My daughter loves baby Jesus.
I don’t mean that in an evangelical, soteriological, personal-relationship-saved-and-going-to-heaven kind of way. I mean she loves to play with baby Jesus. She has a small, sturdy children’s nativity scene in her room that has not only been visited by an unconventional flock but that she has also taken to bed to sleep with her. I have several times had to rescue the porcelain baby Jesus in our nice family nativity from imminent destruction because our daughter is so enthusiastic about playing with it. And the other night – I am not making this up – she broke a cookie she was eating into three pieces, christening them Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. (She ate baby Jesus last.) I know that her grandparents are giving her a new baby doll for Christmas, and I will not be at all surprised if she names it Jesus.
She seems oblivious to other pieces of the nativity story. She can recognize the angels and shepherds when asked, but she never voluntarily points them out. She doesn’t know who the wise men are at all, and she can’t tell me the name of the town in which baby Jesus was born. She does tell me that baby Jesus was born in a stable and that this was because the inn was full. I think this detail sticks in her mind because it explains all the cute animals around baby Jesus, which she will happily name one by one.
Sometimes I wonder if God is just one hell of a marketing genius in this respect. The Christmas story is an instant hit with the children. It’s got a cuddly baby whose bed is in a stable with an assortment of farm animals. There are a lot of branding image opportunities: a beautiful star, exotic gifts, angels. It’s a brilliant way to hook children early into the Jesus story.
You’ll have to forgive me for my cynical take in the previous paragraph. I’ve struggled with the cuddliness of Christmas, of the sweet and beautiful beginning to the story of this man named Jesus. Because I know how the story ends, and it’s not nearly as cuddly. Sometimes it feels as if the Jesus story is laid out like Star Wars if it began with the Ewoks and then ended with Han Solo being frozen in carbonite. It goes from a sweet baby surrounded by farm animals to a man being brutally executed by a tyrannical regime, and the happy ending of the resurrection is a puzzling and challenging coda beyond the intellectual grasp of children. Many adults too, for that matter.
Of course the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are much more complex than the fuzzy animals around the manger. There’s the longing expectation of Israel and all of the political ramifications of messianic birth. There’s the scandal and humiliation of an unwed mother in an oppressive patriarchal culture. There’s the horrifically violent response of King Herod’s paranoia. Christmas is easily packaged for the consumption of children, but it’s just as adult a narrative as the passion. So I’ve resisted the cheery themes of Advent because it has so often felt to me like a glossy oversimplification of a much more complex, transformative, and ultimately confrontational narrative.
I see it a little differently this year. Having a toddler who is in love with the baby Jesus helps me to appreciate how wonderful it is to have a faith narrative simple, accessible, and interesting enough to draw little children. It will be many years before my daughter understands the rich complexity of the historical contexts of these stories. Hey, even I don’t fully understand it all. But you can leave out the dense political and socio-cultural drama, the foreshadowing of death and crucifixion, the knotty historical caveats and references, and still have a compelling and appealing kernel that holds up on its own. The heart of this story is the same to a three-year-old as it is to a wise and learned scholar: a baby.
A baby can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To my child, a baby is a cute and cuddly thing to carry around and snuggle. To many of us adults, a baby means, generally, hope and new life. But to some adults, a baby means added responsibility, less money, sleepless nights. There are some parents who are grieving the death of their child or pregnancy, for whom a baby means loss and crushed expectations. For some parents who watch their children grow with chronic illnesses or behavioral difficulties or who just make really poor decisions, a baby might be a reminder of good things lost, hopes unfulfilled, the distant taste of a long-ago joy.
God is all of these things.
That’s the beauty of this story. God, like a baby, is adorable and beautiful and messy and demanding. God produces joy and wonder and frustration and sadness in people. Like any baby, God is as likely to coo and smile at you as God is to scream and cry and flail. God will make a mess of your life and exhaust you and create within you a hot coal of longing that burns unextinguished with the hope of something better, something we might see in this life. God will fill you with wonder in one moment and make you crazy with irritation the next. God, like a newborn, is a creature that everyone in a room will suddenly reorient themselves around to admire, to hold, to gaze upon, to feed, to silence, to soothe, to promise, to tickle, to dream with and for. To remind us why we live.
For my daughter, for whom this is only the fourth trip through the Christmas story, a baby is a cuddly toy. A transitional object between the love she feels from others and her own nascent desire to be a creature who loves. Right now, for her, God is a cute little baby surrounded by furry farm animals, as fun and awe-inspiring as dinosaurs or superheroes. God is something to carry and play with. God will become more for her as she grows, but this is right for her. I’m thankful that our faith tradition provides easy entry and expands and grows with us. That no matter how old you are, there is something for you in that manger. Great big things come from small tiny hopes, and this story never stops being true. I’ve always loved baby Jesus for my own varying reasons. This Advent season, I love baby Jesus for giving my own baby a new way to see love.
For the mornings when a little bundle of skin and sinews crawls with silent concentration into my bed, I am grateful. For the warmth of her body burrowing beneath the covers and the sweet scent of her hair like lavender and baby sweat awakening my senses as the sun rises, I am grateful. For the way she burrows her feet between my thighs and nestles her head in the curve of my neck and chest, I am grateful. I am thankful for the sound of her breath in steady, shallow puffs and for the kinetic stillness that anticipates the bustle of the day. I am thankful for cuddles and kisses that begin the day. Thank you for these moments, Oh God, for they are when I feel you closest to me.
It started calmly enough. She was in the backseat, we were driving home from daycare, and she had a toy with her. At some point she dropped it and said, “Can you get my toy for me?” Maybe she said “please,” but it was pleasant and respectful.
“I can’t right now, honey, I’m driving,” I said.
Then a little whine: “I want it.”
“I know you do, honey. But I’m driving right now and I can’t reach it.”
More whiny: “I want my toy!”
“We’ll get it when we get home.”
“I want it now!
” At that point she began to cry. Softly at first, but she punctuated her sobs with a verbal reminder – “I want my toy!” – and each interjection increased the volume and intensity of her weeping. I chose not to respond, to rest in the belief that I had stated my case and repetition would only serve to inflame rather than inform. She experienced my silence as a provocation, I suppose, and yelled at me: “Get my toy, Daddy! I want my tooooooy!
” Then she interpreted my inaction as a hostile refusal, a rejection of her as a person, and she took her anger to the next level: “I want to go to Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s house!”
