Lent With a Four Year Old: Radical Self Love

Edie and I went to a great Children’s Service to celebrate Ash Wednesday this evening. Before I went I was hesitant because with my dad’s dying I feel I’ve had enough mortality reminders. However, it’s important to me for Edie to have a spiritual practice and we haven’t been to church in a few weeks.

So we went and it was just right. Being part of a Liturgical church means you do the same rituals and prayers over and over again. I find this comforting and reassuring. I also find that each time I participate I experience or learn something new.

This year I need Lent to be about self care, self love, and radical self acceptance. This was the message that resonated with me this evening. Maybe it will resonate with you and your family too.

Self Care

This is such a buzzword these days and as with all buzzwords this one can seem hollow and cliche. In a spiritual sense, self care is one that requires an investment of time and often patience. This Lent we are committed to taking care of ourselves by attending services, and being fully present for each other. It means that as a family we allow each other the time to do things that are nourishing: exercise, napping, meditation, running. We will take care of ourselves and we give each other space and time to do so as well.

Self Love

I want so desperately for Edie to love herself. This is always my top priority. In part, this is because this is one of my own struggles. In a Spiritual sense in the Christian Church we are reminded in Lent that we are claimed by God in our Baptism and that we are enough simply because of that. We are literally made of stardust. We are everything we need to be. We are beloved. This was what I explained to Edie tonight.

The cross on our forehead was a reminder not just of our mortality but that we are connected with the Earth and every person and thing that was ever alive. We are dust! (Said with enthusiasm and excitement and without somber dread). We don’t have to try and be anything that we are not. We are loved. In loving ourselves we do a better job of loving others, of forgiving others, of being grounded and connected with everyone and everything we meet.

Self Acceptance

Traditionally Lent is a time of sacrifice, confession, renewal, and reimagining. When we accept ourselves and teach our children to do so we accept that we are not perfect. We are enough but we all have things we can work on: being more kind, working harder for social justice, speaking up more about racism, welcoming transgender folks to our communities more, demanding healthcare for all, saving our planet from the effects of climate change. This Lent we should work at overcoming all of these “sins”.

However, we must accept that we are human. Our children are humans. Our spouses or partners are humans too. Everyone we come in contact with is. We accept and forgive others as we accept and forgive ourselves. Lent is a time to let our best and most authentic self feel love and acceptance even as we strive to improve.

This Lent I want to deepen my connection with my husband and Edie. I want to ground myself and feel connected to all life in the universe: past and present. I want to accept others for who they are. This Lent I want to make more room for love. This Lent I want Edie to know what it means to be accepted exactly for who she is and to love herself and everyone else a little bit more because of it.

Always Somewhere: Discussing Death With a Child

 

Edie and her other dad left town for a few days today, so I am home alone. This is a rare opportunity to relax, take long showers alone, listen to whatever music I want to listen to, and to lay around a bit in my pajamas in between cleaning and organizing projects. Thanks, Marie Kondo for making me feel like a failure of a homemakerhttps://konmari.com.I always feel a little anxious and sad when Edie and my husband are gone.

As previously confessed, I am a bit of a worrier and when they travel I am always a little worried about them while at the same time feeling guilty and simultaneously happy to have my own time. Parenting can be such an emotional roller coaster. I usually follow along with a flight tracking website to see where they are every little bit and am always relived when they land. Tim is very good at sending me pics and text updates. I like to know where they are, that they are somewhere out there. Being somewhere out there is a bit of the theme for this post.

I have talked a bit about my dad and his dying. He is still here on this plane or in this realm or whatever you choose to call this existence. He is still present. He sleeps most of the time and his communication is a bit loopy and confused, though often funny and insightful. To be totally honest this has been one of the hardest times I have had as a parent and as a person. The grief and sadness can knock me down at times and being a full-time stay at home dad doesn’t allow for much time to think, grieve, and process. My husband as always is everything and provides me lots of space, time, and support when he can.

I struggled a lot with how and what to tell Edie. I guess I am just a big ol’ WASP but for some reason I didn’t want her to know that my dad was dying. I wanted to protect her from it, I suppose. She has only met my dad a few times so it seemed unnecessary in a way. At the encouragement of many and with guidance I did talk to her about it and told her that I was sad. I told her that I was not going to see my dad again and that I had to say goodbye to him forever.

I explained that sometimes as we age or get a disease our bodies get very tired and they can’t do their job any more. I assured her that daddy and I were healthy and we try our best to take care of ourselves in order to be around for a long time. I also told her that I didn’t know what happened to us when we die. We like to be honest with Edie about the mysteries of life and spirituality and this is certainly one of them.

