a love song to one and three

Calendar says it won’t be long till you’re gone, my darlings.

August is looming on the horizon, languid and tongue-lolling in the humid heat, and she brings birthdays. So our days together are numbered.

It’s been a good run, hasn’t it? Twelve months plodding along together, hand in grubby hand, stretching legs out of too-short pants and pushing toes to the ends of too-tight shoes.

I wonder where weeks went, where days disappeared when it seems like we were just frosting cakes and twisting crepe paper streamers to celebrate your arrivals. But One and Three, you are too quick to catch, slipping out of my hands like soapy boys squealing in the bathtub.

I can’t hold on to you.

I wonder what I will miss when you’re gone, you One and Three paired like stair steps that you slide down together, bumpety-bump to breakfast every morning.

One. You raced from crawling to toddling to walking to jumping to flying off furniture. You babbled from first words to first sentences to 24/7 running commentary. I’d be exhausted from watching you burst into bloom if I weren’t so tired keeping up with your energy.

You are baby personality turned vibrant in toddlerhood. You are kicking tantrum and knowing grin. You are Yes No Yes No all in one breath, boyhood dirt smudged behind the ears and babyhood curls still ringing round your forehead. You are an ever-shifting hologram: turn this way for the baby he was, turn that way for the boy he becomes.

One is wonder.

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Three. You curl up on the couch alone with books, and I startle to see the next stage unfolding before my eyes: in which the world becomes yours to explore and we are not your only guides. You obsess in phases – puzzles, numbers, music, reading – as your focus narrows to whatever captures your curious mind and its cranking gears. You need nudging ahead towards independence and cuddling back towards comfort. You hold back neither tears nor affection.

You turned the corner towards school, learned to let a little sibling tag along, and started to let love fall on friends and family beyond our walls. You are tumbling towards true boyhood with every somersault and flying leap off the swing set. You are already becoming what I am catching up to see: a big kid, tearing down the driveway beyond my reach.

Three is tender.

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But the beauty of you is not these ages alone. It’s the dynamic, deafening duo of you together: One plus Three equals exhaustion and exuberance.

And together you were my teacher.

You taught me patience. One plus Three equal four trips to the bathroom every time we try to eat dinner, four feet tripping over shoes as we try to head out the door, four hands grabbing at the same toy whenever we try to play nicely. I teach you deep breaths and you teach me forgiveness and we all grow in patience, at least a smidge every day.

You taught me to pay attention. Jetliners trailing through the afternoon sky, bright glints between clouds. Red stop signs and green cement trucks, squares and circles on the billboards. Flocks of ducks in the lake and hills of ants on the sidewalk. I would miss them all if not for your keen pairs of eyes.

You taught me to let go. Once Three was confident he could play in the basement by himself, One was sure he should follow. So now I let you totter down together, and I listen to you entertain each other from upstairs. Baby steps and time trials towards independence – yours and mine – are a beautiful thing.

You taught me the beauty of boyhood. Beyond babyland, this year broke me into the world of boys. One and Three, you brought me Matchbox cars skittering across the kitchen floor, nightly wrestling matches before bathtime, creepy crawly bugs poked with curious prodding, elbows and knees skinned and bug-bitten beyond my band-aiding. I am a better woman for it.

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Oh, One and Three. Only a few more weeks till we bid adieu.

I want to wrap you up in my arms and marvel at how those lanky limbs of yours spill out of the lap that once held you. But Two and Four are nipping at your heels. I already see them sneaking through, the even-more indignant tantrums and the ever-deepening curiosity. You are off and I will follow. It will be ever thus, it seems.

But I have loved you, together. And I suspect I will delight in what you become.

To Two. For Four.

Here we go…

where we Sabbath

We went to church on Saturday evening instead of our usual Sunday morning. The promise of good gardening weather and the weekend’s plans all pushed us towards the deviation from the norm.

But the boys were even squirrelier than usual, wrestling out of our arms, racing towards the altar steps, squawking during the consecration. One innocently inquired after communion whether there would still be church donuts since it was Saturday, and I seethed through clenched teeth that No One Was Behaving Well Enough For A Donut So It Didn’t Matter Anyway.

