Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Magic of Childhood

Today is a big day for me.  On this Epiphany Sunday, marking the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus, the sermon in church was about the question, "Who Is This Baby?"  Good question!  A quarter of a century ago, I looked at my own child and wondered the same thing.

For every baby that is born, we can look and say, "who is this person?"  Babies are all about our dreams and their potential.  They're about promise and hope.  For parents, it's not always an easy transition to parenthood.  There are sleepless nights and cleaning diapers and giving of ourselves to play our part in making those promises come true.

These thoughts are particularly strong for me today, because it was twenty five years ago today, on this first Sunday of the new year, that my oldest daughter was baptized.

Yep, my husband and I stood in front of our church congregation and promised to raise her up as a child of the covenant.  Our church congregation made a vow to support us and her, symbolically bringing her into the fold of the covenant.  And a minister of the gospel sprinkled her head with water which symbolized the rich and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in her life.

Cathedral of Copenhagen Baptismal Font
By Ib Rasmussen, via Wikimedia Commons

Today was not the only parenting milestone for me in recent months.  There have been others.  One gauges stages of life in part by milestones in parenting.

Initially, I was a child.  I thought nothing of it, of course.  I was in a rush to be "big," to be "grown up," so that I could have more and more freedom.  Then, one by one my friends and I got married.  One day, I noticed that most of my friends, myself included, were in a stage of life when we all had small children.  Life went on.  We were busy.  Days flashed by like cars whirring past us on a busy street.  Then it happened. The daughter of one of my friends got married.  Then another, and another.  Some of my friends have grandchildren.  Stages of life, they happen.  Then, this fall, my own daughter got married.  It was another big milestone for me.  This Christmas, was the first time we now had a fourth "child," our new (and of course grown up) son-in-law.  Suddenly, I'm middle aged!  On Christmas day, not a mouse in my house was stirring before 11:00 AM.    

When our family did gather, one of the things we did was to watch the 26 minute movie The Snowman, adapted from the wordless picture book by Raymond Briggs.   Watching this movie has become part of our family Christmas tradition.  I first saw it during our local Preschool Library Story Time when my oldest child was two years old and her sister was just six months old.

For a special Christmas treat, the librarian showed this film.  My children and I, sitting all piled together on the floor with a huddle of other Mommies and children, were delighted.  Then, the librarian brought out supplies for the Mommies to help their little children make little wreaths using green of pipe cleaners and red beads (string some beads on the pipe cleaner, shape it into a circle, then tie a little bow at the top).  We may still have one of those wreaths, used as a Christmas ornament for more than two decades now. 

The events in the story of The Snowman movie happen over the course of less than 24 hours: A little boy builds a snowman, and, then, they take a magical adventure during the night.  The next morning, the little boy rushes out to greet his friend the snowman, but he finds the snowman is gone forever, melted.  Only the memory remains, a precious memory.  The ending of the story leaves one a little misty eyed.

As we watched this film together on Christmas day this year, I mused that childhood is like that adventure with the snowman.

To our way of thinking, childhood may seem to last a long time, but in the grand scheme it is but a brief, magical moment.  Before we know it, the adventure of our children's childhood has given way to their adulthood. What we are left with is memories.  Memories of little voices and walks at the zoo, rocking chairs and teddy bears, ballet recitals and washing dishes.  All of life in fact goes so fast.  Do we value it?  Do we welcome the opportunity to nurture our children in every day, little things; or do we view meeting our children's needs as unwelcome chores?  Do we cherish our children's childhood, or do we take it for granted?  I am reminded of an anonymous quote, "Days are long, but life is short."

Parenthood is such a huge project.  Parenthood was also my first experience with a project that had no outside grade or evaluation associated with it.  It was all up to me to figure it out, to figure out what trajectory I would take, and then to evaluate and change course depending on whether it seemed I was doing things right or not.  Yet, there was no real way to gauge how I was doing.  Nobody giving pats on the back to parents and says, "Good job!" or "A for effort but you were a little slack on the follow up!"  Instead, my experience of parenting felt like I was watching an ocean.

Day in, day out, you watch your child.  Figuratively speaking, sunrises and sunsets come and go, you walk beside the ocean on the beach.  You can draw lines and build sandcastles.  Sometimes there are storms; sometimes the days are calm.  Seasons come and seasons go.  You know the shoreline of the ocean is changing, but day to day you can't really see the differences.  You can follow advice from as many books or people as you like when it comes to parenting, but you won't really know how it has all turned out until after fifteen, twenty, or twenty five years.

Sometime way down the road, after many years, you finally get to see whether what you did when they were two, and four, and six, and eight ... whether that has all turned out alright and produced a well adjusted adult.  After twenty years or so, you will start to see how the shoreline has changed and what your child has become.  I say "start to see," because it turns out the project is never really done.  Even my adult children are continuing to grow and change, a process I feel privileged to view. 

All and all, I'm happy and feel very blessed to be able to say, "I think my husband and I did okay."  I could write reams about what I feel we did right, and what we did wrong.  I've been shocked at times to hear my children recount their memories and to learn that some things that physically only occupied a moment of time (perhaps a moment of parental anger?) they remember vividly and acutely, while some things that seemed to take much longer (affirming and nurturing things I like to think) they don't recollect at all.   But rather than reflect on these specifics, I'd like to reflect on the most important thing:  I'm thankful for the opportunity I've had to be a parent.  It has been a special privilege to nurture and be a part of the lives of three special young people.  

I will refrain from bragging or specifics of what I'm grateful for, because in a sense the particulars are irrelevant   Each child in this world  brings something different into the world.  I'm also one of the lucky parents who have not had the really serious challenges to cope with. But no matter how un-gifted our children may be, no matter how homely, no matter how handicapped, no matter what life threatening illnesses they struggle with, each child we are blessed to nurture has something special to share with us.  Their childhood.  Like the little boy's time with the snowman in that movie, my time with my children was, and continues to be, a magical adventure which I cherish.  

I'm also grateful in no small measure to the countless people G*d has supplied to be a part of my children's lives and who have played roles large and small in nurturing them and helping them grow.  I won't name names.  You know who you are.  Thank you.  

By the way, there are two great books that I feel helped me early on to get started on the right path as a parent.  And there was one other thing I thought we did right.  Namely, our family rule is to treat each other with kindness and respect.   This blog is devoted to building peace.  Peace in our lives begins with peace with ourselves and peace within our family.  So, peace to you, and to your family.  


The movie The Snowman may be viewed without commercial advertisement on the Vimeo link HERE

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