Yes, we are practicing Christians, but for me, at least, there is still no clear answer. I am not one of those literalist Christians (obviously) but I do believe in Resurrection, I just don’t know exactly how it works. Is it a physical one? A memory that lives? Isn’t every day a resurrection of sorts? Every season? Every kiss? I told Edie that Dad will still be somewhere out there, but also in my heart, forever, and in fact in hers too.

As always, Edie is the one to do the teaching and the explaining. One of these days I will learn to just ask her. She told me that since I was sad she could make me feel better by kissing me and hugging me and sitting with me. She is right. She can help me just by being here. That is how we all help each other. Perhaps that is part of resurrection.

When I was young I had a lot of trouble sleeping. Night time made me anxious and sad. I would feel safe though if someone was still up in the house doing something. I would wait and listen for my dad to light a cigarette. When I heard the sound of his lighter closing I knew that he was still up and I could rest easier. It made me more relaxed to know that my Dad was somewhere out there in the living room. I felt safer and less alone.

Soon, my dad’s texts will stop. His “good morning” and “just checking in” will be no more. He won’t be here anymore. What’s next is a mystery to all of us. I am holding on to hope that he will still be somewhere out there and that when I am feeling scared or alone I can still feel his presence, still existing somehow and somewhere. In the meantime I can sit with Edie and hold her and she can help with the sadness. Together, we can hope for resurrection. 

Update :

My dad died. It has been brutal at times. It’s has been peaceful and hopeful at times. Edie has been the biggest help of all through all of this. She has been insightful and supportive and kind. She asks me if I’m ok and will hug me and say “Are you sad today, Papa?” Edie makes new life possible. She is part of resurrection too.

 

Which Hat Will Santa Wear?

I love being the parent of a 3 3/4 year old.

Edie is interesting, funny, inquisitive, sensitive, and timid. One of the things that I love most are the questions that she has about the universe, life, and a plethora of other topics.

A few of the questions of late:

Why is the skin on the inside of my hand lighter than the outer side?

Where was I before I was born?

Why doesn’t Rufus have thumbs?

There have also been a lot of questions about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Santa Claus due to the season, of course. We were reading something about Saint Nick, who she assumed was in fact Santa Claus until she noticed his Bishops mitre. She wanted to know why the different hat. We tried to explain that he was a Bishop and that he and Santa were very similar, etc. She was very concerned with what hat he might wear to her house when he delivers her presents in a few days.

What hat will Santa wear?

This question had my head spinning a bit too as the different layers were pealed back: layers of history, religion, conquering, commercialism, and capitalism that are all mixed together along with individual family traditions to create this experience that we call Christmas. I am the kind of parent that wants to be able to help my child grapple with important questions and also provide some guidance. Having a child often makes us question practices and beliefs or to at least tighten them up a bit so our values are clear and represented.

What hat will Santa wear?

What is the essential message of Christmas? What do I want to get from it (or give to it)? What do I want Edie to get out of it (or give to it?)

I’ve always loved Christmas: the tree, the gifts, the smells, the coziness, the family, the candlelight church services. Many years on Christmas evening I’d end up worked into a panic attack because I was so overstimulated, overwhelmed, and depressed that it was over.

As I’ve aged, I still love Christmas. I love the lights, the gifts, the smells, the coziness, the family, and the church services. Even this year, with my father nearing his death, though it’s been hard, Christmas has helped to soften the blow (and intensify it at the same time).

What is it at it’s essence that makes it so magical? What hat will Santa wear?

For me it’s all about Hope and Radical Love. That is what I want Edie to get and give at Christmas. There is so much to despair about. Even today, millions of dollars were raised by fellow citizens who want to build a wall at our border with Mexico. (Apparently they’ve never read any of the Gospels). Our environment and planet are in major trouble and Edie will be around to bear the brunt of that future. My dog is getting old. My dad is so sick. One of my best friend’s mom’s cancer is back. There is so much to feel upset, angry, and disgusted about. And some days the hope is illusive. That’s why we need Christmas. We need Christmas to remind us that though it’s so dark, we can hang up lights and burn candles. We can reach out to our neighbors and refugees and love them. It’s simple and sappy but exactly what I need. It’s what we need. It’s what Edie needs.

What hat will Santa wear? I suppose the bishop’s ” hat” would be the most historically accurate. We are Episcopalians after all, and we will read the Christmas story from one the Gospels. When it comes down to it though, this man (historical or not) Jesus, that we celebrate and remember came to the world to stir some shit up: to hang out with outcasts, to despise wealth and excess, to forgive and reconcile, to love and empower. He taught us in spite of it all to have Hope.

What choice do we have? We can choose misery I suppose. That would be easy enough and probably the most logical. However, neither St. Nick or Santa Claus seem to be overly concerned with logic and ease. Giving away wealth and other gifts to children and those in need as Saint Nicholas or flying around the world in a night gifting toys to children everywhere as Santa Claus both require a bit of Hope and Love.