I didn’t begrudge her the desire for the toy. I completely understood her frustration at having her play interrupted; I didn’t think she dropped her toy on purpose, and I could identify with how vexing it is to want something you had and now didn’t and couldn’t get back. I didn’t begrudge her expressing her annoyance. I encourage her to use her words and, for the most part, find this to be an acceptable approach in any situation of anger on her part. I didn’t even begrudge her for wanting to go to her grandparents; certainly at that point in the interaction, I too wanted her to go to her grandparents and leave me alone. If she’d been with her grandparents, one of them would no doubt have recovered the toy for her. I could appreciate the shattering unfairness of being stuck in the car with Daddy and her toy on the floor out of reach.
The crying turned to wailing which turned to screeching. She started kicking of the back of my seat, and shouting, “No, Daddy! You’re mean
, Daddy!” I am fine with her thinking that I am mean, and when she screams, “You’re not my friend, Daddy!” she has no idea that this does not wound me in the slightest. It wasn’t how she felt about the toy or even about me that pushed me over the edge. It was just all the goddamn screaming.
” I roared at her. “I can’t get your toy because I’m driving
! I wish you could see how important it is that I don’t crash the car!
I can only do so many things at once and I’m driving
right now! I have to make sure that we get from one place to the other in one piece and I can’t
get your toy
right now, okay? I know you’re miserable to be without it for the whole rest of the trip home, but your screaming is giving me a headache while I’m driving!
And she shouted back, with impeccable three-year-old logic, “No, Daddy! You are not
It shouldn’t have, but it did: it pushed me right over the edge, whatever tiny piece of patience I had left vanishing in a cloud of wrath. “You think you
could do this?” I shouted. “I’d like to see you
drive the car through downtown Charlotte while I sat in the backseat and screamed at you
and kicked your
seat and fussed about my silly toy!”
Deep down in the blackness of my terrible soul some part of me desperately hoped that my child would respond with reflection and penitence. That she would grow quiet and then say, “You’re right, Daddy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t take out my frustration about the toy on you. I appreciate everything you do for me.” That foolish, broken part of me was sorely disappointed when my child failed to offer such a response. Instead she did what any three-year-old would do: she doubled down and filled the car with a guttural howl, unbroken by consonant or breath. I, then, recognized that I was a Bad Father and that a screaming child in the backseat of my car was a merciful punishment for my impatience and irrational anger.
In case you hadn’t heard, there is new research to suggest that yelling at our children is not good for them
. And it doesn’t just mean all the time. Ming-Te Wang, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh who led the study, states, “Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad.”
So there it is: scientific proof that I am a Bad Father.
Thankfully, this week I was doing some reading and I came across someone else who also engages in the same kind of behavior. It’s good to know I’m not alone (as I’ve stated before
), but this time I’m really
in esteemed company. It turns out that God is also a Bad Father.
According to the Book of Job, at least. In case you are not familiar with the biblical story of Job, let me fill you in. Job is a good guy; the best, actually. Job is perfect in every way. And then Job has a really, really bad day. He loses his livestock, his home, his children, and his health. He has literally nothing left. And he has some things to say about this. “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness!” (3:3-4a) Job blames God: “For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me (6:4)… Know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. Even when I cry out ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice (19:6-7).” But Job knows that no fight with God is a fair fight: “If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice… If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one!... For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no umpire between us, who might lay his hand on us both (9:16, 19, 32-33).”
show up, though, and Job probably wishes he hadn’t. God is not at all happy: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” God demands (38:2). “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you
, and you shall declare to me
(38:3).” And then God delivers a speech of infinite, cosmic exasperation, dripping in sarcasm: “Where were you
when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! (38:4-5a)… Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? Surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great! (38:19-21)”
Or, in other words: “Enough already! I’m trying to drive the universe!”
Sometimes things just fall and it’s nobody’s fault and there’s nothing wrong with not liking it, but there’s only so much complaining any reasonable person can take. Even the Maker of the universe himself, the one who laid the foundation of the earth and knows how to lead light and darkness to their homes, even he can only take so much whining.
God never tells Job that he’s wrong
, or that he doesn’t have a right to feel angry. He just wants Job to pipe down while he’s busy keeping the cosmos running. So, according to the Book of Job, I haven’t done anything that God hasn’t done. This doesn’t make me feel any better about my parenting.
If I believed that God felt towards me the way that God seems to feel towards Job, then I wouldn’t belong to a Judeo-Christian faith tradition. I’ve always identified with Job, believing that if God treated humans the way he treats Job, then we absolutely have the right to complain. And I don’t like that Job, in his unfailing perfection, responds to God’s impatient ranting with the perfectly compliant response: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (42:3b, 6).” I always felt like Job was caving, giving in to all of his prior words of bravery simply because he knew there was no way to beat The Man. I always wished Job had continued to stand tall in the face of such cruel and dismissive words and say, “That all might be, but you haven’t answered my question – why did this happen?
” Every time I read the Book of Job, I find myself wishing Job had stuck to his guns Of course, Job gives exactly the answer I wish my daughter would have given me.
Maybe I should be glad my daughter didn’t cave. Perhaps I should rejoice that I’m raising a child who doesn’t give in, who refuses to submit to a belligerent authority. My little girl is not, at the ripe age of three-and-a-half, going to back down to a barrage of verbiage decrying her inability to see the bigger picture. Maybe that’s a sign of her immaturity and when she’s older she’ll be able to concede that her dropped toys, as important as they are to her, aren’t the only concerns in the world. But maybe it’s a sign of her determination to cry foul and stand her ground in the presence of an injustice.
That all sounds good now, but it doesn’t mean anything to me when I’m stuck in the car filled with her cries of injustice at something I can’t fix. Perhaps the deeper lesson for me is that it is painful to be the one blamed by a loved one for something I can’t change. For the first time in my thirty-five years of existence, I have read the Book of Job and sympathized with God. While my child screams and wails and yells at me about how mad she is at me for something I didn’t do, I can think, “Oh, now I get it, God. How exhausted you must get with me.”
* Perhaps in those moments, when I’m slipping into becoming a Bad Father, I should be grateful that I haven’t had the experience that Job had, that I have never felt God yelling at me to stop complaining and cut him some slack because, hey, running the universe is a tough job. I’ve experienced God’s silence, but perhaps that’s a more compassionate response than yelling. Because yelling at our children, even if you’re usually a really good parent, is bad for them.
I’m grateful that God has been a consistently better father to me than I have been to my child.** It’s the truth I go back to
in those moments when I give in to my lesser, weaker natures. Just as having children often makes us appreciate our own parents more fully, I can now appreciate God’s grace a bit more thickening than I did before. I know that I can still spend a lot of time in the backseat screaming and wailing about everything that has fallen and desperately wishing someone would pick them all up. I’ll give thanks that God has been a better father to me than he was to Job, even though I’ve been a far worse child than Job was. Perhaps I can draw on this grace for just a bit more patience the next time my child rails against the world (and me). And maybe the next time that I rail against the world, I might do it just a bit more softly. * I’m aware that the prologue of the Book of Job suggests that Job’s suffering might actually be something God did. A topic for a different blog.
** My reliance on father language for this post is not meant to be a theological stance, but rather to echo my own identification as a father. I am a firm proponent of inclusive language and theology.
This past Saturday, in my ongoing effort to expose Curly Fries to an adventure every weekend, I took her back to Plaza Fiesta
, the amazing 5,000-square-foot jungle gym that I wrote about a few months ago
. For those of you who want a recap, this playground is unbelievable: It has five different levels, a dozen different slides, ladders, tunnels. It’s a giant maze of padded fun and makes me wish I were a kid again.
I’m not quite a kid anymore, however, so I told her she would have to play by herself. I would watch, and I circled the structure as she ran about and played, keeping a casual eye on her as she ran in and through packs of other kids up and down the first two levels of the playground.
After a while she came to me and pointed to the highest point of the playground, a tower five levels up and probably close to a hundred-fifty feet high. “I want to go there,” she said. Wary of what happened last time – of her getting turned around and afraid and stifling a cry – I warned her, I “I can’t go with you.” She seemed unsure of how to take this, eyeing the peak with an envious longing. “I’ll guide you from here and tell you where to go,” I suggested. She cracked a big smile and eagerly took off, climbing a ladder and calling out to me, “Where now, Daddy?” I’d say, “Go right,” “Go up those stairs,” each time with her shouting, “Where now, Daddy?”
The higher up she got, however, the harder it was for me to direct her. I couldn’t clearly see which way she should go, and it got harder for us to hear one another. I lost sight of her for a minute, until I heard in the distance the familiar sound of her crying. I located her at a junction on the fourth level, not far from the top, clutching at the netting on the side of the jungle gym and frantically calling out to me. I waved and caught her attention, trying to reassure her I was there and she could keep going. But she was frozen, only crying out “Daddy, Daddy.”
The tables give a scaled representation of the gigantic-ness.
I was overcome with a sense of mixed helplessness. I couldn’t get up there to her; even if I wasn’t six feet tall, I didn’t even know how to find my way up there on my own. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of her, anyway, for fear that this might panic her even further. But even if none of these things had been an issue, I still didn’t want to rescue her. Mixed in with the helplessness was the reluctant resignation a parent feels in letting his child learn to take responsibility. I wanted her to find her own strength, because I knew she could do it if she could only pull her courage together. I didn’t know how to help her do that, other than to shout feebly, “You can do it, honey!”
As other kids streamed past her, one girl in a gray shirt, probably a year older, saw Curly Fries crying and stopped. I saw her say something to Curly Fries, although I couldn’t hear what it was. Then Gray Girl gave my daughter a big hug. And as if nothing was wrong, she stopped crying and stood up and followed Gray Girl up to the top. They played around for a few minutes, then slid down a long spiral slide all the way to the bottom. I rushed to meet her and see if she was okay. There were still tears on her cheeks, but she was laughing. “Do you want to keep playing?” I asked cautiously. She nodded and pointed to Gray Girl and said, “I want to play with her. She’s my friend.”
Curly Fries played with Gray Girl the rest of the morning, following her up ladders and down slides. When play time was done and Curly Fries and I got some tortas and quesadillas for lunch, Gray Girl walked by with her family. Curly Fries invited her to eat with us. They weren’t staying for lunch so they waved goodbye and Curly Fries was genuinely disappointed. “Why is she not sitting with us?”
“Honey, her family is leaving to eat lunch somewhere else.”
“Oh.” She sat back and frowned over her lunch basket, then said with a grateful sigh of reservation, “She’s my best friend.”
We never got Gray Girl’s name, but it was clear that for those few hours, she really was Curly Fries’ best friend. As much as I loved that little girl for the kindness she showed my daughter, I might have called her my best friend, too. The quickest, truest way to love me is to love my child. Gray Girl, in that one moment of innocent and caring sweetness, loved us both.
Last night I spoke at a vigil for lung cancer awareness here at my hospital attended my survivors, patients, family members, as well as doctors, nurses, and clinicians in the cancer center. There were testimonies from survivors, words of encouragement about new research and clinical trials from physicians, and descriptions of the various holistic healing resources our medical center provides. I told them the story about Curly Fries and Gray Girl as a way of illustrating how powerful it is to feel like someone else is with us. “It’s amazing what we can do when we’re not alone,” I said last night. “There’s a depth of courage and strength and bravery within each of us that is capable of facing the darkest of challenges if only we have an ally by our side to help us unlock those reserves of determination.” I told them of my own family’s losses to cancer: my grandmother to lung cancer, my grandfather to pancreatic cancer, and my brother – my daughter’s namesake – to a brain tumor. I told them that there were times when I had felt lost, suspended hundreds of feet off the ground in a maze of despair and darkness. And that nearly every time I felt lost, someone stopped to whisper in my ear or hug me. My girlfriend who let me cry late into the night. Church members who faithfully practiced the sacrament of casserole. An English teacher who gave me homemade vegetable soup in Mason jars. The wrestling coach who offered to let me stay at his house while my brother was receiving radiation, even though – this might be obvious – I was not on the wrestling team. The remarkably compassionate oncologist who clearly suffered with us. Some of the best nurses that the profession has ever produced. Volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House where my family stayed that scored my brother tickets to a Duke basketball exhibition game – on the floor behind the team. And of course, the football signed by the entire Tennessee Volunteer team, whose starting quarterback at the time was Peyton Manning.
Last night, I told all those at the vigil that we were gathered to celebrate that we were not alone. “No matter how far off the ground any of us may feel, no matter how distant from the voices of home, we are here for one another. Together, our voices diminish the silence; our light chases away the darkness; our presence nullifies the void. We are not alone, and it’s amazing what we can do together.”
As a parent, it’s a beautiful and touching experience to witness other people being present with my child – particularly another child. I hope that my Curly Fries will one day soon find a way to offer her own presence to a peer in an equally compassionate way, to have experienced Gray Girl’s gift so she can pass it on to others. What stays with me most vividly in this illustration is what it felt like for me to see another person offer my child care. When you show compassion to my child, I experience it. When you care for my child, you care for me. When you love my child, you are loving me.
