The novelty of summer is wearing thin. For two glorious weeks my children frolicked in the freedom they had to sleep in, lounge around the inflatable pool, and cruise bikes back and forth across our sidewalk. But then suddenly, and without warning, I felt eight, glazed-over eyeballs peering into my back as I cleared the kitchen table of breakfast dishes. “Can I help you?” I asked, squeezing myself between the wall of kids blocking access to the sink.
“May we watch T.V.?” they begged.
“No, it’s a beautiful day. Why don’t you play outside?” I suggested.
“There’s nothing to do!” they whined. And then I cringed, knowing exactly what was coming up next. “We’re bored!”
Already? I couldn’t believe it. There was an attic full of toys, a garage packed out with scooters, wagons, and sidewalk chalk, there were baskets of crayons, glitter glue, and construction paper all at their disposal. Interestingly, however, my gut reaction was to speedily “fix” the horrific situation of my family not feeling entertained. I offered all kinds of warm weather solutions, from a sprinkler run to inviting over friends that lived nearby.
“Everybody is out of town,” Elijah argued, “and it stinks playing all by ourselves.” Halfway through wondering what fantastic vacation our entire neighborhood had ventured on without us, I finally came to my senses. Looking down at the jean shorts and t-shirt I hurriedly threw on that morning, rather than a crisp white uniform with anchor patches on the sleeves, I remembered that I was not, in fact, a cruise director. And that planning round-the-clock, fun filled activities was, thankfully, not part of my job description. Instinctively, my own mother’s voice cleared this cluttered head with rationality before exiting out my lips with the famous,
“If you really need something to do, just let me know! I’ll go grab you a broom.”
Why is it that boredom is frightening to a caregiver? Why is it so easy to get caught up in the fast paced, spoon-fed methods used to educate, and lure our children into begging us for more stuff and stimulation? It's tempting, for this adoring and anxious mother, to buy into the commonly held belief that down time, unscheduled time, will ultimately put my child at a disadvantage. This paranoia, I admit, has managed to leak into the very Orthodox Liturgy that I find so fulfilling, but that my children … well, let’s just say, view as an acquired taste. Growing up, I learned about God through flannel graph Bible stories and catchy choruses while my parents, sitting without me in the sanctuary, took bullet pointed notes on the sermon. I think of that often as my kids squirm and fidget their way through an hour-and-a-half of Scripture reading, litanies, and hymns. I think of it as an acquaintance tells me about her own church with a rock band and puppet theatre just for the kids, leaving adults free to listen to the pastor uninterrupted. But just as I’m ready to wish this Christian tinted, youth focused, extravaganza upon my own antsy children, I recall how in early adulthood, I was floored to discover that hyped up, feel good,” me” centered convictions, can fall to pieces when rubber hits the road.
At eight-years-old, few things were as delectable to me as a pink and airy cloud of cotton candy. Pulling off thick, sticky handfuls with delight, I would stuff them into my mouth letting my tongue dissolve the sugar into nothing. The energy boost hit quickly and satisfaction was immediate, but when my belly began to rumble, the cotton candy with its complete lack of nutritive substance was unable to relieve the pangs of hunger. For that, I needed something solid and savory I could sink my young teeth into. In college, I experienced what could best be described as a “let down.” Sugar driven highs can drop as suddenly as the downward slope of a roller coaster. In the same way, emotionally driven, spiritual highs can plummet when the pangs of real life, unsweetened life, begin to rumble in one’s gut. Without sacraments in which to sink my restless spirit, I worked constantly on conjuring up consistant warm fuzzys that would validate my God was love. I confessed my sins in private, but they continued to weigh me down; I was never quite convinced that forgiveness had been granted. I wandered from denomination to denomination, dismayed and discontented with services I would stuff into my heart only to have them dissolve hours later, leaving me starving for something more concrete, less informal, and beyond the banality of my everyday existence.
What I pray for Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin, and Mary is that they would pace themselves steadily throughout the natural ups and downs of life. I desire for them a faith deeply rooted in Traditions uninfluenced by the trends of modern culture. Dissatisfaction will find these kids soon enough despite the efforts of this generation’s moms and dads led to believe that bigger, louder, and more amusing is better, and that immediate gratification is most certainly in their children’s best interest. By candy coating the reality that sin and death are enemies to be fought with vigilant prayer, endurance, and self-sacrifice, I send unequipped soldiers, my sweet sons and daughters, into a battle they will be ill prepared for. By fearing their boredom, I unwittingly take sides with an adversary intent on distracting them from the soul demanding, comfort resistant, and uncompromising Truth. It might sound cruel to deny them a jazzier version of worship; it may seem excessive to make my kids stand with respect for the Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer. But to raise them with an understanding of how losing yourself, and how submitting yourself to the same Church passed down from the apostles, can bring peace that transcends all logical understanding, and can transform a worn out, worn thin, human being into a unconquerable warrior for Christ, well…let’s just say, that would be a gift worth the effort put forth throughout a few hectic years of Sunday mornings.
Remind me of this, when I’m biting my cheek while restraining our youngest son from impromptu karate kicks before communion. And I will smile encouragingly back at you, as you swoop up your screaming toddler with strong and loving arms, whispering into her tiny ear teachings on the icons, candles, and incense - guiding her, from infancy, toward salvation.