There won’t always be lollipops
I’ll be honest. Sometimes, parenting scares the hell out of me. And not in the “Oh dear God help me roll my baby up in bubble wrap!” kind of way. Maybe because I have girls. No, I don’t worry so much about the scraped knees or even the broken bones. I worry about the big scars.
When I was a kid, I was greatly concerned about our anatomical set-up.
“Mom, how come when I put air in my mouth and food in my mouth they go different places? Like how does it know the air goes to the breathing tube and the food goes to the belly tube? I don’t like that. When I go up in the air with God, I’m going to tell him I don’t like that.”
When you have children, you worry that every word you speak is going to go down the wrong tube. Like there is one tube that takes the sum of your words and produces a bright, intelligent, caring, well adjusted child, and one that will produce a self-loathing, lazy, evil child. If we set strict rules and are unwavering, we worry that our children will feel we are too callous and unapproachable. But if we’re too laid back and lenient, we worry that they won’t take us seriously when it comes to important matters like sex, drugs, and the value of marrying a democrat. (Kidding. Kind of.)
Anyway, here’s what I’m getting at: Our kids are real live people. I remember the first day I brought my daughter home from the hospital, setting her down in her car seat and thinking to myself, “Now what do I do with her?” They need us. In the beginning, it’s just the basic bodily functions. But then they start talking. More specifically, they start asking questions. And that, my friends, is when shit gets real.
Perhaps one of the biggest, scariest “boogey monsters” to tackle as a parent is The God Factor. Now, for those who belong to a structured belief system with a set doctrine, I say this: You lucky bastards. If your kid comes to you with one of those hard-to-answer, grand-scheme, big-life questions, you already have the answers given to you. It’s like a parenting cheat book. Where did Fluffy go? To heaven, a magical place in the sky with all of her feline friends and you will see her one day when you go there too! They have streets of gold and I’m pretty sure they probably have Angry Birds, too. What is God? Well, God sent his Son Jesus to die for your sins on the cross so you can live forever! You get the idea.
Then there is my family. My husband and I decided to be proactive about educating our girls as objectively as possible when it comes to God and world religions. I know. It’s kind of a pipe dream, as objectivity isn’t entirely possible. But basically, we want them to be familiar with lots of belief systems. When that foreign exchange student says she is a Buddhist, I want my kids to have a better response than I did. (It went something like, “Uh… Oh… Yeah I don’t know much about that. Do you know about Jesus?! Because ohmyword is He the bee’s knees!”) And when that JW comes a’knockin’ I think it’d be swell if my girls could tell them that, “Yeah, yeah, we know about the 144,000. Consider us forewarned.” And hell, even if they jump on that wagon, or the Quaker wagon, the Baptist wagon, the Islamic wagon, Jewish wagon, Pagan wagon, Atheist wagon… Well. You get the point. They’ll have a wagon, and I’ll smile and wave to them from mine and be proud that they made their own choices.
The problem with this tactic is that the questions are really, really hard to answer. Where did Grandma’s cat go? I said heaven. But then I couldn’t define it. Not really, anyway. Just a nice place where you never, ever come back from to visit and we can’t go to until we die. That went over really well. Where is God? He’s everywhere, of course. He is in everything good. He is love. Or maybe She. Yet again… Another description entirely lost on my 3 and 5 year old budding philosophers. So yeah, Easter was looming and I tried to wrap my brain around celebrating it for everything that it is. It’s a festival of life — meant to rejoice over babies and new flowers, longer days and more sunshine. It’s also kind of a big day for Jesus. And lest our commercial-driven country let us forget — it’s about CANDY! Lots and lots of CANDY!
This year we decided to do things a wee bit different and rallied the troops bright and early to visit Grandma and Grandpa’s church. While my kids have attended the Hindu Festival of Ganesh, they were quite young (as in, still pooping their pants) so it was kind of lost on them. They have sat through the quiet meditation of a Quaker Meeting with equal parts intrigue and boredom (sounds like a contradiction but it’s not). They have also attended Catholic Mass (and cried when they weren’t allowed to recieve communion). So they’ve done the church thing. But going with Grandma and Grandpa was special, and the choir was breathtaking, and there was a cool mid-service kids’ message where all the kids got to go up front and read a little book and answer cutesy questions. Scarlett (my 5 year old) was completely riveted by the whole experience. After returning to her seat she asked, quite loudly, “Mom, does Harry Potter believe in Jesus?”
I believe I mumbled something along the lines of, “I don’t know… Maybe… Probably not… We’ll talk about this later.” Harry freaking Potter. But it makes sense I guess. We often read Harry Potter to the girls before they go to bed at night. They will beg for one more page until they are slumped over on one another, tangled in their stuffed animals and princess blankets and breathing rhythmically with sleep. They love Harry Potter. They hate Snape. They laugh manically at letters spitting through fireplaces at warp speed or Dobby’s silly jargon, and they sit wide-eyed and quiet while hearing about the man with no nose. And that’s when it clicked. Right now, my kids are happily riding in their own wagon. The one belief-system we all have to partake in before we become “sophisticated” enough to categorize ourselves as this religion or that religion. They believe in magic. Every child believes deeply in magic. The imaginary friend kind, the monsters under their bed kind, the aliens in the sky kind, the rabbit out of the hat kind, the big man down the chimney kind, and the lollipops growing out of the ground kind.
They don’t need long answers to big questions right now. A simple, “What do you think?” will do. That’s enough “truth” and “philosophy” for them right now. In time, I’ll know when their own explanations aren’t enough anymore. But right now, I don’t have to worry about that. Right now my greatest concern is asking them if they mind making some room so I can hop on that wagon with them for a while and enjoy the ride. There won’t always be lollipops in the ground. But today, there are.