I believe this, then, is how we love God. In all those ways that people have shown me love, the ways that people cared for my family when my brother was sick, these were all ways that people showed their love of and for the divine. I wonder if God is less impressed with our worship than with our love for God’s children. I know that I like having people tell me how wonderful I am, but Gray Girl never even spoke to me and I have been thinking about her all week.
So, to every Gray Girl who has ever shown me and my family love: thank you. You inspire me to be the same. I can celebrate that we are not alone in this universe because of the ways you’ve made me see that it is good to be with others. You help me unlock my own inner reserves of courage and to keep moving upwards and to strive to be of hope to others. Most of all, you show me what it means to love. You’re my best friend.
When I began this blog about a month after my daughter was born, I had a couple of aspirations. Some of them were humble and personal. I wanted to create for myself a regularly recurring opportunity to use a gift I often underuse – my writing – to reflect on the ways that the crucible of parenthood would provoke change and growth in my own personal development.
I set the goal to post something every week, and with a few exceptions, I have stuck to that goal. If nothing else, paying for the domain and inviting friends and family to read this blog were ways of holding myself accountable to writing in what is basically a high-tech journal. Sometimes this meant I just rewrote pop songs with lyrics about boobs
; other times it allowed me to learn genuinely new and transformative things about my life
I must also admit that some of my aspirations in starting this blog were less than humble; I could generously call them “lofty” aspirations, but a more accurate word would be “grandiose.”
I fantasized about fame and, perhaps, a small but respectable fortune. After all, writing a page or two every week is a great way to get a book together. This blog in its totality is around three-hundred pages by now, and maybe fifty or so of those pages have some really good stuff in them. Many books have been published with less. I imagined I might get a book deal out of a blog if I stuck to it. I imagined that I might amass a great following of readers online. After all, I would be writing to a niche that doesn’t really exist: thoughtful reflections on parenting through the lens of progressive spirituality. Like Dr. Spock meets Rob Bell.
None of that has happened. No one has been emailing me looking to offer me a book deal, and the agents I’ve solicited have all politely ignored me. I have a few loyal readers (you who are currently reading this are likely among them) for whom I am deeply appreciative. Some of you aren’t even related to me, and it means so much that you would visit my blog on any regular basis. But I’m not at all a popular blogger, despite three years of work, a semi-regular gig posting for the parenting site Dadditudes
, and that one time Rachel Held Evans featured a post of mine for her Sunday Superlatives
There are some moments when I’m mostly okay with this. The internet is a giant ocean full of every kind of life imaginable, and rising to the surface takes a unique blend of persistence, insight, talent, media savvy, and dumb luck. I don’t have all those things in near the quantities it takes to get noticed. I’ve tried to expand my “platform,” but that presents all of the same challenges. (My Twitter account
gets more posts from hackers than it does from me.)
There are other moments that I’m decidedly not
okay with this. After all, I’m saying something useful, right? That’s more than could be said about a lot of crap on the internet. I still believe I’m contributing to a niche that no one else is filling: the spiritually thoughtful blog about a father’s personal reflections on child development. (How’s that for an elevator pitch?) And I have
been working hard; trying to say something interesting once a week in some form of intelligible prose without any misspelled words is actually quite difficult. I don’t think it’s so off-base to want to get some kind of recognition for the contributions I could be making to the conversations about parenting in our culture. Besides, what I have to say could be really helpful
to parents everywhere.
I’m not unaware of how egotistical and self-serving this is. It’s been a dream of mine to be a published author, and I thought this blog might provide me the ticket. It might still; I’m (completely) not giving up. But I’ve noticed that in recent weeks I’ve found myself lacking the energy to come up with anything that feels worth saying. Maybe it’s due to the stress of the recent transitions in my life. Maybe it’s because my child is now at an age where developmental change doesn’t happen at a daily pace. Maybe I just really don’t have anything interesting to say right now.
Which has me circling back to the reasons I started this blog in the first place. Yes, I hoped it would be a way to get a book deal and write to a market that doesn’t exist. But honestly, that’s not the most inspiring motivation in those moments when ideas aren’t forthcoming. I think most writers will tell you that success, fame, and riches are not at the top of the list of things that inspire them to write. I think writers are inspired to write because there’s a story within them, because making their voices heard is its own worthwhile goal, that something would compel the words to flow even if it were certain no other person would ever read them.
I just wonder if that’s really enough inspiration for me. Do I really need to write that badly? Would I still be posting to this blog if I had zero
readers? If no one ever
commented on any of my blogs, would I have kept it up? I say I started a blog so I’d have readers to be accountable to. Initially, I thought this meant that I would make myself write even when I didn’t want to because I would think that my readers would want to hear from me every week. But truthfully, I’m probably just desperate to have readers because it feeds my need to believe I have something to say.
(Of course, that’s probably why every blogger blogs.)
At the end of the day, I want to relinquish my desperate need for readers. I want to trust my own voice, trust that I have something worth saying even if it’s in an empty room where no one could hear. I want to believe that the speaking out loud is its own reward, that it betters me
first and foremost, and if anyone overhears and is touched by it, then all the better. But honestly, that just doesn’t cut it. I’m not sure I really do value the speaking of my voice for its own sake.
There is one other reader, though, that I believe is worth writing for: my child
. No, she doesn’t actually read my blogs, nor do I plan on reading them to her. I’m not even necessarily planning on compiling or saving these as some kind of gift to give her when she leaves home or has children of her own or whatever. I do, however, believe somewhere deep inside that even when writing this blog makes no difference to me
, it does make a difference to her
: writing every week about being a parent makes me a better parent.
It keeps me self-reflective
in ways I could otherwise ignore. It helps me to find meaning in difficult moments
. It helps me to uncover the ways that my own spirituality
is alive in the various acts of caring for a child
. It helps me to offer grace to myself
for my shortcomings
, which in turn provides me the inspiration to keep trying
I’m probably not going to get famous with this blog. I’ve quit pretending that a publishing company will find this blog and offer me a book deal. Some weeks, I don’t even value my own voice enough to see the point. But what I do believe is that my child will be the better for my commitment to her. For my commitment to be present to myself and to my family; for my commitment to take hard looks at how my attitudes and behaviors shape her environment and upbringing; for my commitment to using my gift for writing as a resource that will maximize the output of love I am capable of bringing to my daughter. She is what keeps me writing, even if I’m not sure I have anything worth saying.
We are in the middle of Hallowmas, a three-day observance within ancient Christian tradition that dates back centuries. October 31 is All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween; November 1 is All Saints’ Day; November 2 is All Souls’ Day. Here in America in the year of our Lord 2013 we have discovered ways to conflate and confuse what these holidays mean. But churches the country and world over will spend services this weekend commemorating the lives, memories, and testimonies of those who have gone before us.
Like most of our holidays, Halloween is a syncretism of Christian and pagan practices. Samhain is the Celtic celebration of the end of the harvest, and widely seen as the Celtic New Year. Many of our Halloween practices derive from the practices of Celtic celebrations. This was seen as a night when the boundaries between the material and spiritual worlds grew thin, and spirits of the dead would return and visit the living. People would “guise” and dress up in costume so as to confuse the souls who returned. (So if you wonder who to blame for sexy skeleton costumes
, I suppose you could go all the way back to the Celts.) The Christian church likely co-opted Samhain practices in order to help speed the conversion of Celtic culture to Christianity, and the feasts of All Saints and All Souls were set to correspond with Samhain. On these two feast days, Christians were called to commemorate and revere all the saints martyred for the faith and every other believer who had died. Candles were lit in memory of deceased relatives and friends; graveyards were decorated; prayers of intercession and thanksgiving were offered in honor of ancestors.
Now, for this Baptist minister from East Tennessee, most of this stuff is nonsense. I have no reference for the reverence of saints beyond recognizing a few of them as characters with enough historical significance to attach their names to schools and hospitals. Unless you count that one kid I witnessed getting a wedgie on the bus in seventh grade for wearing a True Love Waits t-shirt, I don’t know anyone who has been martyred for their faith. And I don’t believe in spirits. (Unless you mean the kind brewed in Belgium
, in which case I am quite devout.)
Despite my mainline Protestant heritage and committed attitudes of scientism, I must admit that like the Celts and ancient Christians before me, I experience this season of the year to be a liminal time. Perhaps it is the changing of the weather, or the transition of the leaves on the trees.
Our agricultural ancestors certainly honored this moment as the liminal transition between the finish of harvest and the oncoming winter. There is a crackle in the air that prickles my skin and gives me the impression that the existential atmosphere around me is thinner than usual. Colors pop with a bit more vividness in my peripheral vision. My sense of smell sharpens and discerns the underlying fragrant notes of cinnamon, pumpkin, smoke, and dying leaves. The beads of sweat that pop up on my brow in the autumn sun do so with a prickliness that undercuts the heat and brings me into my body with more fullness and vigor than the heat of summer could ever do.
And I remember my brother. I think of him often, of course, but never as often as I do this time of year. He’s the closest thing I have to a saint. Maybe it’s the weather, the season, or the thinness of the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead. Or maybe it’s because his birthday is in October and his cancer was diagnosed in October and I still, seventeen years after his death, associate the sensations of fall with the memories of his radiation treatments and the dawning awareness that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead had always been perilously thin
Yesterday, my daughter wore her shark costume to school and got sand all over its fins. She was glad to see our jack-o-lantern was still on our front step when she got home. She forgot to ask for a piece of candy after dinner. She was very disappointed that we had no trick-or-treaters to whom she could give candy. She fought bedtime with a vengeance. Through all of this, I thought of my brother. I thought of him because I remembered our Halloweens as children. I thought of him because he liked handing out candy more than trick-or-treating. I thought of him because he could be unbelievably stubborn. I thought of him because I named my daughter after him
and I said her name – and therefore his – a lot last night.
Of course, I say her name a lot every day.
I don’t necessarily remember my brother in vivid detail every time I say her name. She is, after all, a separate person for whom I have a completely different kind of responsibility. But she stands as a living, breathing, embodied Hallowmas all year long. My brother wasn’t a saint; he was a kid like a lot of kids. He could be whiny and difficult. He threw fits when he didn’t get his way. He tattled on me a lot. He was picky about what he ate and quickly grew tired of his toys. Hmm… my daughter is like that, too
My brother was also deeply kind and compassionate and hurt when other people hurt. He had an easily triggered laugh and a silly sense of humor. He loved to play and explore. He was smart and enjoyed to learn. He was fearlessly affectionate and lavish with his love. Guess what? My daughter is like that, too. My kid is a kid like a lot of kids. She’s a kid like her uncle and, well, a kid like her father and her mother. That’s what our kids do, isn’t it? They live our legacies right in front of our eyes, for better or worse, little tiny spirits from the past wreaking havoc on our world in the thinnest of places, provoking us into all kinds of masks and guises in an attempt to guard ourselves. No ritual or celebration has put me in a liminal space quite like being a parent. The harvest is always just finished and yet just beginning and the past dwells with the future and the night is mixed with chills and thrills and the strange combination of fun and terror.
When my little ghoul – I’m sorry, my little girl
– gets wild and unruly and pushes me against the thinnest of spaces, I want to remember to be thankful. To honor her ancestors and the ways they show up in my life and continue to dwell with me and challenge me to be aware of the prickly liminality of our lives. There is a sweetness to learning to live in that existential intersection of yesterday and today, life and death, spiritual and material. No one shows us this truth quite as clearly as our own children.
This morning, Curly Fries was inundated with praise, honor, affirmation, and glory.
Last night, she went right to bed. No power struggles. No tantrums. She didn’t turn the lights back on, she didn’t ask for fresh water in her cup, she didn’t ask for more hugs, she didn’t ask to be rocked again, she didn’t ask for another story, she didn’t leave her bed or her room. No one cried and no parent was announced to be unfavored or forsaken. She just kissed us goodnight and went right to sleep.
We were effusive in our praise this morning. It was literally the first thing her ears heard when she woke up. “We’re so proud of you! You did so good! You stayed in your bed and went to sleep without any trouble!”
I told her, “You went to sleep like a champ!”
“No,” she said, “I went to sleep like a dinosaur!
Whatever. It was beautiful. Last night, as her mother and I sat at the dinner table, watching the door to her bedroom and expecting to hear its door crack so that she would come out and start the power struggle, we grew ever more amazed at the increasing likelihood that tonight, on this
night of all nights, she would actually go right to sleep. When I finally whispered (for fear of waking her, I suppose) to her mother that she really went straight to bed, she said, “We need to reinforce this tomorrow.
So we laid it on thick, and Curly Fries ate it up. I mean, ate. It. Up.
You’d have thought it was her birthday again. She giggled and shrugged and repeated it back to us: “I went to bed like a dinosaur.” It felt supremely good to throw positive reinforcement at her with such recklessness.