What hat will Santa wear? I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have hope, love without fear, challenge institutions and injustices, and keep the light burning in the darkness. It’s what I want Edie to get out of Christmas. It’s what I hope she can give to the world.

Privilege and Thanksgiving

I have never been a Thanksgiving person.  I do not actively oppose Thanksgiving, and I do love a good table setting and an excuse to use fine china and heirloom silver, but it has just never been my thing.  In part, I think it is because I have always loved Christmas and have sort of thought as Thanksgiving as a day to check off so we can get to the main, more glitzy, event. Thanksgiving has always seemed a bit blah, gray, and I don’t know, boring?  Like many things in life my husband has changed my perspective gradually over the years.  He loves Thanksgiving.  He loves the low-key vibe of it all, and he loves to feed those that he loves.  He loves the rest and simplicity of it all.

 

I think I too have always been acutely aware of my privilege at Thanksgiving.  I have so much. I have time, clothing, shelter, and food in excess. Compared to many other people I share this planet with I am so rich and so full.  Much of this “stuff” that I have is simply due to being born where and when I was born.  I am white.  I am a man.  I am upper middle class.  I am an American.  Of course, it would seem that I have much to be thankful for to some, but that seems almost showy and braggy in a way.  I struggle with how to be grateful for the things and experiences I have while still being mindful, and angry, about those denied so many often in my name and in the name of my country or religion.  Classic over-thinker? Perhaps.

 

But, here comes Edie Daring and my life perspective changes in so many ways, obviously.  And what is that feeling that I seem to have more and more every day?  Gratitude. Thankfulness.  That feeling that this life is enough.  As we struggle with all the ins-and-outs of parenting and the responsibility of trying to raise a strong woman who is also a good person, one thing that seems very important in that process is teaching her to be thankful and grateful.  For it seems, one way to actually counteract in a way all of this privilege and often excess, is to learn to be grateful and happy and thankful with the ordinary and the mundane as well as the enormous and immeasurable.  One way to be happy with where you are in every moment is to be thankful.  This does not let us off the hook.  We can still be mindful of privilege and injustice and the evil of greed and power and be thankful at the same time.  Thankfulness softens us a bit and makes it a little easier to persevere in health against all the growing inequities in the world today. Thankfulness gives us hope.

 

I was struck recently at church about the lack of thanksgiving.  During our liturgy in the Episcopal church there is a part where we pray (duh). Specifically we offer our prayers of supplication and then prayers of thanksgiving.  Basically, we ask God (the universe, higher power, Light, Love) for stuff on our behalf and on the behalf of others. There then comes a time when we say what we are thankful for or what we want to thank God for.  We always seem to have a long list of out-loud asks for God, often folks that are ill.  This is great! However, when it comes time to say the things for which we are thankful it is often quiet.  Now, I am sure many people, like myself, name things in our heart. Edie and Tim always are first in mine.  I bet too that many people struggle with naming gratitude out loud.  Thanksgiving is a chance to do that.  Thanksgiving Day gives us a day to be vocal and say out loud those things for which we are thankful, and to not be embarrassed about it, for whatever reason.

 

Thanksgiving seems to reassure us that we have enough. We are enough. The Earth is enough. Love is enough.  A perfect transition into the season of Hope that is the Holiday season, I suppose.  Also, thanksgiving is a way to perhaps curb our excess and want for those of us that systematically have too much and as a reminder to work for justice and fairness economically for those that are without. Edie reminds me every single day of the importance of gratitude for everything.  She has a cold right now and is a terrible sleeper when she is sick.  I spent most of the night in a rocking chair keeping her upright so she could breathe.  This morning I am thankful for that (at 3 a.m. I confess I was not) because I have been told that some day I will miss those days.  Edie and Tim and I all love each other unconditionally and if ever there was anything to be thankful for that is at the top of the list.

 

Like many things in parenting, Edie is the one actually teaching us.  As we worry about teaching her to be grateful and thankful and thus a “good person” she is already a step ahead of us and is helping us to catch up.  We just have to shut up and let it happen.

 

Edie is thankful for strawberries.  Edie is thankful for leaves of every color, and snow, and puddles, and thrift shop baby clothes for her baby dolls.  Edie is thankful for her dog, Rufus, her sandbox, friends Noah and Ebba, and for maple syrup.  Edie is thankful for music, cartwheels, trampolines, and for salami.  Edie is thankful for chickens, seagrass, the ocean, and for her family.  Edie is thankful for Mars, her blanket out of the warm dryer, the woods, and her scooter.  Her list and her gratitude goes on and on and on.  Because of her, mine does too.  I am okay with that and look forward to a day of relishing in that.

Happy Thanksgiving.