Sunday, July 8, 2012

Take time to be a child

Psalm 66:8-9 (NIV)

Praise our God, all peoples,
   let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our live   and kept our feet from slipping.
Kristie got to be a daughter today. Obviously she is a daughter every day, but today seemed more special.

Her mother is staying with us for a few days. Everyone from her side (minus Uncle Kyle) was at our place for several hours yesterday, and my mother-in-law will be here until Wednesday, when Kristie’s dad comes back to drive her home. Since Jack and Max absolutely adore their grandmothers, and since having one of them stay at our house and give them basically undivided attention is a humongous treat, they’re obviously trying to make the most of it and soak her up for every possible moment.

Things were sailing along pretty smoothly until this afternoon, when Jack caught wind of Kristie’s desire to go shopping with her mom — just the two of them. He quickly put two and two together and realized this excursion would put a serious crimp on his plans for the afternoon, which consisted of basically getting his grandmother to do everything he wanted.

(While they were gone, when I was talking to Jack about dinner, he said he wanted to go out with at least his grandmother. I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that no one ever suggested it might happen, and he needed to come up with Plan B. “I hate Plan B!” Jack said, and it struck me that’s pretty much the defining statement of his life.)

As Kristie was explaining things to Jack, she tried to point out how rare it is for her to get to spend time with just her mother. Jack, of course, wasn’t having any of it. Empathy is not his strong suit, and trying to convince this particular eight-year-old to see things from the perspective of his early 30s mother is like getting Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck on the same page.

But the plea did not fall entirely deaf ears, as it resonated with me. I get lots of quality time with my parents — I live about 15 minutes away and work for their company in their house. My dad and I travel for business a few times a year, and while we don’t engage in any memoir-worthy father-son bonding experiences, we certainly have a good time. I often go on those trips with guilt because it leaves Kristie alone with the kids for a few days, and because when I’m there I think about how much fun she’d have if she were along (except for all the flying), but I’d never thought she also might be jealous of the kid-free time I get to spend with Pops. Not that I think she’s actually jealous in a literal sense, but it certainly could make her wish for more similar experiences with her parents.

I don’t spend as much one-on-one time with my mom as my dad, but simply being around my mother somehow has a way of always making me feel like her child regardless of circumstance — in the best way possible. It’s not that I feel babied or belittled or anything like that. She’s always been fantastic about letting me the person, husband and father I want to be and knows how to encourage without interfering, if that makes any sense. I can’t ever forget I am her son, which is a terrific feeling, yet that sentiment somehow never makes me feel childlike.

Kristie, on the other hand, lives about three hours from her parents. Her other siblings live closer (Kyle just graduated high school) and have no children, so they can get together more often and without having to compete for attention with grandchildren. And even if the kids did know how to share, well, when the kids are around you can’t help but feel like a parent first and foremost. This actually is a good thing, until it reaches the point where you think you may no longer have any other identity besides “mom” or “dad.”

Getting back to the original narrative… I don’t know as if the two ladies did anything special. Hit up the mall, then Target, a quiet dinner at Noodles & Company. It’s the kind of thing Kristie and I do when we are able to get a few hours alone. (In fact, swap Target for mini-golf and change restaurants and you’ve mapped out our 10th anniversary celebration. Other than that we’ve not had a date night just for the heck of it since back in the school year.) But the fact she got to have these few hours with her mother instead of her husband made it all the more special, I think, because such outings tend to be even more rare.

Kristie and I have talked off and on about ways we can spend regular time with each child, either one-on-one or two-on-one, to continue developing those relationships intentionally rather than just letting them always be lumped in as “the boys.” Yet for all the time such plans have dominated my thoughts, I’ve not really put a ton of energy toward keeping things flowing the other direction, from us up a generation instead of down. I guess that’s one more thing to add to my list of goals — take more time to be a son and make sure my wife has opportunities to be a daughter.

Juggling your roles as parent and spouse and just simply adult with a job is work enough, but part of being a complete person is making sure to sprinkle in the sides of you that identify most as son or daughter or brother or sister. Each of those roles, and the attendant relationships, must be fed in their own ways. It’s a tall order, sure, but it’s also among the most rewarding pursuits. After all, who doesn’t love to be loved?

A prayer for July 8:

Lord, thank you for my wife, my partner in everything. Thank you also for our families — brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents and everyone else who allows us to feel comforted, secure and loved. Please help me to remember those feelings are but a taste of the love you have for us and that such things are possible because of you and what you have created. Help me to love as I would be loved and to always remember to seek your will in everything I do. Amen.

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