We give her positive reinforcement all the time, in those little ways parents do: “Thank you,” “Good girl,” “Great job,” etc. She actually gets lots of it because there’s lots she does well, and it’s fun to praise your kids. But it’s even more fun to praise your kid when she so completely deserves it.
I don’t feel like I often get a break from the cajoling and bribing and pleading and threatening, but this was just too sweet. Being able to watch her revel in our celebration of her good behavior was even better than enjoying the good behavior itself.
I’m sure it’s a temporary victory, but that’s fine. It was lovely, and we will get to do it again. Negative reinforcement works, too, as do positive and negative punishment (all blogs for another day). But the positive reinforcement: that’s just easily the most fun. Nothing makes me as a parent happier than just basking in my child’s goodness. But showering that back on her… well, that’s really something special.
By and large, I try not to fish for comments on my blog. I’d like to think I’m modest in my expectations about who actually reads these posts. There has to be at least a little grandiosity involved in putting one’s thoughts out there into cyberspace for anyone to read, and no blogger posts anything thinking that it really doesn’t matter if no one
reads this. But still, I’m reasonably at peace with the idea that my readership will never be quite as high as that of, say, Rachel Held Evans.
I’m further aware that what readership I generally do
have – I have a decent number of subscribers and a good number of friends who follow me on various social media outlets – these folks will fluctuate in how consistently they read my posts. I love Jon Stewart, but I just don’t have the time or energy to watch his show four nights a week. I am fully aware that even my most loyal readers are bound to get busy and miss a post or two. There’s a lot in the world demanding our attention, and I wholeheartedly accept that my solipsistic ramblings rank rather negligibly in everyone else’s universe.
Given all these caveats of humility and self-deprecation, I have to admit that it surprised me that my last post
provoked absolutely no conversation. I mean none.
No comments on the page; no comments or shares in the social media sphere; not even a single “like” on Facebook. Sometimes my posts are boring and don’t really deserve attention. But given that I began last week’s post with the sentence “Earlier this week, I considered murdering my child,” I sort of considered it one of my more provocative posts. So either I just posted it during a week when my usual readers were more interested in reading about the government shutdown, or else I struck a nerve.
It’s an act of serious transgression in our culture to express negative feelings towards our children. Indeed, it feels unacceptable to express negative feelings towards parenthood in general. Couples who don’t have children are often made to feel inferior or unproductive. The narratives that go along with parenting are expected to be positive, uplifting, and beatific. It’s okay to get tired, it’s okay for our children to be occasionally exhausting, or for them to “wear us out.” But to openly express resentment, bitterness, regret, or hatred towards our children or the experience of having children is viewed as just as bad or worse as drinking alcohol while you’re pregnant.
I admit I expressed these things a bit extremely last week; when I shared those sentiments with my spouse, she said, “Do we need to call somebody?” But extreme or not, I felt surprised – and strangely exposed and isolated – that no one seemed to join me. At least when Rachel Held Evans says something people don’t like, they troll her comments page.
I guess I get it. I get wanting to buy into the collective myth that parenting is the greatest experience humans can partake in. That having children is an ecstatic, life-changing spiritual transformation that edify parents to an extent rivaled only by attaining nirvanic enlightenment or communing in the light-infused presence of the risen Christ. I want to believe that being a parent is like that. In fact, some moments it really is
like that. I can say that I am a better, deeper, more empathic and thoughtful human being because of my experiences as a parent. But a lot of moments aren’t like that at all. In fact, a lot of moments are the opposite
of those things. Sometimes, being a parent makes me a worse human being. It can make me impatient and angry and irritable and downright hateful. It’s frightening how quickly my child can evoke both the absolute best and worst in me.
The scary possibilities for wrath and violence towards a child were a subject in my very first post
; it’s where the title of my blog comes from. I suppose there is something that instinctively seeks to protect children from these darker impulses within us, and I believe that’s probably a good and right thing. But I wonder if we do a disservice to ourselves (and our children) when we conflate protecting our children from these dark impulses with protecting ourselves from these dark impulses.
I know absolutely that I am not alone in feeling and thinking scary, destructive things about being a parent. I know this because friends have admitted as much to me in person. Perhaps it feels safer to whisper these things quietly in passing than it does to, well, post it permanently in cyberspace.
I also think there’s a deeper fear that keeps us from speaking these things out loud, and it’s not about our children. It’s what I’ve been experiencing all week: the insidious shame of isolation
. I’ll be the first to admit that I posted what I posted last week in the hopes that someone would say, “You’re not alone; I’ve felt that too.” Maybe we don’t speak our darkness out loud for the fear that we will be left completely alone, that others will look at us with horror and back away from us because we really are despicable and disgusting.
I don’t know exactly what circumstances conspired to make my post last week the most conspicuously ignored of anything I’ve posted in recent memory. (As of yesterday, a year-old post on potty-training had as many hits as last week’s post.) Maybe I’m making way too much of this. But deep down, I find myself feeling as if the lack of reaction of any kind, even disagreement, is confirmation of what a terrible person I am for the feelings and thoughts I had in the middle of that terrible bedtime meltdown. My gut response has been to want to scrub the internet, and my life, from having ever felt that way – delete that post, erase all links to it, and post something hyper-saccharine this week that would strongly signal my desire to identify with the socially acceptable narratives of the rapturous bliss of parenthood. I’ve been wanting to promise myself never to speak out loud such feelings ever again. And the easiest way to do that is to never admit to myself again that I even have those feelings in the first place. I know, however, that suppression and sublimation are not wise strategies. Neither are they values I express to myself, my students and patients, or even my own child. “Use your words,” I tell her when she’s upset, precisely so she will be able to express her darkness in ways that aren’t destructive. Also so I can join her and let her know she isn’t alone.
There may be plenty of reasons no one joined me in my darkness last week that have nothing to do with me. I admit that this post has a stink of narcissism on it. I’ll risk that, though, because one of the main reasons I started this blog was to carve out a little niche on the web of hopefully constructive conversation among other parents seeking support. As I said last week, I have to believe in a good prognosis, and using our words to give voice to our frustrations, sufferings, doubts, and failings is what keeps them from taking us prisoner. So if you ever need to voice your darkness, you can count on this crazy guy to join you.
Earlier this week, I considered murdering my child.
Perhaps it is not the smartest idea to publish this on the internet for anyone to read. Maybe I’m inviting scrutiny or criticism or a Child Services investigation. But I risk all that, and continue to post this, for two main reasons: 1) I hate myself and need some kind of absolution; and 2) I know I’m not alone.