#parentingfail

So Sunday morning found me instead at the park with the boys, whom I soaked up like perfect angels in the bright sun, cringing at my own Mass-time behavior of the night before. We laughed on the slides and ran down to the river and chased each other on the playground paths.

Which is when I noticed: we weren’t alone.

The park was full of families enjoying the clear June day – biking, fishing, walking, jogging. I’ve never seen our favorite haunt so crowded. But it made perfect sense: Sunday can feel like a Sabbath moment whether you go to church or not. A time to pause and play together before the busyness of another week begins.

I have a new piece at Practicing Families on the struggles of Sunday services with little ones, so I’ve been pondering questions of church and family lately:

donutsEach Sunday I eventually discover that I’m grateful we’re there, again. Even when we’ve flunked the Time Trials, botched the Nursery Negotiations, caved on the Bribery Battles, and stand ready to lose the Donut Debate, I still find that God finds us there.

Some small moment arises – a line from the priest’s homily, a stranger’s smile at the sign of peace, a favorite song that makes my boys clap their hands – and I fall in love with church all over again.

It’s good to be here, even when it’s hard to be here.

Click here to read more about our Sunday Morning Fight Club

Weekends like this one, I start to wonder if the park was the place for us to find God and celebrate together as a family.

But I also know that when my kids grabbed each other’s hands to say grace at dinner tonight, I remembered how they had grinned at each other for the Sign of Peace at Mass on Saturday – how they kept shaking each other’s hands and wouldn’t let go, how their happiness was contagious and made even the most curmudgeonly adults around them (ahem) stop and smile.

Church has a grip on me like that, too. I want to be there, even when it’s hard to be there.

How do you choose to spend your Sundays as a family? What brings you the most joy together?

parenting hacks of faith: what are your tips for church?

We were gathered around the table in our parish’s fellowship hall, and the boys were ready to tear into their donuts: the long-awaited, long-promised bribery for behaving themselves decently at Mass.

When it hit me: we could do something more here. Everyone finally quiet and happy? Ready to feed our rumbling tummies? Together at last after another morning of trading off the toddler?

It was a perfect moment to seize.

“Hey,” I began, my own mouth full of cinnamon sugar. “While we’re eating our donuts, let’s each say one thing we liked about church today.”

My husband’s eyebrows went up. I shrugged and mouthed why not?

To my surprise, our oldest jumped in immediately. “I liked the drumming. And I REALLY liked when that baby got dunked!”

I laughed. Me, too.

We went around the circle. The youngest declared he liked donut. (Big surprise.) The adults agreed they liked the music, since they both missed the homily. (Big surprise.)

Instead of scarfing down our treats and hustling to the car, we lingered for a change. And thanks to the beauty of baked goods, I actually got my family to participate in one of the forced “what did you do today?” conversations I futilely try to inflict over dinner.

It made me realize that the simplest changes are often the best. Take what works and try it in a new light. The brilliance of parenting hacks.

. . .

We all have hints and helps we learn along the way to make life easier. Even now when I have no time to read a cereal box, let alone an entire magazine, I still tear open Parents to read the monthly “It Worked For Me!” round-up of clever tips from crafty parents. I love these handy hacks, and I’d love to hear yours.

What “hacks of faith” do you use with little ones at church? Not only to keep kids quiet, but to keep them engaged.

A hack is by definition an inelegant yet creative solution, and I can think of a handful I’ve learned from friends along the years to make our faith life infinitely easier with the under-5 crowd:

  1. Sit in the front. If you slip in the back, it’s all too tempting to slip out. Kids can’t see a thing if they’re staring at adult backsides. But in the front pews, there’s always action to grab their attention. It doesn’t work all the time, and we often end up walking the youngest out anyway. But it works enough to make me muster confidence to walk all the way down the aisle even when we’re rolling in at the Alleluia. Kids love to be front and center to see what’s going on.
  2. IMG_2970Stack the deck. My youngest boy’s godmother made the coolest holy-cards-on-a-key-ring toy for her son, and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to copy it. I am not crafty in the least, but this clever project took me about 5 minutes and cost about $5. Perfect. I get tired of trying to listen to the Gospel and whisper-read books about farm animals, so I figure if the church toys offer at least a couple connections to what’s going on around us, it’s better for all of us.
  3. Make your own. The best busy book I’ve come up with for church is one I made myself. (I repeat, folks: if my un-Pinterest-worthy self can hack it, so can you.) I took a bunch of pictures around our parish one Sunday after Mass and stuck them in a small photo album. (A top ten Target purchase of my life, for all it’s bought me in return.) IMG_2966It’s a great tool to help toddlers point and name what they see. And a picture of a statue, a stained glass window, or a station of the cross offers plenty of possibilities for going deeper with preschoolers. Over the years I’ve added photos from both boys’ baptisms so we could remember them whenever a baby gets baptized at Mass. I’ve also slowly taken pictures of how the church looks in each liturgical season so that we can talk about the colors and environment change. Easy as pie. (Or church donuts.)

