car was in a crash.”
“I don’t know. But it looks like that car ran into another car and got smashed up. The tow truck is carrying it off because it’s too broken to drive.”
Pause. “If someone crashed their car, it was probably an accident. They didn’t mean to.”
“I bet you’re right. I don’t think many people crash their car on purpose.”
“No.” Pause. “Because if you crash your car, the police might come and put you in time out.”
Pause. “Do the police put a person in time out if it was just an accident and they didn’t mean to?”
“They might, if someone got hurt or they weren’t following the rules.”
“Oh.” Pause. “That car was broken.”
“Yes, it sure was. That’s why they had to call a truck to come remove it, no one will be driving that car anytime soon.”
“Now that person doesn’t have a car.”
Pause. You could almost hear the wheels turning. Then she said, “If we crash our car, then we won’t have it anymore, and we’d have to walk
I laughed. “That’s exactly right. And we don’t want to have to walk home, do we?”
“No.” Pause. “That’s why you have to be careful when you drive so you don’t crash. Because we want to keep our car and not walk everywhere.”
I’m hoping she will retain this hard-won insight until she turns fifteen. As she spoke out loud, it was easy to follow the logic and reasoning, each piece of expressed reality connecting to the next. A broken car, someone making a mistake, getting into trouble, not having a car, needing to walk, not wanting to walk, needing to be safe. Specifically impressive to me was when she moved from the hypothetical person not having a car to the idea that we
might not have a car. Her experiences of reality – broken things being thrown away, having accidents, needing a car to get around – helped her to reconstruct the consequences of the accident. And all of this was processed out loud. Language is one of the primary tools for a child to order their experience in the world. In fact, I might suggest that at this age, language is utilized more as an internal meaning-making tool than it is as a communication tool.
If she used it to communicate, I wouldn’t spend so much time telling her to “use her words.” I only say that to her when I
want understanding; she’s quick to use her words when she
is seeking understanding.
Kids talk an awful lot. It’s often a source of exasperation for parents, particularly once they reach the age of the “rolling why”. Next time a child is chewing your ear off and you are longing for a moment of peace, remind yourself that they are doing some significant developmental work. We can probably get away with tuning them out now and then while they work out the world for themselves. But we’re liable to miss some amazing meaning-making.
It happened again last night, this disturbingly familiar pattern. Our three-year-old was predictably unruly and defiant. It always starts small: ignoring innocuous questions about her day, leaving her jacket on the floor, getting up from the dinner table to get a toy. She mirrors our irritation with continued opposition. It’s a frightening downward spiral of accelerating entropy: the more irritated we get, the more defiant she acts. In desperate attempts to de-escalate, we propose small avenues of redemption. Just come back to the table. Just say you’re sorry. Just pick up the toys you threw. She responds to these desperate peace offerings as if we’ve offered her rocks and scorpions. And we, in our frantic disbelief at her refusal to accept such simple, easy paths to restitution, just become angrier.
Last night we struggled through dinner. It got taken away from her at least twice, but we want her to eat something
, so we persisted. Bath time came and went with reasonably little problem, but then post-bath routines were subverted and undermined with insidious cheer. And then came bedtime. If you’ve read any blog post of mine from the last six months, then you know bedtime is the bane of our parental patience. Mommy actually lost her temper first; I suppose I could take some small comfort in that. But I lost mine about five minutes later, and it is not at all unfair to say that every child ever would prefer my spouse’s anger to mine. Her fury is but mild testiness compared to my fury. I yelled; I carried her roughly back to her bed; I held the door closed when she tried to come back out. She matched my fury, screamed at the top of her voice. If our neighbors had called Child Protective Services, it would not have surprised me. It sounded like The Exorcist
I tried to cool down. She’s frustrated and scared,
I tried to convince myself. She’s only three, she doesn’t know how to handle this.
Then she pleaded, “I’m ready to say I’m sorry!” I opened the door and knelt beside her. “What do you need to say?” I said as softly and evenly as I could. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
was what she apparently needed to my face.
Unbelievably, we actually repeated that several times. Proof that parenting is an insanity-producing state, because the third time
I opened the door thinking she would actually apologize this time
, I was just as infuriated to find her screaming in my face again. At that point, the rational, unprimitive side of me lost its temper, too. I left the apartment, went for a drive, contemplated whether I should turn around before I got to South Carolina. (I did; life with a psychotic dwarf still appeals more to me than life in South Carolina.) As I drove, my anger began to recede, leaving shallow pockmarks in the sandy shores of my heart that were immediately filled with bubbling shame. How could I go back, terrible father that I am? What happened to me? Indeed, what happens to me nearly every night? What keeps me from living up to the ideals I have in being the kind, gentle, safe, and loving parent that I deeply believe my child should have? What happened to that one resolution I made a week ago?
If this were a better blog, this would be the paragraph where I offer the redeeming insight of this whole ordeal. Some shining example of recovery and growth, a renewed sense of comfort as I move forward. Of course, if I were a better parent, we wouldn’t be having these ordeals at all, right? We’re the only people with whom she is this defiant; her grandparents, teachers, Sunday School leaders all report to us that she is sweet and fun and easygoing. I could interpret this as proof that we are the only people she feels are safe enough to let her act out so strongly. But I don’t. Instead I interpret it as proof that we are the only people who don’t know how to handle her. I’ve written plenty about the concept of “good enough” parenting, but I don’t feel at all good enough these days.
Maybe it’s the transition in our lives over the last six months. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s three-and-a-half and her body and mind literally do not know how to process the world she lives in. Maybe we really are terrible parents who need some kind of European super-nanny to drag a camera crew into our home and brutally shame us into being better parents for a week. I know, however, that after each of these terrible scenes – and they happen often – that I am far more forgiving of her than I am of myself. Because, you know, she’s three
, and I’m a grown man with extensive knowledge of child development. Shame is a powerful, terrible thing. I can’t seem to shake it. What frightens me most is that I know my child can feel it. My anxiety impinges on her own sense of well-being, preventing her from feeling free to explore her own world and compelling her instead to take care of me. So there’s even more shame for me to feel because of how my shame harms my child.
I should probably give myself some credit somewhere. I could be a much worse father. (Thanks to Mark for pointing this out in a comment to an earlier post
.) I don’t curse at her or call her names, and I’ve never verbally put her down. I’ve never spanked or hit her. I also don’t relinquish boundaries, or let her off the hook for her bad behavior. I’m always seeking the good for her, always wanting things to be right between us. It also seems I’m always somehow failing her.
When I got back to the apartment, everything was quiet. She wasn’t asleep yet, but neither was she screaming. Mommy was reading on the couch. I went into the office and sat down. Her bedroom door opened – she does it so often every night at bedtime that I immediately recognize the sound. She tip-toed into the office up to my chair. We didn’t speak; I was exhausted and embarrassed. She put her head on my shoulder and rubbed my hand. “I love you, Daddy,” she whispered.
Perhaps she was forgiving me. Perhaps she was just managing her own anxiety, taking care of herself by taking care of me. Whatever it was, it broke my heart. Because, you know, she’s three, and I’m a grown man, and I wish I could offer myself the same grace that she offers me.
We’re nearly two weeks into the new year, and I haven’t posted anything yet. In past years, I’ve posted my New Year’s Resolutions (you can see them here
, and here
). In those posts I tried to be both witty and poignant, to combine a sense of whimsy and playfulness with the depth of seriousness that is supposed to accompany a new opportunity. I think I failed on both those counts in all three cases, mostly because I was just trying to get something on the page. The truth is, I’ve never been serious about New Year’s Resolutions. I just really don’t care.
I started them in 2011 for two reasons. First of all, I felt compelled to take my new responsibilities as a parent seriously.
The whole point of starting this blog was to hold myself accountable to reflecting intentionally and openly about the changes and growth that occurred in my life as a result of becoming a father. It seemed that if our society has an explicitly ordained moment in which all people are supposed to be doing just this very thing, then I should probably go ahead and do it in the culturally expected way. The second reason is that it was a cop-out.
Look at those posts; they’re short, succinct, and mostly devoid of real depth. In fact, last year I just linked to several previous posts, as if I were just recapping the things I’d already learned. Moment of confession, dear readers: I enter every new year not with a sense of hope and expectation as if I’d been given a clean slate with which to create positive change and renewed direction. Instead, I enter it with a feeling of exhaustion and overwhelmed resignation.
You know that line in John Lennon’s depressing Christmas song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” when he sings, “So this is Christmas / And what have you done?” Yeah, that
is how I feel, except in the future tense. It’s a new year, and what on earth am I going to do? This doesn’t energize me; it wearies me.
I feel even more weary this year than I have the past three. I know that some of this is the transition I’ve put my family through. 2012 was a crazy year: I interviewed for several jobs, left my old job of four years, sold a house, moved to a new city (which is more than thirty times larger than the city I left), started a new job, and uprooted my entire family. We left our friends, church, and community behind; our daughter left all her peers; my spouse left her job, which she has yet to replace. Damn, I’m tired just writing this paragraph. So I guess I have a right to be worn out and low on new-life-change energy. Seems like I have expended more than my fair share in the last eight months.
I’m also wondering if we have hit an exhausting phase of parenting. Every phase is exhausting, of course. But this toddler thing is kicking my tail. The bedtime battles, the fits of sheer raging will, the rapidly developing capacity to detect and then trigger every one of my emotional flashpoints. Maybe once we establish ourselves here, build a new community, develop friendships with other parents, and feel more rooted in our lives I will have the resources to weather these toddler storms. But by then, she’ll be on to some new phase. This constant game of changing and adapting to the growth of my child is wiping me out; never mind the changing and adapting I’ve had to do in the rest of my life.
So this year I’m not going to pretend in some cutesy off-hand way to get comfortable being awake in the middle of the night (which is far less romantic when your child is three and has been provoked by “the cold monster” than it was when she was six months and needed soothing). I’m not going to pretend to learn lyrics to songs she likes or get into cartoon characters she loves only for her to decide in February that she doesn’t like these things anymore. (She’s not into Thomas the Train anymore. Or Dora the Explorer. Seriously, folks, she’s three and a half
and she’s already been into and grown out of Dora!) I’m also not going to make silly resolutions to do things that happen all the time because it somehow feels like a self-important way to celebrate the cuteness of my child. If I am going to make any resolutions this year, then it is this one thing: I’m going to be less hard on everything. On family, on my child, on my expectations for how I think the world should order itself around me. But mostly on myself.
If I were to take a resolution seriously, it would be to institute some kind of lasting change in my life, something that I would dedicate energy to every day of the year. People want to be more happy and less anxious. I’m pretty sure I could see that goal come into view over the horizon if I could practice the simple grace of feeling less shame over how tired and messy my life is.
Last night I promised my little girl that if she slept through the night, I would get up early and carry her into our room so she could sleep in the bed with us. So for the first hour of my day I laid in the dark next to her little figure, hot and bony against my side. I could smell that her pull-up was wet and she wheezed in my ear and my arm fell asleep and I had to roll her off of me. It was still mostly beautiful. Sometimes your life can be cramped and exhausting and smell like pee and still be the sweetest thing you can imagine. That is the grace I resolve to seek in 2014.
Becoming a parent is the scariest experience I’ve ever had. I’m prone to anxiety and perseverating worry anyway, so when we became pregnant and started preparing our lives for the coming of a baby, I was afraid of everything. What would I do when she got sick? What if she hurt herself while she played? How could I possibly be responsible for the moral development of another human being, a blank slate of impressionability and innocence?
It didn’t get any better when she was born. As an infant, I worried that I might swaddle her too tightly. I was afraid when she awoke in the night unexpectedly. Fevers terrified us. When she was learning to walk, every fall came with a spasm of fright. I watch her run around with her toddler energy and I have to swallow down the fears that she’s going to crash through a window or hurdle headfirst over an obstacle and crack her skull. I’m constantly managing a steady river of fear for her.
A few weeks ago, Curly Fries and I went for a walk around our apartment complex on an unseasonably warm evening. When we got to the tennis courts, she excitedly beckoned to me and said, “Want to go on an adventure with me?”
Well, what parent turns that down? Sure! She ran to a far outside corner of the court where a retaining wall has been built into a hill. A twelve-foot fence borders the court, and in this corner where the hill is graded down, the brick retaining wall gradually gets taller as if moves around the fence. It starts at half a foot, then a foot, and so on until it’s about four feet tall. It’s perfect for a kid who likes to walk along the edges of things.
She rather quickly hopped up the wall and began talking about bears and our need to be quiet. I followed her with amusement and fascination. She took a few steps up the wall, then turned to me and shushed me. “Don’t let the bear hear you!” she whispered. Then she turned and hurried along the wall.
I was enjoying this lovely explorative play so much that I wasn’t careful with her. She scurried along the wall at its highest point. The fence along the tennis court was close enough to the wall to only allow six or seven inches, but she slipped and lost her footing, falling down into the gap between the wall and the fence. She caught herself on the fence with one arm, and as she held on tightly to keep from falling the rest of the way to the ground, she frantically shouted, “Help me, Daddy!”
I quickly scooped her up and into my lap. Thick, fat tears poured down her cheeks as she began to wail. I checked for damage – just a minor scratch on the inside of her shin – but she made it suddenly clear that it wasn’t physical pain that bothered her. “You didn’t catch me, Daddy!” she cried. “You let me fall!”
