Gentle Parenting in Plain Sight

July 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

Galatians 5:22-23

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
We enter Saint S— from the back door and then come in at the front of the nave (sanctuary, for you non-Episcopalians). When we walked in today, we were greeted by a flash of smiles spread throughout the room. Those bright faces have made a home for us at Saint S—, a rest from the world outside. That is why we come to Saint S—, to recharge our batteries and bolster our spirits for another week on our own mission of love.

From my place on my knees two little feet entered my sphere. My son’s tiny toes, nails trimmed with two straight, quick snips, were framed by foot-shaped green flip flops.

“Mama??” came his sweet whisper, “Can I sit with my friend?”

“Which friend?” I asked him.

“The one who showed me those moves, you know, the one with the ball that has all the lights.”

I had no idea who he meant.

“J, if you go sit with someone else you need to be very quiet, ok? So they can pray? When people are in church they need to concentrate and pray. Can you sit with them quietly? And when you need to say something, remember to use whispers?”

“Sure!” came his excited answer.

“Ok,” I said. “And remember to walk, ok?”

“OK!” came his whispered exclamation. A few running steps turned into a walk as he disappeared down the side aisle.

I listened for him, but heard nothing. Where were his friends? Outside? Up a tree? There was always at least a little rustle around him. Then, from the back of the church, a tiny whisper traced its finger across the silence. There he was.

He sat with his friends for the entire service. Turns out, they were people from our confirmation class. He has grown very fond of Mike, whose easy open way makes lots of room for J. I gave a few looks to the back. Mike smiled and pointed to his tiny companion. Sounds of peace let me know that all was ok. I returned to prayer.

When it was time for communion, I went up alone. That hadn’t happened since J and I started going to church. As I knelt at the rail, my heart felt behind me. His silence was wound in with the music, contentment and adventure being brought through his devotion to God.Without my guidance, would he make it to the altar?

From my place back in our pew, I looked for him. I found him in line for communion between our two friends. My heart pressed up, pushing out my tears. My beautiful child. When it was his turn he took his place at the rail, little hands out and waiting. Tears streaked my face as I watched him. I’d never seen him from this point of view. His chubby little cheeks flexed as he chewed the bread. His mouth strained forward to sip the wine. It was all his own. He connected to his creator and his community of friends in worship and renewal. My child. God’s child.

The man he knelt next to walked by me in my reverie. I grabbed him with both hands as he passed, my eyes reaching for his. “David!” I choked, “Isn’t he beautiful! Isn’t he such a beautiful soul!”

My son’s devotion to God and church is very moving to me. His newness and tenderness is cradled in a deep love for peace and compassion. I have so much respect for the depth of his spirit, which has always been the oldest part of him. From the day he was born, something different showed in his eyes. Since then, I have watched it seek out the world.

hebrew alphabet poster

J at three-day-old


After communion, he sought me out. “Come on, Mama! Come sit with the friends! You are welcome to join us!” Half delirious with emotion, I followed. In the pew, I dropped onto the old, familiar comfort of a kneeler. It felt strange after many months on the floor in our family pew. My heart was on God, but on God as experienced through my son. Every breath was a wisp of magic as I joined him in his experience. Invited in. My cup was running over.

At the end of the service, Mike and Lucy turned towards the door. J wasn’t used to this. What about coffee hour? We still had more time together, right? But Mike and Lucy were going home to a busy day. They melted into the crowd and were gone.

“NO!” my little one cried. “I still want to be with them! Where are they going! I need to know!”

I looked into his pained face for an instant, then I grabbed his hand and we ran. From my taller place, I could see they were approaching the corner. My son and I, both with bare feet, tore for the door. Team Q! Catching up with our friends!

“LUCY! MIKE!” I called. They stopped and turned, surprised.

My sweet one let them know how much he was enjoying them, how much he wanted it to continue. They let him know that their day was busy and they really needed to go. And they did.

J collapsed in my arms. “No…” he sobbed. “I need to be with them and I WILL be with them! I will!”

I picked him up and carried him to coffee hour as he wept. I whispered to him as we walked. “You love your friends. You love to be with them! You want to be with them all day. It is hard to say goodbye. You don’t want to say goodbye. You want to be with them and be with them and be with them. I am so sorry they had to go.”

I talked at coffee hour with my child in my arms. He is four and kind of heavy, but my shoulder was wet with his tears. He was ready to be put down. I continued to whisper my words of comfort as I talked to a few friends. One dear friend, Cathy, listened with a face of compassion as I explained J’s unusual state. She is so good, so kind. It was hard to connect with what she was telling me about her upcoming absence from church with my little one still crying silently into my chest, but our souls were entwined as we stood there. In her face, I saw it all. Love, understanding, empathy and respect. The lessons I hope for my own parenting were being given back to me. Nourishment.

Finally, my arms got tired. I sat down on the floor with my child still pressed into my shoulder. I gave him more of what he needed, more understanding, more patience and more love. Finally, his head came up and he looked at me.

“Mama,” came his tear-strained voice, “you know what I want to do? Go for a walk!”

