Oh yes. It’s true. Fifth grade is almost over.
I spent time last week with a mother my age; she has a 3-month-old. Weeks earlier we watched our friend’s two-year-old as one of her moms, a high school friend of mine, played in a softball game.
In my demographic – well-educated, reasonably-middle-class, white women – I had my son at a “young” age – 27. Most of my contemporaries are only now experiencing parenting young children. It brings my current feeling of loss into deeper focus.
He is in fifth grade, and next year, I will be a middle school parent.
People can tell you, but no one can adequately explain how much loss is involved in parenting as you form an identity only to lose it soon after, how much raising your child is about raising yourself, how much you will feel like each of your child’s birthdays is one of your own as you grow, with them, each year.
Oh, these wise children. I love being in their presence, to watch and learn from their natural ability to live so radically in the now, to be so unapologetically themselves. It’s true that most of my parenting energy has gone into nurturing these aspects of my child instead of trying to mold him into a successful adult, trusting that the brilliance of childhood will fade on its own and I do not need to hasten its dimming in any way.
Only time will tell if I have taken the right path. My son does not like to go to church these days; understandable, as I often do not like to go to church. But he led me up the mountain in our neighborhood last weekend to the museum, where we walked among sacred paintings from the European Middle Ages, and he relished guessing and figuring out which figure was which, which story was being told. He can recognize Jesus, Peter, Mary… he knows them, knows their stories.
I am a pastor, albeit an unconventional one, and there is that side of me that feels nervous, scared that I am messing up by not requiring him to go all the time, worried that he will lose his connection with the sacred energy that permeates our lives and world. We are supposed to form our children, the conventional knowledge goes. Liturgy forms us, and will form my child over time as well.
But then he, even now at 11, begs to go foraging for mushrooms on Sunday morning, or to climb the giant rocks on the path to the museum, or to simply “go exploring and not know where we’re going” (his favorite thing to do) – and I think of the images of God available in the church sanctuary, the stoic and pained expressions on stained glass windows, the overwhelming maleness, the dirge-like hymns we plod through, the colorful and fascinating stories of the Bible that we breeze through in order to find some imagined “kernel” of teaching, the sitting still, the sitting still, the sitting still…
And I know my son is onto something. So I do take him to church, sometimes, usually with a promise of brownies at coffee hour afterwards. But more often than not I excuse him, and I go myself, and then I come home and we do “house church” – another favorite thing of his – where we talk about the stories and the characters and what’s going on in the world and write down people that we want to pray for or remember all week.
This is not a story of how I’m forming my son. This is a story of how listening to the innate spirituality that my son has – that all people, all ages, have – has helped me to grow, to see more beauty, to love my own out-of-the-box spirituality, to love the world more.