The circumstances were this. Bedtime has become a battle. An epic, life-or-death struggle with stakes so high that it deserves a Don LaFontaine
voiceover. After a weekend of non-stop fun with her Grammy, she was emboldened to take this battle to an unprecedented escalation Sunday night. Two hours – that’s right, two hours
– of screaming, wailing, running through the apartment, refusing to stay in bed. Bargaining didn’t work. Positive reinforcement didn’t work. Negative reinforcement didn’t work. Ferberizing
didn’t work. The Supernanny’s
advice didn’t work. At some point during all of this non-stop drama, during which we were trying to eat our dinner with the constant sound of her air-raid siren wailing and occasional invectives about how awful we were, I found myself putting her in her bed for the thirtieth time and thought, “If I put this pillow over her face, I could get some peace and quiet.”
It wasn’t a dark joke. It was, instead, what felt like an inbreaking of a single honest and reasonable voice.
The voice of my superego responded, “But you’d go to prison.”
The first voice answered, “Yes, but I’d be better off in prison.”
It’s telling of how desperate I felt in that moment that my superego’s initial response was to appeal to my desire to avoid prison and not, you know, my love for my child. Any connection I had to feelings of fondness and affection had been decimated in the first fifteen minutes of Sunday’s Battle of the Bedtime. In moments like this, appealing to love and compassion is like expecting a magic potion to stop bullets. So my superego, having failed at deterring me with threat of life imprisonment, went to my true Achilles heel: “If you kill your child, you’ll be a failure as a parent.”
The absolute last thing I want is to be a failure as a parent. Usually, this is due to the love I have for my child. But, that being absent in that moment, my superego knew to appeal to my sense of shame and shaky self-worth. The first voice, that sinister voice that felt so coldly rational and temptingly correct, followed up with what felt to be the most painfully true statement of the whole struggle: “You’re already a failure as a parent.”
My superego, in a moment of shrill desperation, shouted, “But if you kill her, then everyone will know! You’ll be in the papers! Your trial will be on the six o’clock news! Everyone will see how terrible you look in orange and then they’ll know exactly how big a failure you are! At least right now, no one else knows except your child and her mother and maybe your neighbors upstairs who can hear her screams coming up through the floor.”
This was mostly convincing, but it was the interruption of yet a third voice, a voice that very well may have belonged to some divine intercessor, who helped convince me that filicide was not the answer. This voice said, calmly and reassuringly, “Nobody is failing here.”
This was an intriguing proposition. I left the screeching ball of ear-piercing anguish in her toddler bed and went outside into the hall to consider this. Was it possible that this terrible behavior on my child’s fault wasn’t a direct result of me being the worst parent in the history of humankind? Was it conceivable that there are things I’m actually doing pretty well? After all, she’s doing great at school. She’s sweet to her grandparents and friends. In fact, she’s sweet to us
when we’re not trying to put her to bed. She entertains herself well when she plays, she eats well, she’s potty-trained (mostly), she doesn’t get up in the middle of the night, she eagerly reads books, she regularly cuddles with us, and several times a day she voluntarily tells us she loves us. This new voice said, “You are not
a failure as a parent. Your child is not a failure, either. Now bear with me, I know this is a stretch, but maybe – just maybe
– she’s pitching these epic fits for reasons that have nothing to do with you and are actually quite normal.
A friend of mine who spent his first career in family medicine gave me this quote: “A toddler is a psychotic dwarf with a good prognosis.”
Her universe makes no sense, poor thing. She doesn’t understand why it’s okay for her to play outside one minute and then have to come in and take a bath the next. She doesn’t see why she can’t wear the same pair of panties two days in a row, or why those old shoes no longer go on her feet, or why this page she just tore out of her book won’t go back in, or why Mommy and Daddy freak out when she runs around with food in her mouth or without holding hands in the parking lot or reaching for the stove. How does one live in such a strange and inexplicable environment? (“In a world
filled with chaos
As we say here in the south: Bless her heart.
This refreshing voice of my better nature talked me back from the brink. My homicidal id and shaming superego began to fade as my empathy caught up with me. Maybe it’s my empathy – my capacity to hear beyond the voices of my shame and rage – that ultimately keeps me from failing as a parent. It might even make me… well, if not a completely successful parent, at least a good enough parent.
I would say that the bar for being a good parent should be set a little higher than simply not killing your child, but there may be some moments where that actually is
where the bar should be set. Moments, say, like when your child has elected to make her bedtime the precipitating event of power struggle and rebellion. Absolution came in the form of this still, small voice whispering gently in my ear
, reassuring me that we were all doing the best we could.
Good Lord is it hard, though. Which leads me to the second reason I write this post: bless my
heart. And bless yours
. If you are a parent of a child between the ages of, well, one day and thirty-five years, then bless your heart, too. We’ve all dreamed of being free of our children. Driving them out into the country and leaving them. Selling them to the circus. Shipping them off to boarding school. Throwing them off a pier. It’s a grim, dark thing to admit, I know. But show me a parent who hasn’t had these thoughts in some form, and I’ll show you a person who is in serious denial and dangerously disconnected from their own feelings.
When you think about it, it’s actually pretty amazing that humans don’t
kill their children more often. There are very few mammals on this planet who love their offspring enough to put up with the kind of shit we put up with from our children. That doesn’t make us saints; it’s just testament to the brilliantly flawed, broken, imperfect creatures who are trying to raise slightly less flawed, broken, and imperfect creatures. We’re all doing the best we can, and for the most part, it’s pretty good.
In the midst of this reprieve of impotent fury, standing in the hall taking deep breaths and reminding myself that she is a toddler and being a psychotic dwarf is her job, she came flailing back out into the hall screaming, “I don’t want you, Daddy!” That momentary peace was utterly shattered, but a shard or two remained embedded in my skin, which was just enough. I was reminded that her prognosis is good.
My child won’t be three-and-a-half forever. (Or six… or ten… or fifteen… or even mine at all.) She will grow and develop concrete operational thought and feel more at home in the world and capable of reasoning and expressing her feelings. All that will no doubt bring new challenges that are, I’m sure, equally maddening. But tomorrow is another chance for us to have a day filled with good moments, which mostly outweigh the awful. I would never willingly harm or abandon my child. That’s why it’s so frightening and unsettling to imagine doing so with any feelings other than disgust or horror. But these psychotic dwarves wouldn’t drive us crazy if we didn’t love them so much. So I offer to you what I tell myself in those dark moments of defeat when our thoughts turn cruel and spiteful. There are many great reasons not to give up on our children, but the one that never falls away for me is the prognosis of another day doing the best we can.
