Thursday, April 26, 2012

With you in spirit

Colossians 2:5

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
When you have a baby, the baby is with you pretty much all the time. This is not an exaggeration, for in the first few days the baby is either awake and eating, awake and being changed or asleep. And if the baby is not sleeping on you, it probably is very near you. It is very difficult, especially with your first baby, to move far enough away from a newborn for it to be out of sight.

Obviously it is physically easy to leave the baby — and sometimes, when then little thing is screaming for no apparent reason, you want nothing more than to run and run and never return — but emotionally it is nearly impossible to step away. When the baby is good, you want to soak up every moment. When the baby is troubled, you want to offer consolation. You know eventually you will be able to take a shower or make a sandwich without a pang of guilt. But in those first few days, you simply are not operating like a normal member of society. You are acting on primal nurturing instincts.

I’m not going to trace every last development here. As any parent knows, the need to physically connect with your child evolves quickly. Sitting in a rocking chair four hours while a week-old child naps gives way quickly to unmatched exuberance when he spends the entire night in his crib. You try to teach the kid to dress himself because you want him to be independent, but you also grow tired of dilly-dallying, backward shirts and shoes on the wrong feet. Recently we’ve discovered the joys of a second-grader who will take his own shower, and I can honestly say I won’t be sad if I never have to wash his hair again.

Jack heads for the bus just after turning 4.
Fortunately, we have a solid decade before we stare down real issues, like going away to college where “Goodbye” means “I’ll see you in a few months” instead of a week or so, which is the longest we’ve been apart from Jack at any stretch. And he’s been going to preschool since he was three — he even rode the bus a few short blocks to school. He was in an all-day kindergarten program, so this is his third year of being at school more than he’s home. What once was abnormal is now routine.

Years ago I used to tell myself it would be all right with me if my kids saved their worst behavior for home. Recalling my own childhood, I presume I was a perfect angel — or at least on my best behavior, which I’m certain fell shy of perfection — at school and church functions. I know I was all kinds of challenging on the home front. But by and large, I understood the conventions of society. (Translation: I was a royal jerk to my younger siblings but rarely mouthed off to classmates and tried like heck to not give my teachers any trouble).

Our kids do have some pretty excellent displays of their worst behavior at home. Or in public with us present. Those are always fun. But Max has been going to preschool for almost a full year, and I can’t recall one instance of a teacher reporting any discipline issues. Jack, on the other hand, has struggled mightily with behavior, though that’s just the tip of the iceberg for such a complex little man. The outbursts at school are just the visible outcome of the interplay of a wide variety of the things that make him exceptional, but his own nature and they way in which he relates to the world around him.

I long ago gave up on the ability and also the desire to be with him for every waking moment. Some days I want nothing more than for him to have just a normal day where he blends in with all the other kids. And when I am feeling optimistic, I realize that not only do the “good” days outnumber the bad, but we’ve come a long way in a few short years and right now Jack is able to do things in school we might not have expected when he was first starting.

But the bad days do come, and spring especially tends to see them in bunches. So I’m meeting with a few folks form school this morning to develop a strategy for the remainder of the year. Again, the issues are a lot more complex than I’m allowing myself the space to explore. The key point for this day is to illustrate how I worry about my son when he is away from me, off at school trying to become his own person. I try to let him know I am with him in spirit, but on certain days I know that’s not quite good enough.

I’m sure my parents had similar concerns about me, and I know for a fact — if not the full extent — how hard my mother in particular worked and prayed to make sure she was doing everything she could to give me the best chance to succeed. As much as I owe it to Jack to be the best father I can be for his own sake, I also owe it to my parents to pay forward everything they invested in my life.

A prayer for April 26

Lord, please be with my children all the time, even (and especially) when I am not. As they grow, help me teach them to be aware of your presence and to seek you out at all times. Help me remember that just as I am never alone, never away from your spirit, that neither are they, and give me the tools to reveal to them this truth. Thank you for the blessing of the family I was born into and the nurturing I received as a child and even today. Please help me as I strive to provide the same environment for my boys, and give me the strength and courage to advocate on their behalf. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment