Sometimes life with kids is so frantic, you barely notice the end of one phase and the beginning of the next. Your three year old is finally potty trained: praise the Lord and what comes next? You’re done with tricycles and training wheels: great, onto skateboards and scooters. Everyone generally sleeps through the night, dresses himself and brushes his own teeth. Wonderful! Now it’s time to teach him to do chores.
They grow so fast and amidst such business that we can zoom past milestones and fail to give enough attention to significant rites of passage.
A few days ago something rare happened: I took the time to sit outside in the sunshine, without a book or a phone, and just let my thoughts go where they chose. I realized that our boys were experiencing some major milestones, some weighty things that deserved attention:
- This summer they learned that the ocean is beautiful, vast, mysterious, dangerous and enormously fun. They saw that the sea is far superior to a pool and that given a choice, they would catch a wave and boogie board any day, over jumping into something chlorinated and man made. They were humbled as the waves mercilessly pummeled them, disoriented and tumbled them. That night, I read to them from Job:
Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb; When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band; When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors; When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’ (38: 8-11).
At the ocean, they saw and appreciated and felt some of the awesomeness of God.
- They learned that baby animals are indeed cute and fuzzy and fun, but they are also a lot of work. We adopted a two-month-old white lab the day after we returned from the beach and my sons learned, very quickly, that puppies chew everything and relieve themselves everywhere. And so they have been given some of the responsibility of caring for our dear, cute Jazzy, and sometimes, they don’t like it. iPad games get interrupted and movies get paused when it’s time to take Jazz out. Caring for animals is often inconvenient, and no, mom won’t do it all for you. You asked for a dog; this is reality. They are learning that love isn’t always easy, that you can’t wiggle out of responsibilities, that living things are dependent of them and that mom and dad can’t and won’t do it all alone.
- They learned a little bit about the birds and the bees. They were asking too many questions about where babies come from and we realized that it’s time for them to know the very basics of reproduction. They learned proper names of things and broad concepts. They learned that sex is sacred and private and God-created. And then they didn’t want to know anymore; that was enough. For now. And in some small, but significant way, the profundity of marriage settled deep within their souls and they took another step into manhood.
- They learned that people die, even children, and that death is sad, despite the promise of heaven. I received a phone call that a young man was dying in the hospital and this time, I didn’t hide my tears from my sons, but I let myself cry right there, in front of them, and tried to honestly answer their desperate questions. They put their little hands on me, trying to comfort me and alleviate the pain I was feeling. I let them see that things aren’t always black and white. That good people die too. That there is uncertainty in life. That our faith is not in vain but it does not guarantee the absence of pain.
- They became more conscious of cultural differences. My husband has been cutting their hair all these years, principally because he didn’t think they could handle the more rough treatment of a barbershop. But this summer he knew it was time for both of them to be baptized into black barbershop culture. They came home so proud of their fades and perfectly shaped sideburns. “Mom,” my oldest said, “everyone there was brown and it was so much fun!”
Sometimes children take tiny steps into maturity, and sometimes they take giant leaps. This has been a summer of leaps; they’re growing so fast, inside and out. They are becoming more fun and our conversations more interesting. I see more glimpses into the men they will become and the impossible has happened: I love them even more.