I dreamed about Glen Campbell last night.
In case you are someone who has been criminally deprived of the cultural gift of knowing who Glen Campbell is, let me briefly tell you why you need to immediately change that. First of all, Glen Campbell is an amazing musician. He was a session musician in California in the early 1960’s, playing guitar with the renowned “Wrecking Crew” of musicians who provided studio session work for artists like The Mamas and The Papas, Dean Martin, The 5th Dimension, Phil Spector and Elvis. He toured with The Beach Boys and played on Pet Sounds
. That right there should be enough to secure him a place on Wikipedia.
Secondly, Glen Campbell is an unbelievably tender singer. He’s best known for his solo career as a country star in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, with songs like “Wichita Lineman
,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix
,” and “Hey Little One
.” His music was lushly orchestrated, but the rich string arrangements never overshadowed the depth and pathos in his voice. You can hear it most clearly in “Rhinestone Cowboy
,” a song that on the surface seems to glorify glamour and fame but is really about the emptiness of longing for those things. Campbell’s voice subverts the flashy production, a timbre of desperation resonating within the seemingly triumphant tone. Campbell’s voice is one of the saddest, most poignant musical instruments I’ve ever heard.
Last of all, Glen Campbell is a badass
. Not because he can shred a guitar. Not because he played opposite John Wayne in True Grit
. Not because he survived decades of hard drinkin’ and hard livin’ that would be the requisite existence of a country star. No, Glen Campbell is a badass because of how he’s staring down Alzheimer’s.
In 2011, Glen Campbell announced that his increasing difficulties with memory loss were due to Alzheimer’s
. His response was to release a farewell album and embark on a final tour. The album, Ghost On the Canvas
, was a beautiful meditation on mortality, longing, sentimentality, and reflection. It features contributions from musicians as diverse as Paul Westerberg
, Brian Setzer
, Billy Corgan
, and Dick Dale
. He made his final concert appearance in November 2012. Faced with the prospect of a slow and steady mental deterioration, Campbell went all in to secure his legacy as an artist of depth, melancholy, and rich emotional nuance. (So f--- you
, Alzheimer’s.) So last night I dreamed about Glen Campbell.
I dreamed that he had taken up a performance residence at a small dinner theater nearby. Word had gotten out that Glen Campbell had come to town, but that his performance had dramatically suffered due to his advancing Alzheimer’s. But I was determined to go, and so I arrived at the theater in between sets, settling into my seat as people left after the first set.
When he came on to play, I understood why. He had no band with him; instead, he was singing to backing tracks piped in over the PA system. I was very disappointed; he’d had a great band support him on his tour. And even without a band, I knew he could accompany himself on guitar. But I also knew his disease may have made it impossible to play anymore, and I was determined to hear what this artist still had to offer.
As he began to sing, his voice was shaky and uncertain. People began to leave only a few bars into the first song. Then he began to forget words, and his tempo slowed so that he was out of sync with the backing music. No one booed, but a sense of embarrassment began to fall over the room.
Just then, a young man walked on to the stage behind Campbell. At first, I thought he might be there to usher Campbell off the stage, to save him from humiliation and put an end to the sad spectacle we were witnessing. And for a moment, I hoped
that was what would happen; I felt Glen Campbell deserved better than for that to be the way he ended his career. But the young man leaned forward into Campbell’s ear and began singing the song. He was so quiet that we couldn’t hear him in the audience, but it was clear that it was what Campbell needed to sing the song. Singing along with the young man, his voice regained tempo and confidence, and he began to sing the lyrics fully and clearly. The mood in the room immediately shifted: with the help of this man’s voice in his ear, Campbell inhabited his instrument with all of the delicate command of his youth. He began to sing “Gentle On My Mind
,” and he owned it so beautifully that I started to cry. I forgot about the backing track in the PA, I forgot about his faltering beginning, I forgot about the people who’d left, and I felt so held in the gravity of Campbell’s voice that I just wept. I wept so hard that it woke me up, and I was lying in bed still crying.
I don’t believe dreams are magical messages, or mysteries to be decoded, or mystical predictions of the future. I believe they are simply random concoctions our brain produces when it’s free from the preoccupations of waking consciousness. I also believe that they can connect to something powerfully present to our emotional state that they linger with us and have something to teach us about what we’re feeling and experiencing. So I’ve been feeling this powerful dream all day.
What does this dream have to do with being a parent? Why would I put it on my blog? What does Glen Campbell have to do with “reflecting, processing, and learning about myself and my family
”? I wasn’t sure at first, but I couldn’t shake the powerful emotions I felt even as I showered and dressed this morning. Recalling that vivid moment in my dream of watching that young man sing to Glen Campbell so that he reclaimed his voice, I still found myself tearing up hours after the dream had dissipated into the night. Psalm 27:10 says, “If my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will take me up.”
This is a psalm that praises the ever-present support of YHWH in the face of human enemies. Even if we had good parents, there are times when they aren’t with us or when we feel so alone that even the love of our parents is absent or meaningless. Like the old blues song says, “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too.
” I had parents who loved me, but this verse always comforted me by assuring in a hyperbolic way that if no one loved me, God still would. I find comfort in this now with a different interpretation: I no longer identify as the forsaken child, but as the parent. I don’t intend to forsake my child, but I know I’m far from perfect and I fail her in little ways every day. And when I do, God will be there for her. Not just her, but both of us.
When I can inhabit myself with confidence and assurance and grace, I have a beautiful voice to offer her. But I falter; I lose the tempo, I forget the words, I embarrass myself when I struggle to get it right, to live up to the legacy I strive to achieve. In those moments, someone steps up behind me and gently in my ear sings in a still, small voice so that I can find the song again.
I’ve reflected lately about the stress of moving
, and the guilt I’ve carried
for being the one responsible for the upheaval in my family life. I’ve faltered a lot lately. But I trust that there is a presence greater than me waiting in the wings that will take up the song for me until I can recover so that the embarrassment of stumbling doesn’t become a failure, but a healing. I experience grace in every moment I am joined by the spirits of my better nature, by my friends and family, by the divine hand of tenderness, to find my place. So thank you, Glen Campbell, for reminding me of that presence whose door is always open, whose path is free to walk, whose always waving to me from the backroads by the rivers of my memory, to help me fully sing the song that is my little one.