There are plenty of times when children blame parents for things that aren’t anybody’s fault. I know my child has certainly tried to pin responsibility on me for things I didn’t do, or petulantly blame me when I do something necessary that she doesn’t like. But this accusation cut me through the heart. I hadn’t
caught her. I wasn’t paying attention. I’d been having so much fun, I’d forgotten to be afraid for her.
In a moment of desperate creativity, hoping to salvage her sense of my failure, I responded to her by saying, “But you didn’t
Her crying slowed and she looked up at me. “What?”
“I didn’t need to catch you,” I continued. “You caught yourself. When you started to fall, you grabbed onto the fence and kept yourself from falling. So I didn’t need to catch you, because you caught yourself.”
The tears on her cheek froze and I could see her eyes narrow in thought. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “I did. I catch myself.” Then she laughed and suddenly she hopped up and continued her adventure. “C’mon! There’s a bear!” This new realization of self-empowerment apparently helped her forget to feel afraid of what might happen to her without a parent to catch her.
The phrase “Do not be afraid” is in the Bible fifty-nine times, and the phrase “Do not fear” appears forty-one times. “Do not be afraid” is uttered four times just in the birth narratives, three of them in Luke, all of them spoken by angels. It’s a common phrase to come from an angel’s mouth. I assume that beginning your proclamation with “Do not be afraid” is standard training for angels. Angels are scary, I suppose. When the angel Gabriel appears to the priest Zechariah, the scripture says, “When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him” (Luke 1:12). When an angel appeared to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). In both cases, the first thing these angels say is “Do not be afraid.”
But the other angelic appearance is different. This is when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary:
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” (Luke 1:26-30)
It’s as if Gabriel forgets his training: the first thing out of his mouth is “Greetings, favored one!” He remembers to tell her not to be afraid, but he needn’t; Mary wasn’t
afraid. She was perplexed, but she wasn’t fearful. There’s an odd air of joyfulness and expectation that has both Gabriel and Mary forgetting to be afraid. The occasion was just too exciting. Advent is a time for not being afraid. Joy and hope make us not afraid. Joy causes us to forget our fear, and hope is when we remember it but choose to let it go.
I worry for my child every day, but in my stronger moments – and they come more often now than they did four years ago – I am hopeful of the promise of the continually unfolding gift my child is becoming. When she breaks into song about baby Jesus
or spontaneously kisses me or genuinely thanks me without prompting, I forget everything but my joy. I forget how scary the world is, I forget that I can’t ever really be there to catch her, I forget that the she is going to get hurt. Even when I remember these things, I have hope in the persistence of healing, in her own developing capacity to catch herself.
At the end of Luke’s birth narratives, there is a remarkably poignant and intimate moment. The shepherds have visited the infant Jesus and gone away praising the newborn Christ. And then Luke tells us, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). I know how Mary felt. In the darknesses to come, Mary knew to treasure her joy and hope, to hold on to those blessings in the face of all the frightening things that awaited them outside that stable. I, too, treasure the swelling of joy within my heart as I watch the hopes and fears of all the years meet in the exuberant play of a child.
This week, my daughter told me she saw a camel.
“No, you didn’t,” I teased.
“Yes I did!”
“Camels don’t live in North Carolina.”
“Yes they do! I saw it!”
“Nuh uh. You’re just pretending.”
“No I’m not!”
Back and forth it went. My daughter does love to pretend, but when she’s called on it, she readily admits it. I enjoyed teasing her about the camel because I knew that she really did
see a camel this week. Her grandparents took her to a living Nativity scene.
She told me about the cows and the goats and the sheep too, but the camel seemed particularly impressive. “You sure it wasn’t a horse?” I said. “How many humps did it have?”
“No, horses don’t have humps.”
“It was a camel!
And so on. She was unswerving in her insistence that she’d witnessed a camel, and I was playfully unswerving in my insistence that this was impossible. “What on earth would a camel be doing in North Carolina?”
“Seeing baby Jesus,” she said.
“You saw baby Jesus
?” I said. “Well now I’ve heard everything.”