It was hot and getting hotter, but our town has a lot of shady trees along its streets. We got some water, some snacks, and I braced myself for the road. My sweet one needed cheering. How could I say no.

On our way to the door, we met one of the elderly women from our congregation. She stopped us to ask me about my stretched ears. As J listened to us converse, he raised his tank top over his head and then snapped it back down over his face with a smile. A few more times he snapped it, and then our companion erupted.

“NO!” she boomed.

I froze.

“NO! You do not take your shirt off in church! I am going to DISCIPLINE you!”

I couldn’t move for a second. Then I heard the crackles. They were coming from inside. It was the sound of her rapid chill thawing against the heat of my rising anger.

I used the tools I have learned from gentle parenting to calm myself quickly.

“No,” I said evenly, “You won’t. I am his mother. That is not your place.”

Her upset was irrepressible. “You don’t take your shirt off in church!” She didn’t address me. She was looking down into the face of my tiny, fragile child.

“He is FOUR,” I told her. “He is doing nothing wrong.”

“A few weeks ago he had his shirt off in church!” came her curt retort.

She was right. He did.

“I remember that,” I told her. “The collar on his shirt was stiff and was hurting him. He asked to take it off and I did. There is nothing  wrong with that. He is FOUR. It was hurting. I am not going to force him to wear something that is hurting.”

Honestly, I don’t remember the final words of this conversation. But I do remember a small, happy hand holding mine as we walked away. I remember gratitude for that tiny anchor, and I remember feeling the deepest of gratitude for the kind of relationship I have with my son, one that allows for him to choose a walk to lift himself on a sweltering afternoon. Or one that let’s him remove an uncomfortable shirt in church.

At some point on the walk, we both wore out.

“Mama, it is too hot to walk! I’m tired!” I knew this was probably the case before we started out, but he didn’t. In the process of his learning, we had enjoyed an amazing afternoon of conversation. Across the street, I saw someone selling local, seasonal berries. “Berries!” I cried, “Just what we need to keep going!”

With a small container of raspberries and one of marion berries, we pressed on. Sweet bursts of flavor punctuated our steps and we talked of our luck and gratitude. Cutting through a park, we saw a homeless man ahead. We were carrying two small containers of the sweetest berries I had ever had. I felt a force from within grab my arms and lead me. The berries were extended beneath his gaze.

His eyes met mine with surprise, and he blinked. “Thank you!” he said as he ate one.

Impulse grabbed me. “Hold out your hand,” I told him. He did, and I filled it with berries from our containers. Each movement of my hand felt like a lick of energy, a jolt that filled my entire being.

The man looked into his hand with grateful surprise, and then up at my face. Our eyes held one another in a flash moment of seeking; a touch was passed . I put my hand on his head. The words I said so often in church came out.

“God’s Peace”

“And to you,” he said, holding my eyes.

As we walked on, I didn’t feel the same. The impulse that had guided me was just that. Impulse. Its energy was still moving through me. I was keenly aware of my son’s eyes on me when I acted, and I felt a force beyond me move. J looked up at me. “Why did you give the man those berries, Mama?”

“Jesus told me to,” I said.

“Did he really?”

“Yes. I felt myself doing it without thinking. Jesus tells us to love each other. To give to each other. To take care of each other. When we do that for each other, we do it for Christ. That is what we are here for, on this earth. To love each other. Now, with each berry that man eats, he tastes God’s love inside of it. Isn’t that awesome?”

My child erupted in a fit of giggles. He leaped from the ground, twisting in the air.

“Yeah, Mama! That’s GREAT! WOW!”

“We’re almost there, babe!” I told him. “I knew we would make it! Team Q! Getting back to the car!” I turned my face to the sun and cried, “Hallelujah!”

“Hallelujah!” my tiny guru shouted.

And then,with his sweet berry-covered lips, he kissed my hand.

J strapping his "son", Jeremy, into the car. Jeremy is often mistaken for a real baby, but he is stuffing and plastic.

J strapping his “son”, Jeremy, into the car. Jeremy is often mistaken for a real baby, but he is stuffing and plastic.

Galatians 5: 25
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

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Slow to Anger

June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

James 1:19

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 

I like kneeling in church. At Saint Ann’s, there were many parts of the service where we knelt. At our new church, there are only a few; still, I kneel at all the points in the service where I did back at Saint Ann’s. i feel more prayerful, sure; but I also feel more connected to the energy that first brought me into the Episcopalian fold.

Our pew at Saint S— is wide. It is a special pew for families, right up front. Rather than a kneeler, there is a wide space with a carpet runner for children to play during services. A basket full of toys sits on the floor, along with a tote full of crafting supplies. Children’s books generously donated by Mother K’s son sit next to hymnals and prayer books in the racks.

As I kneel, secreted in the curtain of my long hair, little cars make roads around me. Chubby hands push crumpled bits of glue covered paper beneath the veil. Sometimes, the privacy of my meditative curtain is pushed aside, and two dark brown eyes light up the space beneath.

“Mama? Mama?? Can you hear me? Watch this!” comes the small, urgent whisper of my son, He is reaching through the foil. He has found me.

