When explaining why she brings her son to church, Anne Lamott says this:
“The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want–which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy–are people with a deep sense of spirituality . They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians–people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.” -Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
I bring my kids to church so that they can follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle. But sometimes I have to follow a brighter light than the glimmers of my kids’ candles when I am at the end of my parenting rope. That’s one reason why I bring MYSELF to church. Please never forget that even though you put your kids ahead of you all the time because you love them sacrificially and wholly, your spiritual development is more important than your kids’. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to trust me that this is true until you know it deep in your bones. You need to apply your own oxygen masks before you apply your kids’, just like on the plane.
My kids are the lights of my lives, just as your kids are the lights of your’s. I try to remind myself of that after a long day listening to whining about how “boring” the MFA is, and how “I NEED EGGIES/ORANGE JUICE/CRACKERS RIGHT NOW”, even though I know that none of those items will be eaten once they are brought to the table.
Last night, after a complain-y, tantrummy day at the MFA, and many disappointing mealtimes, the lights in our house went out right around bedtime. There was suddenly no power because of a neighborhood snafu in some electrical box somewhere. This was enough to send my kids into an excitedhyperwhineycrying explosion of tired jumpy mess. My two-year old just keeps getting more “two” lately. This power outage was enough to put her “two” into hyper drive.
I lay helplessly and silent on the couch saying to myself, “maybe if I just lie here drinking tea they won’t see me and they will eventually find their way up the dark stairs and put themselves to bed.” I give up on parenting sometimes like this because I can’t summon up the chutzpah. I hide in the dark having a conversation with myself. “Do I have to get up? Maybe they will become more independent if I let them figure out how to find their way upstairs in the dark by themselves.” This justifying and bargaining with myself lasts for 5 minutes or 20, not enough for someone to call CPS to press neglect charges against me or anything, but enough for my sweetie to get significantly annoyed with me.
In those moments, I’m just following the light of my own candle, and its burning at both ends. In those moments, I forget that nobody, not even mommy (especially not mommy), can find their way upstairs in the dark by themselves.
In those moments, I need something. I need to check in with God to come back out of my “Calgon take me away” moments. And God reminds me of my pledge to love my children even at their most unloveable, and to come back into the world. My prayers are not all that gracious and loving. “Lord, grant me the courage to get up off of this couch and shepherd my children to their beds even though they are acting like wild boars, and I have to call the electric company and drink more tea and think about Very Important Adult Things. Parenting is tiring and frustrating and sometimes more boring than the MFA, God.” And God says to me, “Robin, your job is to help provide your children a path and a little light to see by. You are only human and doing your best, and you can do this too. Of course you have to help them ascend a dark staircase with a flashlight. That’s your job.” In these moments, powered only by faith and duty, I get up off the couch and try to raise them in a way that lets them know that even if I check out sometimes with a smart phone or a blank stare or a nap, I am present, and my love is patient and kind.
So, I follow them up the stairs to their room, and my two-year old holds the flash light, screaming at my 6-year-old every time she tries to yank it out of her sister’s hands. And I roll my eyes heavenward at God. But I sing them songs from the 1980s movie “Fame”, and tuck them in anyway.
My two-year old has never been a “normal” blankie stuffed animal type. She likes her transitional objects to be small plastic non-cuddly toys. I don’t know what this says about her development. As a younger toddler, she had to sleep with three pacifiers–one in her mouth and one in each hand. Last night, she wanted to sleep with the hard plastic flashlight. I’m sure the fact that the whole world was dark all of a sudden made her yearn for what little light she could cling to. And we all do that when the world is dark, don’t we; cling to the light?
So we Bartlett Barraza girls FOUGHT OVER THE ONLY LIGHT WE HAD.
We had forgotten for a moment to share it. That we were all in this dark house together.
My 6-year-old, having realized that my 2-year-old was not going to give up the flashlight, gave her three glow-in-the-dark plastic stars to hold while she slept as an alternative. And my 2-year-old was delighted. She would not go to sleep until every star was wedged between her two fists. She was also so grateful for her sister’s kindness. When we said our evening prayers, my 2-year-old began loudly so God could hear, “Dear God, I’m thankful for my stars, and my sister, and my glories, and my powers.”
I cursed those stars all night last night, as they were the source of my sleeplessness. Every time my two-year old woke up in the middle of the night, she screamed incessantly until I came upstairs and found every single one of her plastic stars, so she could ball them back up in her fist and sleep. Once I was awake, I would lie awake in my bed for hours, the song “Stars” from Les Miserables stuck in my head on repeat.
Today, I feel grateful for my oldest child for sharing those stars with her sister. That night, they were my littlest one’s only source of light, her protection and strength. Her sister, her glories, and her powers were all wrapped up in those little plastic choking objects. This is why I bring my kids up religious. So that they have symbols to cling to in the middle of the night when their worlds are dark and scary. So they have little sacred objects that they share with one another to drive fear away. So they will follow a brighter light than the flicker of their own candles with purpose, heart, gratitude and joy.
And I bring myself up religious so I can power through the terrible twos. I bring myself up religious because we are all in this dark house together. I bring myself up religious because I can’t ascend a dark staircase by myself; not without light. I bring myself up religious so I may remember these lessons when I am awake at 3:30 am with a screaming toddler, searching her room for stars.
I spared you from the Russell Crowe version of this song. You’re welcome.