“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”
– John Holt
Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”
– John 20:27
The brief descriptions of the resurrected Jesus are all we have to base our imagery and understanding of our resurrected bodies on. And the picture that appears is somewhat confusing.
Jesus, after His resurrection, could apparently teleport and walk through locked doors – but still was able to eat real food and still even bore on his body the marks of His suffering and death. His body was in some ways changed and in other ways still the same. Was it, then a “perfect” body?
What would a perfect body even be? Would it be defined by some precise weight, or height, or appearance? By some level of functionality or some lack of disability? Would the person born without legs have legs in the resurrection, or the deaf be given hearing? What does that imply for the identity that individuals build for themselves in response to their embodied existence – and what does it imply for the relative worth, here and now, of those whose bodies are farther from that perfect ideal?
As the owner of a decidedly imperfect body, I’ve often thought about what the bodily resurrection would entail for me personally. Would it mean my myopic eyesight would be healed? Or that my thyroid would function correctly – or that things like thyroid hormones would be irrelevant? Would it mean freedom from debilitating depression and anxiety, or are those things a part of my soul as much as my body, a part of my being that can be redeemed and made meaningful but not cut out?
As I mature in my understanding of myself, and as I see how my body and mind affect both each other and my faith, I am starting to think that maybe our “deficiencies”, our brokennesses and scars, will remain with us in the resurrection – at least the ones with meaning and significance to our story and the story of God in the world. Just as Jesus kept the scars of His crucifixion, so maybe the mother will retain her softened abdomen and the scars of childbirth. Maybe I will always have the scars on my arms from my skin excoriation disorder, no longer marks of shame and anxiety, but testimonies to the love and redeeming, healing power of the God who brings beauty out of ashes.
Maybe the new creation, the resurrected body, isn’t perfect any more than our current bodies – and maybe perfection should never have been our goal.
It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.
In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?
When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?
Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?
I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Lights turn off for bedtime. The small flashlight flickers on but it’s not enough to play by, not enough to hide the scary shadows of a child’s imagination. I don’t stop to argue, don’t invite the protests, tonight. The baby is fed and warm in her daddy’s arms so I linger with the big boys, so tough and independent in the bright daytime light, all full of fears and doubts and unnamed dreads in the dark. I lie down on the bottom bunk and feel the lithe warm body of a little boy press against my back, strong and wiry and small and vulnerable in the drowsiness of just-before-sleep.
Softly, in the dark, I hear the gentle murmur of a snore, and I peek over my shoulder to see him lying there asleep, empty sippy cup tucked in against his elbow, Grandma’s handmade quilt pulled up over his belly, legs poking out the side with the knees up and the feet tucked under my hip. I sneak out of the room. I am eager to have some time with my own thoughts, to create, to be, without any demands or expectations on my time.
But there is still the food from dinner to be put away; the dishes are done but the food, too hot before, was waiting until after the bedtime rush, and as I scoop the leftovers into Tupperware, mindlessly, inefficiently, trying to read a book at the same time, I hear the baby crying, waking up for a last feed before settling into the deep sleep of nighttime.
I pick her up, lay her next to me on the bed, and she curls into me, little hands reaching for me, little feet tucking themselves into the curve of my belly, little mouth open and eager, little tear-stained eyes sleep-heavy and drooping closed. Her frantic energy lessens, breathing calmed, until at last I roll her back over to her crib. For a moment her whole body drapes across mine and I feel that soft cheek pressed up against me, the total trust and relentless love of an infant for their mother, and I’m the mother, and it hardly seems real, scarcely seems believable, like the whole crazy world is just too beautiful to be possible.
Most nights I stay here, worn out myself, caught up in the sweet beauty of the love a mother receives from sleepy children in need of snuggles and presence, unable to stop watching a baby or a toddler or a preschooler still and peaceful at long last, barely daring to breathe lest it all fall apart, amazed that such a life could be mine. But tonight I pull myself up. There are words to write, pictures to curate, cookies and milk to be eaten, and thoughts to be wrung out from ethereal unformed space to concrete actuality on the screen of my computer.
