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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