I have dubbed Moose the ambassador of Mass. He takes an unabashed joy in trying to make friends with any individual seated within his vicinity. He will climb onto the pew for better access to those seated behind us. He will slide to his left or right to greet those beside us. He waves, babbles, giggles, and plays peek-a-boo with anyone that will return any amount of awareness. Especially other kids. My little monster finds everyone interesting. His curiosity knows no bounds. What are their snacks? Do they have a book or toy with them? Will they return a wave if I initiate contact? What about a fist bump? Can we make each other laugh? Do they know about the fantastic echo of this place? I will demonstrate, just in case they don’t! The things is, it works every time. His smile is infectious. Even to the people that I fear will not appreciate his lack of respect for personal space. Be warned, if you share a pew with us, my child will touch you at some point in the service. And it will be intentional.
Last Sunday was no exception. Seated next to us was a beautiful, young family. Corralled between the parents sat two girls with bronze skin and black hair that cascaded down their shoulders. My guess, they were about 7 and 4. Perched on the woman’s lap was a chubby baby boy, about 11 months old. I think Moose identified with his cheeky grin, for my little man was enamored. He attempted to share his snacks and broached conversation via babble. He even mimicked my one-finger wave to the cherub. The mother and I exchanged smiles- the kind that spreads across your face into your eyes. The genuine smile of contentment.
All the while my son was fixated on the little man, one of the girls had become taken with Moose. The older girl was quiet and reserved. She took in her surroundings and shot her little sister irritated glances periodically. It was the younger of the two that campaigned for Moose’s attention. She wound her body around her mother and little brother to get near him. She tried to capture his gaze by putting her face on his level. She demonstrated small acts of acrobatics utilizing the pew ahead of us, glancing in our direction to see if it summoned a smile.
Toward the end of the service, as we impounded our mobile monsters, we caught each others’ eye. It is the knowing glance exchanged by fellow parents. I think dog owners share a similar look. It’s like the clubs’ secret handshake. Once fellowship is established, verbal contact is granted. The bouncer of the club allows you admittance. She spoke first. With an honest smile, she told me my son was adorable. I reciprocated in like kind. Not because it was polite, but because I genuinely meant it. Her son was precious. But not just her son. All of her children had brought me joy that morning.
She let out an exasperated laugh when I complimented her girls. This correlated with the one-arm stronghold she was trying to ensnare her daughter with, carefully avoiding the baby balanced on her lap. She said the perfunctory “thank you”. The next words that slipped out of her mouth were laced with love, but they mean so much more than the phrase she said. She gazed at her rambunctious child, now protected by her arm, and said “she’s a mess,” with a subtle shake of her head. This is a description I use often. The words form in my mouth easily and without conscious thought. The phrase holds more meaning than the four words strung together. They aren’t just a mess. They are strong willed. Independent. Remarkable. Exhilarating. Exasperating. Resilient. And so much more than words can cover. They are a mess. The most beautiful mess.
I returned her grin. And assured her mine was a mess, too. She wasn’t alone. I could have left it there. We would have filed out of our pew to continue our days, not seeing each other again. But words were bubbling up in my throat. They desired to be released into the atmosphere.
“It means that she won’t lose her voice. She is going to change the world”
I hope the words touched her the way I meant them to. My words were heartfelt. I do believe that she will shake the foundations, bringing the world to it’s knees. As a child, she had a charisma that most adults crave. But there was a tenderness to her. I think most of the kids we dub ‘messes’ are that way. It’s how they posses the uncanny talent of pushing you to the absolute brink of sanity. They know when your body is teetering on the edge and they know exactly how to rescue you before you tip over the edge. Their intention is not to exasperate you. They just have too much curiosity and courage to restrain. Exploring their world is their driving force. Learning to navigate it themselves. Determining when and where they can influence their environment and circumstances. And they love you with every atom that exists within them. They love as fiercely and courageously as they explore and experience their world.
That’s the thing. Though they can create an exhaustion within you that permeates your bones, you don’t want to hinder their spirit. Never endeavor to dampen their affection or exploration. The very traits that can make them challenging as children are exactly what will make them extraordinary as adults. It’s what will give them the courage to stand up to injustice. The gumption to mold the world into a better place. It’s how they will move mountains. We just have to survive them long enough to get them to adulthood.