They’re hacks, not perfect solutions to be sure. (Ain’t much elegant about wrangling squirmy boys in the front pew, I’ll tell you that much.) But more often than not, they work.

And I am all about helping things work.

What clever tricks are hiding up your sleeves? Let’s share some ideas for sanity next Sunday!

what’s the soul of a parent?

When I was a child, I got obsessed with figuring out what we all had in common.

Call it the curse of Catholic school. All those lessons on how we’re all made in God’s image. I remember riding home on the bus, swinging my skinny legs off the sticky vinyl seat, trying to figure out exactly what that meant – what magical thing we all had in common that made us reflect God.

First I decided it must be eyes. Everyone had eyes, I figured. And you learned a lot from someone by looking at their eyes. So maybe that’s what we all had, that made us in the image of God.

But then my grade school self remembered pictures from National Geographic of people with disfigured faces, people who might be born without eyes, or might have eyes that didn’t work. That didn’t seem very image-of-God-like. I scratched eyes from my list.

Next was arms. I was pretty sure everyone had – nope, then I remembered that man on TV with no arms, playing his guitar for the pope. He had to be made in God’s image. Arms were out.

Ditto legs, hands, hair, teeth, feet, ears. Any physical attribute I could think of was crossed off the list. Even as a first-grader I got frustrated: how could there not be a single thing that every human being shared? How were we all supposed to be made in God’s image if we had nothing in common?

This was my first inkling of soul. Of the spark of Spirit within each of us.

Because, I studied seriously, chewing on the end of my pigtails, if there had to be something of God about us and it wasn’t outside us, then it had to be inside us.

God had to be within.

. . .

When I became a mother, I became obsessed with figuring out what parents had in common.

One late night when my first son was a few weeks old, I stared out his bedroom window, trying to stay awake while he nursed. As became my practice, I thought of all the other parents awake at that hour – across the street, across town, across the globe – doing all the things parents do that keep them awake at wee hours: rocking babies, soothing sick kids, keeping vigil for curfew-breaking teenagers.

I remember rocking in the nursery, swinging my feet off the glider, trying to figure out exactly what made us parents.

Was it birthing a biological baby? Definitely not. Plenty of people I knew became parents through adoption.

Was it caring for a child full-time? Not necessarily. Grandparents and babysitters and daycare providers often watched a child for more daylight hours than their parents ever saw them. But that didn’t make them parents.

What was the core of parenthood exactly? I knew it but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought about legal definitions and cultural redefinitions and variations on a theme. And that’s when it hit me:

It was the same dilemma I puzzled over on the school bus that day, wanting to define the essence of a thing.

It was the same searching that led me back to the idea of soul.

. . .

What is a parent? Does what we do make us who we are? If we are so wildly diverse, how can we all be the same thing? What is common to this complex calling?

When Sarah at Fumbling Toward Grace first blogged about her frustrations with breastfeeding and how harshly she felt judged as a mother for feeding her baby with formula, her honesty struck a chord with many of us. So when she invited me to participate in the “No More Mommy Wars” series that sprung out of the deep resonance of her post, I started mulling over this question.

What makes us the same as mothers, even though we make such different choices for ourselves and our children? Where can we meet in the soul of parenting?

Today I’m posting at Fumbling Toward Grace about my experience of extended nursing. If you had told me a year ago I’d be writing on such a subject, I would have laughed in your face. But the winding road of this parenting journey twists in ways I never expect.

This story is one of them.

Please click over to read the rest. And check out the rest of Sarah’s wonderful blog while you’re there!

cores and edges

It’s one in the morning, the bleary-eyed hour. He’s up crying for me and only me, no other consolation will suffice. I stumble across the dimly lit hall, make my way to his bed where he sits with tousled hair and wet eyes, sniffling in the dark. I need you to stay! he wails into my arms. Mama, I need you to stay with me!

Inwardly I groan, already tired from up-too-late working, craving the warmth of my own bed. I know he won’t fall asleep with me next to him; I know his brother won’t have anyone to hear his cries if I drift off here without the monitor. But I can’t say no to the sobs of a small boy. I curl beside him and pull his heaving chest close. You’re okay, I soothe as I stroke his messy hair. It’s all fine now.

But of course he doesn’t rest.

His antsy arms wiggle in and out of blankets, legs thrash back and forth as he rolls around trying to get comfortable. In the delusional mind games of nighttime parenting, I convince myself that if I can model peace and quiet, it will be contagious. So I lie there, still and silent, breathing deeply in and out, willing him to sleep.

It doesn’t work. (It never does.)

I lie there next to his tossing and turning as his feet kick against my shins, his knees poke into my stomach, his elbows bang into my arms. I’m tired, too! I want to complain. But I stay still, my body perched on the edge of his bed, a straight and solid line, and I think about what it means to be the edge.

He has to push against me – kick and thrash and push and roll away – and these nighttime jabs, innocent and innocuous, are only the beginning. Because that is how the child defines himself against the parent: you are the edge, I am my own core. Only if I push against you do I learn the limits of myself.

. . .

Two hours later, his brother awakens in the room next to mine. It’s been ages since we’ve been up in the wee hours like this, but we’re traveling, I’m solo-parenting, everything is topsy-turvy. So of course I pull him close when I see his chubby arms outstretched, wailing mama! mama!

I sigh, snuggle back into the bed with him, snarl at the clock’s laser red reminding me just how little sleep tonight will bring. Again I break a long-set rule and let him nurse mid-night, anything to soothe so quickly. It’s strange and simple all at once, this nursing of a toddler, reminding me how fleeting babyhood flies, yet lingers far beyond first steps and words. He’s still not far from newborn days but every day he inches further.

Struggling to stay awake, I watch him rest there lying in my lap, his arms lazily grazing my shoulder, his legs trailing off around my middle, his feet curling round my back. Now he is the edge and I am the core. He wraps around my self for comfort; I am again the source of life and warmth. He is the one I push against now, wanting to be finished, sleeping, away, alone. But he reminds me that this mama work always calls me back to core: do what is simple, loving, present.

This is how I define myself against my child: I must rest here at the core, heart’s center from which you must push away to become your own. Only if I stay here can you become your own strong edge.

And only if I stay here can I learn the strength within myself.

. . .

Cores and edges.

Maybe family is just that. Always jostling up against the jagged corners, then easing back into smooth centers. Always struggling to define ourselves against the other, then grateful for the comfort of the core that knows us best.

We push and pull, resist and return, stretch and surrender. We need and we need from each other and we never stop needing. The needing changes as seasons turn, of course; sometimes we need to round ourselves into softer cores, sometimes we need to harden our hearts into tougher edges. But the give and take of learning to live together is just that – a give and take. Moulding each other, letting ourselves be moulded.

Learning when to push out into the edges. And when to pull into the core.

the touch of rivalry

I hit, I hit, I hit!

He wakes up chirping like a bird. A happy song to greet the dawn, warbling as he waits for me to arrive. But the words aren’t quite as sweet as the tune.

No hugs! I do not hug. I hit! I hit my brother!

The rivalry song.

Half of me wants to burst out laughing every time I hear his angelic soprano start on the monitor. Half of me wants to storm in the little devil’s room and declare, for the thousandth time that no, you do NOT hit your brother, it is NOT nice to hit, and you do NOT sing mean songs about hitting, you need to be GENTLE.

(Even though yelling at children to be gentle never fails to amuse in its irony.)

He’s three and the baby is one and they can’t help but collide all day, physically and emotionally. One is curious, the other covetous; one likes to build carefully, the other likes to barrel over and destroy. They are each other’s beloved playmates, but when the toys and books and food and games and attention have to be shared, rivalry rears its ugly head. For now the older is always the instigator, but the tables will soon turn and the hits will trade back and forth.

Push, shove, steal, slap, throw, grab, smack. I hit, I hit, I hit!

Sometimes I try gentle reminders: We don’t hit in our family. Sometimes I opt for alternative techniques: Hands aren’t for hitting; they’re for helping. Sometimes I simply grit my teeth and seethe STOP.

I know it’s a passing phase; I know some siblings spar far worse; but I also know I’m plain tired of it. Tired of him singing about it from the time he wakes up; tired of wrestling toys away from one or the other all afternoon long. Tired of whacks and slaps and shoves and pushes between brothers. Yearning for a gentler touch.

. . .

Election season rolls round, and the churches roil over to uproar again, and I’m so tired of the factions, the fighting, the fear, and the ferocity with which we attack each other. Over and over again we become as bad as sparring siblings: we hit and hit, lashing out; one side’s sinners, the other side’s saints. I wonder if deep down we’re all craving God’s attention, clamoring for love like children, shoving at the siblings around us, slapping each other with name-calling and petty attacks. Where’s the Christ in that?

I hit, I hit, I hit my brother, no, I do not like hugs.

Contrary to Teresa’s wisdom – Christ has no hands but yours in the world – we use hands in many ways that aren’t holy, too. The slaps and shoves I see from my oldest to my youngest aren’t so far from my own fists balled in frustration, my palms slammed to the kitchen counter, my fingers pointed in pettiness. As they learn language I’m constantly coaching use your words, but how do I teach use your hands?

Maybe the more I fold them in prayer, bring them to heart’s center like my yoga teacher reminds, the more I model the gentleness of touch. Fingers that fix, palms that smooth, hands that hold, hug, help.

A heart that rests in God’s belovedness without elbowing the other children of God around me. Hands that don’t need to fight for attention.

the smell of God

I am addicted to the back of my son’s neck.

I first noticed it several months ago, long after he’d lost the newborn scent. I must have been rubbing his hair dry after bath, or tickling till he squealed with glee, or wrestling around on the floor as he tried to crawl away. I buried my nose in the back of his head to give him a kiss and breathed in deeply, and I was astonished.

It didn’t smell like shampoo or lotion, like sweat or tears, like food or playdough or paint (or anything worse) that I often find smeared in his hair. Nothing of the normal eau-de-bébé. It simply smelled pure. Fresh. Warm. Holy even.

Right in the curve between the muscles at the nape of his neck, such a small soft space, was buried this primal scent of possibility.

All I can think is it smells like God.

I know it sounds clichéd, comparing baby’s sweetness to perfection of the divine. Too easy a metaphor, too saccharine a simile. Yet every time now I swoop in to nuzzle his neck, trying to find the familiar mysterious scent, hoping to inhale before he chuckles and pushes away, it smells exactly the same. It smells like God.

But I’m only sure of this because I know God doesn’t always smell so sweet.

I remember ripping urine-soaked sheets off Philippe’s bed every morning at L’Arche. God smelled like that, too.

I remember scrubbing burnt food off the bottom of giant steel pots at the soup kitchen. God smelled like that, too.

I remember coughing outside with the women from the shelter as they escaped for a cigarette and conversation. God smelled like that, too.

Whenever I catch a whiff, it’s a surprise, pure recognition in the moment, something primal that hits my senses all at once, a memory too far back to trace, but something I know. The smell of God. Sometimes grimy hands and sweaty limbs and dirty floors and filthy laundry. And sometimes soft hair whisper, baby-neck sweet.

I’m a full-blown addict now, craving my next hit, scheming and plotting to distract the baby so he’ll turn and I can sneak another sniff. I don’t know how much longer he’ll hold on to the scent; how quickly we lose the purity, dirty it up with everyday muck or overclean till it reeks too sweet.

It won’t last forever; this much I know. And I don’t know how long I’ll have to go before I smell God again.

For now I breathe it in everyday, when he’ll let me. A deep breath or a secret sniff and I remember all over how earthly an incarnate God can become. And I wonder what small spaces within my own body – hands, feet, limbs, neck – might still hold some trace of the original.

The mark of the maker.

takeoff, touchdown: flying with kids

He fell asleep on my lap.

