Seeing God and the World through the eyes of my child.
How does a “good Christian mother” explain to her three-year-old child the concept of Easter? “Gee honey, you know to be Jesus who loves you and who runs around hugging children? Well, people killed him. Well, not just people. Actually we did, because we sin. Well, sin is… well… I killed him and you killed him because of the bad things you and I do. Well, they/I/you just didn’t kill him, they flogged him, made him carry this heavy wooden cross up the hill on his bloody, swollen back and then they nailed him up there to die a slow painful death. Don’t get it Junior? Let’s just put in the DVD of Mel Gibson’s movie. Oh and then behold, he comes out of the cave three days later and everyone is happy! Here’s a Chocolate bunny and a marshmallow peep. God Loves You”.
It is an interesting process being a parent. Nothing can describe the heights and depths of the joy and fury. Who knew that the dichotomy of the birth process would be carried out in the entire role in a lifetime, pain and love, anguish and exhaustion and elation … pure innocence coupled with … bodily fluids. This is the story Easter, pain and joy.
Let me explain further. I began to realize the challenge with Easter last year. Christmas was always easy. Baby Jesus with animals looking on by a nice loving couple. That I can translate in a developmentally appropriate way. And if not, at least the presents and the food are enough distraction to send the message that this whole Jesus thing is a pretty good deal. Easter, on the other hand, has a bit more challenge. Death and Life. How do you explain these things to someone who only two years ago did not understand that the thing whacking them in the head was their own hand?
I made a bold attempt last year when my son was two. Easter came. I presented my son with his Easter basket. In it was a stuffed bunny from Target, artfully and urbanely trendy, fitting with my LA mom “Yes I pushed a child out of my body and its never going to be the same and I can’t stay up past nine o clock at night but I’m still cool because look at my child’s accessories, kind of mom”. I realized as my child was holding the bunny that I had not explained to him Easter and that we would be going to church in an hour. I said, “You know son, Easter is really about Jesus”. Proud of my holiness and “Good Christian” mom-ness I stood back and watched the cogs turn in his head. He looked at the bunny. He looked at me. Then he declared while holding up the bunny for me to see, “His name is Jesus!” Perfect. My son made the only logical conclusion … that Jesus is furry, blue and has a strange fetish with carrots. We call the Bunny Jesus (Spanish pronunciation) now.
This year, my son went to Sunday school and heard the story of Palm Sunday. He came parading out with a bunch of other big-headed kids waving palm branches. Immediately, I felt a surge of satisfaction. My son has participated in a long time institution, Sunday School. I myself had mostly missed out. But the satisfaction I was chewing had a slight aftertaste and I was nagged by another feeling: reservation. Where is the real meaning of all this? Later in the day, my husband asked our son about Sunday school. He told us “There was a man who was eaten by a BIG WHALE (doe-eyes popping and arms spread out in wonder)”. We both laughed nervously and said, “but he was ok, right honey?” (remembering how long it has taken our son to get over his fear of whales). Then our son said, “And Jesus went into a cave and came out again. And he DIED (same look of wonder)”. My husband and I nodded. I felt ok with this until our son began playing and running around the room declaring that he was DEAD. “And alive again, right honey” my husband and I called out nervously.
In the end, I come to the resting place of the follow thoughts: maybe my job is to hold my child’s hand through the highs and lows of life, the pain and joy of the story of Christ. I’ll hold him as he tries to make sense of the horrors of life, such as the consequences of faulty governments and war. And I’ll hold his hand as he visits the joys in life, like playing with puppies or as he experiences the elation of the perfect pecan pie warmed with a side of vanilla ice-cream or, dare I dream, the thrill of a Sondheim musical.
On the flip side, I soundly firmly believe my child has more to teach me about God because no one has loved me as intensely and unconditionally as he does. I am in constant awe and experience purity in such an intense way on a daily basis. This little sprout of a person has an uncanny ability to just state the facts, unfettered and unhindered by guilt and shame. When observing the cigarette butts, fast food wrappers, condoms and unidentifiable yucky things on the ground on a street corner in Los Angeles, my son stated in his Brainy Smurf tone, “Oh, people shouldn’t throw away their trash on the street”. Then he declared sincerely, “God should tell the people to pick up their trash”. Plain and simple. Let the children come and lead the way and throw your shit in the trash can.
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