My boy loves this set-up. This is the perfect mix for a kid like him. At once deeply spiritual, and yet only four, he can be four and still be a part of church. When Mother K moves down the aisle, he stops playing and moves toward her. If the time is right, she puts out her hand and he joins the procession.

Last summer, after the storm that changed our lives, we spent a few months living at Saint Ann’s. One late night my then 3 1/2-year-old son asked me, “Mama, can I be the one who stands up front and teaches about love and peace?”

I think I stopped breathing for a few small seconds.

“You mean the priest?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “I want to teach about love and peace. I want to be the one to give the communion.”

Since then, he has continued to tell me this. Whenever he can get involved more deeply in the services at Saint S—, he does. Bits of folded paper pile up around me, beads and feathers in my hands and shoes, but when Mother K moves, his energy shifts. He is ready to be mini-priest whenever he can.

Some at church are delighted by this. They can see his passion and they marvel at it. When he sprinkles them with holy water and unrelenting joy, the blessed drops fall like a living rain. “Your son!” they say to me during coffee hour, “He’s really something! He’s just so beautiful! So radiant!”

I don’t take credit for it. I am just as amazed at they. “He’s different,” I say to them, “He has a light inside.”

“Yes!” they say, “He shines!”

hearts with your hands

hearts with your hands

For some, a shine is dazzling. For some, it hurts the eyes. And ears. And any other sense that is touched by a child who is small, and four, and not completely still.

My son doesn’t sit in the pew next to me. He may crawl under it to get to a friend, or down the side isle to get to another. In our church, there are very few children. The few there are spend church in the nursery. J doesn’t want to be in the nursery. He wants to be with me, and he wants to be a part of the service.

We are a gentle parenting family. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that I am o.k. with him crawling down the side aisle, as long as others are not unduly disturbed in their worship. It means that I expect from my four-year-old boy behavior appropriate for a four-year-old boy, which doesn’t include sitting still in a seat in silence for 40 minutes. It means that no matter what I hope he will do or what I wish he would do, that I first consider what is developmentally appropriate before I respond.

And when I respond, it means I won’t respond with punishments. And I won’t respond with rewards (or bribes, whatever you might call them). I talk to my son like I want others to talk to me. I give weight to his position, his feelings, and realize that our priorities are probably not the same. We work for balance between us, and solutions that work for us as a team, not just forced compliance for the sake of saving public face.

Which is great for us as a family. We are Team Q, and we tackle everything together. When I need help, I call on Team Q. My sweet son never refuses to help me when I need him. He wipes tables, puts away dishes, folds clothes (that I usually refold later) and rushes to be a part of anything that needs to be done for the sake of the The Team.

I listen to him. What he wants matters. It matters that he needs to fold paper, or that he needs squish glue. As long as, in church, he can do it at a low volume, with respect to others, I call that harmony.

Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I have also heard from a minority at our church that my son and I spend too much time together (Attachment Parenting) and that his activity in church requires Discipline.

Just this past Sunday, I asked a friend at church if she had some beginner piano books to lend. My sweet budding priest is also a budding musician. In great kindness, she gave us a set of books for him to explore.

As we stood there talking my son was losing his patience. He had already spent an hour in church, an hour after church, had helped wash the dishes and was ready to play outside. He is four. And really, that is a pretty long day for four.

As she and I talked, J pulled on my sleeve. “Just a minute,” I said. She was talking about Discipline. I felt my face getting hot. I was anxious to finish my conversation and make my point.

I am very aware of how some people view my son. When he exhibits normal impatience, my own impatience starts to rise and I can forget my Gentle Parenting Credo. Instead of telling my ADULT friend, who is practiced in waiting, to wait, I asked my tiny son: WAIT.

“I have home schooled students,” said our friend. “I don’t know what this one mother does, but when she tells her kids to stop they will stop on a dime. Children need to be disciplined.”

My sleeve got longer as my adult friend told me how important discipline was for children. My embarrassment grew with my sleeve as I asked J again to Wait.

“Are you saying J lacks Discipline?” I heard myself say, through my haze of discomfort and impatience.

My mind was too mucky to really hear my friend or my son. I was stuck in the vile place of parenting sin and parenting shame, looking like a bad mother to her and acting like a bad mother to my son.

“Mama! Please! Come see this!”

Different priorities. Now, he was making small, punctuated growls. And I was trying to make a point.

I don’t even remember what she said. But as she made her Grand Point, I was hit by a small, black shoe.


She walked away, and I turned to my son. My connection button was disconnected. I was overstimulated. I could no longer think.


I stood in shock for a second, and then said no. I chose the no over losing my cool. I chose it over venting. I said no, and I walked to the door.

Behind me came a flurry of tiny feet, and a tearful voice shouting, “MAMA!”

I stopped.

My little guru shouted through his tears, “We need to Stop and HUG, right now! Do it!”

And there it was. The clarity of gentle parenting. The clarity of scripture. The clarity of all that matters at the center of our lives. Love.

I stopped. I hugged. I reconnected. I found our center.

I looked into the face of my remarkable child.

“Mama,” he said, “Let’s try again.

And in this expression of God’s grace, we did.


James 3:17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

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