When I read the Gospel of Matthew, I’m often tickled – and a little impressed – with how creative its author gets with the Hebrew Scriptures. It seems extremely important for the author of Matthew’s Gospel – for the ease of conversation, let’s call this author “Matthew” – to connect the story of Jesus with the stories of the Hebrew prophets. Matthew interrupts the narrative fourteen times to quote Hebrew scriptures and make the case that the birth of Jesus was fulfilling ancient prophecy. These scriptures are often a stretch. The most notorious of these is in Matthew 1:22-23. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14: “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmauel.’” Bu Matthew quotes the Greek
translation of Isaiah, which translates the Hebrew word ‘almah
into the Greek word parthenos
. The Greek word clearly means “virgin” or “woman who has not had sexual intercourse.” However, this is not what the Hebrew word means; ‘almah
means “young woman.” In fact, if you read Isaiah 7 in its original context, the child being born is a prophetic sign declaring victory in Judah’s war against Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel: “For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose kings you are in dread will be deserted” (Isaiah 7:16). In other words, this prophecy originally referred to a pregnancy of that very moment, and that the attacking kings would be defeated before the child was bar-mitzvahed.
My other favorite moment of Matthew’s creative prophecy is in chapter 21 when Jesus makes his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. Jesus sends his disciples into a village to procure a donkey and its colt. Matthew says, “This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them, and he sat on them.”
This quotes Zechariah 9:9. Zechariah uses classic Hebrew poetic fashion, repeating a phrase: …humble and riding on a donkey, On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Matthew, however, doesn’t seem to fully get the poetic device and translates this passage as “riding on a donkey and
on a colt.” So when Jesus enters Jerusalem, he “sat on them.” In case you’re not clear, Matthew has Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two donkeys at the same time
so that it will fulfill his misreading of Zechariah. Matthew’s appropriation of Hebrew scriptures are out of place and awkward. A lot like seeing a camel in North Carolina.
For some people, it might seem threatening to point out that Matthew’s scriptural support of Jesus as the fulfillment of messianic prophecies are all taken out of context. But I wouldn’t say that Matthew just takes all the Hebrew scriptures out of context; I would say that Matthew takes these scriptures and puts them into a new context.
This is exactly the work of faith, and all humans – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, everyone
– do it all the time. I think Christians do it with such exquisite beauty and magic at Christmas time. I’m learning to love the ways that this lovely story teaches children to engage the richness of ancient stories in a new and contemporary context. As I said last week
, the Christmas story is perfect
for kids: it stars a little baby surrounded by fuzzy animals. My daughter lives in North Carolina, but because of baby Jesus, she’s seen a live camel. She lives in a world of lively stories: Curious George, Dora the Explorer, Spider-Man, Max and the wild things. Her entire existence consists of taking stories and living them out in her daily lives. She will learn to do this with the sacred stories of our faith tradition, starting with the Nativity. It reminds me that I often don’t play with these stories with the same kind of freedom and openness.
I’ve lived long enough to feel comfortable in having the stories figured out. I like to keep my contexts separate, my stories segregated. (God help me, I about blew a fuse when my spouse watched an episode of Game of Thrones
and asked, “Is this Middle Earth?”) But I watch my little girl play with the baby Jesus and her dinosaurs side by side without any hesitation or cognitive dissonance and I long to recapture the same surrender to the fluid boundaries of unhindered narrative. If only I, too, could allow the story of Jesus to play alongside of every other part of my life.
This week, an eloquent preacher friend gave his intriguing take on a strange little passage in Genesis 5:21-24, which reads, “When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three-hundred years… Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.” My friend told the story this way:
“Here’s how I imagine it. One day, God met Enoch and asked him to go for a walk. In the cool of the evening, they walked together until the sun set. Then Enoch said, ‘Well, God, this has been great, but I’d better get home.’ This went on every night for three-hundred years. And then one night, when they got to the end of their walk, God said, ‘Enoch, why don’t you come home with me tonight?’ And it was so wonderful, Enoch never came back.”
We walk side by side with our stories sometimes, and then we want to get back to the one that seems most comfortable. Maybe the call of faithful storytelling is to leave that home behind, to disappear into the rich mystery of a story that we haven’t fully heard just yet. Faith is the interweaving of stories.
The stories of our lives intermingle the stories of our ancestors’, the stories of our culture, the stories of our religions. We live out our own stories with the hope that they are also the stories of those who came before us and the stories of those who will come after us. We live our stories in the hope that they are also God’s stories, stories of redemption and liberation and healing.
Perhaps on the surface these stories have nothing in common; perhaps on first glance the characters are nothing alike and don’t understand each other. But the work of human imagination is to interact with the stories of others and find ourselves in them so that our own experiences can take on a new meaning. Maybe the thousand-year-old stories of a small Middle Eastern tribe don’t seem immediately compatible with our American culture of technology and science and wealth. That’s why we play with them, soak them in, let the colors of one bleed into the colors of the other until a new picture emerges. It takes a little whimsy and trust to let stories intermingle and converse. It takes courage and a suspension of belief. It takes… well, it takes faith. After all, who expects to see a camel in North Carolina?