I have discovered a new favorite webcomic, Lunarbaboon. They seem to exist on the intersection of parenting, mental illness, and nerdiness, so I identify with and heartily enjoy almost all of them. One from January, titled “Enemy”, caught my attention as a particularly apt description of what it is like to be functional despite depression:
The techniques taught in therapy are designed to help us ignore that inner enemy with more and more success – to make it harder for him to tear us apart each day. That’s why I’m so thankful for them, for the pills that give me the energy and positivity to keep fighting, and for the family and faith that give me a reason to fight and a hope for the future.
I have decided that Rondel’s current age (almost four) must be one of my favorites.
His energy levels are becoming more consistent even if he doesn’t nap; his clingy, angry, defiant moods are decreasing; his silliness is developing some sophistication; his conversation and presence are more often than not interesting and enjoyable; and, most of all, his imagination has exploded like a firework. This, I keep thinking, is how I imagined parenting a young child to be.
Pretty much anything can be a source of inspiration to him, but the books he reads have a large influence on his play. After reading The Magic School Bus In the Time of The Dinosaurs, he built a mother and baby Maiasaura (and deviated from the biological reality by having the baby nurse… what can I say, he’s used to mammalian norms 🙂 ). After reading The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body, he invented a game (the Body Game) where we move through the house between spaces that represent different parts of the human body – a blood vessel underneath a red blanket on the bunk bed, for instance, or the stomach under another blanket on the floor so we can have it mush us up like food. Then, of course, because he’s a three-year-old, we always have to end up getting pooped out into a potty with all the pillows and stuffies that are the “actual” poop.
Play that began as constructing a slide down the stairs with all the pillows from the beds turns into slides that bury people and then become mountains to climb back up. What started as the realization that Aubade’s crocheted blanket could be hooked onto the handle of the armoire door becomes a blanket bridge stretching from the armoire door (behind which is Grandma’s house) to the bedroom door, across which a monster truck carries our family from our house to Grandma’s house and back again, and into which is randomly stuck a bright orange toothbrush. Cups stacked up in the sink are rearranged to spray the water out in jets at various angles and the whole thing is proclaimed a volcano. Rondel bursting forth from beneath a blanket (after much preliminary rolling around) is also deemed the eruption of a volcano.
And every time we read Where the Wild Things Are, he has to have a monster at hand ready to read the story with us. Not wanting to shut down his imagination despite the onset of bedtime a few nights ago, I allowed him to build his monster to his complete satisfaction, helping him scour the house for the parts he needed.
The folded front of the box is its mouth, and the links are legs connecting the feet (my shoes) to the head (the box). You can’t see, but inside the box more links are holding up a Slinky which is the digestive system of said monster 🙂 He was so proud of himself for designing and building it all by himself!
I absolutely love this creativity.
On Saturday my parents-in-law watched the kids for a few hours so we could have some time to celebrate our anniversary, and they brought a few activities with them to occupy the time. One of the toys they had found was a wooden bowling set, with a small wooden ball about the size of an orange and six (I think) wooden pins with different color stripes around the neck.
After understanding how the game worked, and attempting to knock over the pins with the wooden ball a few times (without much success), Rondel set the wooden ball down on the table, walked over to the toy shelf, and came back with a basketball… not surprisingly, it worked much better!
Meanwhile, Limerick spent his time lining up the pins in perfectly straight rows, organized by the color of the stripe on each one.
Neither of my boys are “typical” kids, but they deviate from the norm in very different ways! As my in-laws put it, and as this one situation demonstrated, Rondel is an out-of-the-box thinker, while Limerick is an organizer and categorizer to his core. And I can’t imagine my life now without either one of their quirky personalities.