When I went to pick up my boys from Vacation Bible School at our little Episcopal church yesterday, the teacher pulled me aside.
“I just wanted to let you know,” she said, before pausing, “that your son asked the other kids in his class to call him Meatball. Should we be concerned?”
Bulldozing the nativity set and throwing plastic baby Jesus on the floor might warrant a concern.
Pocketing the $10.16 his class collected for clean water around the world to buy a new Lego set probably means a sit down with Father Rich.
But asking his classmates to call him Meatball? Not so much of a concern.
When it comes to parenting, I’m still somewhat of a novice. Although I’ve managed to keep two small humans alive for nearly six years, I’m still learning what it means to respond and not react when a three-year old and a five-year old decide to flood the yard with sprinkler water, dig a hole in the middle of said yard, and track their muddy bodies onto my freshly-mopped kitchen floor.
Sometimes, if I’m in a good space, I take a deep breath before words come tumbling out of my mouth.
Sometimes, if I’m not in so much of a good space, I yell. Or I just silently point. Or I walk upstairs to avoid the situation altogether because no part of me wants to Adult that day.
I think about parenting, about how even if you read all the right books and listen to all the really wise teachers and learn how to take deep breaths through nightly practices of yoga, that you’re still ultimately unprepared for size eleven mud prints trekked across clean kitchen floors.
And I also don’t think life itself is all that different.
We can call ourselves smart or well-educated; we can have the right degrees or know all the right people or read all the right books. We can have the experience to back up our stories or we can adopt a posture of learning or we can be the superstar of our religious tradition, and still – still – life will throw us the curviest of curveballs.
Like, curving in from so far out in left field you didn’t even think the ball was in play anymore.
We unexpectedly lose our job.
We find out a loved one has stage IV cancer.
We witness injustices, over and over again, amongst our brothers and sisters of color.
We watch our children struggle.
We feel our own bodies, once so resilient, unable to bounce back, unable to function without pain.
We experience deep loneliness.
We mourn the loss of people and places, of halcyon days when life was just easier.
And we wonder where God is in the midst of it, when believing in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit doesn’t seem as easy as it did when we were children.
But it’s here, against all odds, that I’m learning to color outside the lines.
It’s here that I’m learning to be, to rewrite the narrative, to start from the ground up. It’s here that I’m learning to let my son call himself Meatball if a little bit of ground turkey or beef rolled into a ball is what his ears need to hear that day. And it’s here that I’m learning to take the expectations and the ideas and the thoughts of How Life is Supposed to Go and What’s Should Happen When I Become a Grown Up and This is the Ten-Point Trajectory of Life’s Direction, and throw it out the window.
For here I begin to test the boundaries, to tell a new story, to sing a new song.
Here, I let my crayon scribble beyond where I think it’s supposed to go as I shed my tongue of all the should’s.
Here, I find new life.
So I ask, is it the same for you?