Moose and I went to Mass today with my parents. This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last. But the Catholic Church is an interesting place. There is no childcare. No Sunday school. The kiddos hang with you. They experience Mass in the pew by your side. As Moose ran up and down the side aisle and giggled with glee, it got me thinking.
We think of children as tiny humans. And they are. But they aren’t tiny adults. They don’t always understand social graces. They don’t understand when to use their inside voice. Or that they do, in fact, posses an inside voice. When to sit down and show patience. How to express their frustration or boredom. When to not turn around in the pew and flirt with the couple sitting behind us. Or play in the dog water bowl as if it is a fountain created just for their amusement and splashes.
It is my job to teach him how to be a thoughtful adult. To teach him to be aware of his surroundings. To have empathy and grace. It is also my job to foster his wonder and excitement for life. This is an interesting balance as a parent. And by interesting, I mean sometimes terribly difficult.
As we sat in the service, he was the hurricane that is standard procedure these days. He would squeal with delight as he climbed all over me or leafed through the Bible. I think he enjoyed the echo. Cathedrals are all hard surfaces and vaulted ceilings. They are stunning. They also have magnificent reverb, much to Moose’s delight. It made me laugh, but I would lean into his ear and gently shush him. I was concerned about those around us. I didn’t want him to be a distraction. This is something that is in the back of my head often in public. Is he making too big a mess in the restaurant? Has the fact that he hasn’t learned that inside voice ruined someone else’s time? Is he being adult enough? That is really what we are worried about as parents. Is he respecting our social construct enough. Is he being adult enough?
But he isn’t an adult. He is joyfully non-adult. He hasn’t built social awareness that makes him self-conscious. He hasn’t learned to put his curiosity in a box and only let it out when it is acceptable. He runs when he wants to run. He laughs when something tickles him. He belts out a note when it rises up inside him. And I am blessed because he always wants me on the journey with him. So today, as I paced the aisle, trailing behind my energetic toddler, I realized something I hope I don’t let go of.
I realized that I need to worry less about making him an adult. I need to be more of a child.
The most fun I have is following him into his world. Allowing his experience to color mine. That isn’t to say I shouldn’t parent or place boundaries. He will learn to be a good human by gentle guidance and my example. But I hope to always laugh as he digs into a pile of pancakes with reckless abandon. Or smile as I watch him sprint up and down the isles of church. Or chuckle as I catch him trying to enlist a strangers umbrella as his new toy. Luckily, I get positive reinforcement from strangers. Yesterday morning an older couple stopped us in the parking lot to let me know how much they enjoyed watching him inhale his food with gusto. Or the people in the surrounding pews this morning that smiled every time he zoomed by. That childhood spirit-the spark that can be hard to hold onto as an adult- it brightens everyone’s life. You can’t help but allow the laughter to infect you when it comes from such a genuine and beautiful place. The unfettered joy of everything being interesting. My job is to keep him from danger. Teach him respect and help him protect and grow his gentle spirit. But more than that, my job is to follow him on any journey he allows me on. To never hesitate when his little hand grabs mine. For it doesn’t matter if I look like a fool to others, I look like his mom- the person he wants to share those experiences with- to him. And that is the greatest honor to hold.