We’d done the exasperated exchange, the eye-rolling, exhausted “I’m done with this child; you take a turn.” The baby had been cranky and squirmy, overtired and irritated. (Just like his mother.) After he refused to nurse on takeoff, spurned my cuddles, shoved away every toy I dangled in front of his eyes, I’d finally thrust him towards to his father, fists flying and limbs flailing: “HERE.”

In return I received the equally overtired big brother. With a sigh I pulled a stack of books toward us, ready to flip through every favorite at lightning speed, anything to calm the restless troops.

Instead, he snuggled into my chest, folded his not-yet-big-boy, no-longer-baby legs into my lap. Grateful for a single quiet moment, I buried my face in his wild mop of thick hair, breathed in the shampoo smell, planted a kiss on the top of his head.

Then I realized his forehead was dipping slightly into my arms. Again, dropping lower. And lower. His breathing slower. And slower.

He fell asleep on my lap.

Maybe it had been months, but it felt like years since he’d cuddled in this close to sleep. And I’m never the parent he calls out for in the night; I ceded that title eons ago.

But a long day of traveling, a surprise attack of car-sickness, a skipped nap and a stuffy airplane cabin produced the perfect storm for a snuggle. Amazed, I pulled him in closer, inch by inch so I wouldn’t wake him.

Flying with children has taught me a few solid life lessons: you can never pack enough wet wipes; accept all offers of cold drinks; when all else fails, peekaboo won’t.

But the one absolute truth I take from my three short years of air travel with the under-fives: It’s never what you expect.

They’ll be wired when you’re convinced they’re wiped out. They’ll refuse all food when you’ve planned for lunch. They’ll be angels when you feared devils, cranks when you planned calmly, charmers to all seatmates once you’re ready to stuff them away in an overhead bin.

But once in a blue moon, as the sun sets your window aglow with golden rays, a tired head will droop onto your shoulder.

And they’ll sleep when you were sure they’d be awake.

They’ll cuddle when you’re certain they’re too old.

Madeleine L’Engle called this decade the “tired thirties.” And does this picture ever prove her right…

praying the particulars: parenting a talkative child

A Prayer for Parenting a Talkative Child:

God of the Word,

This child never stops speaking. I cannot even hear myself think.

From sun-up to sun-down, he’s trying to figure out his world through words. Constant questions, endless repetition; the same books, the same songs. He wonders every blessed thought aloud, and I become his de facto audience. Or his spelling mentor. Or his number guru.

But too often I tune out and turn away, thinking radio’s music more beautiful or voices on the news more important. I long for adult conversation; I pass over the innocent wonder of a child’s chatter.

Help me to listen, really listen. To bend the ear of my heart to his needs, his wonders, his wants. Let me value his voice like you value mine: unique, worthy, loved.

When my mind spins too busy to hear, quiet my heart to a slower rhythm. When my ears grow tired, let me listen with your own. When my lips slip to let a harsh word pass, let me whisper forgiveness in his small, sweet ear.

And when morning’s bright chirps unravel into evening’s grating whine, let me remember the days when I longed to hear any sound of children bounce off these walls.

God of Scripture and song, you find me in words and I find you there, too. When your Word reminds me to ask and it will be given, to cry out when I am in need, to shout praise and sing thanks – all your words ring true to a toddler as to his mother. He is full of questions. And so am I.

Thank you for his words, his wonder, his life. Which has filled my own to the brim, spilling over with shouts and giggles, yells and cries, questions and challenges.

May he never stop speaking, asking why, or wondering aloud.

May I always keep my life open enough to listen.

May we both bring our words to you in prayer.

With ringing ears and spinning mind,

A tired, talked-at mama

tantrums in the arms of a loving God

My son is currently going through what I’ve dubbed a “contrarian” stage. Our conversations often consist of nothing but clashing over basic facts.

[Editor’s note: the child is also stuck in a fascinating yet aggravating stage of linguistic development in which he reverses “you” and “I,” thus speaking in rhetorical statements all day long.]

Upon greeting him when waking…

Me: “Good morning, sweet love! Mama’s here to see you!”

S: “Do you NOT want Mama to be with you?”

Mathematical inquiries over breakfast…

S: “What is 5 plus 8?”

Me: “13.”

S: “Do you NOT want 5 plus 8 to be 13?”

Spelling agonies over snack…

S: “How do you spell ‘Mama'”?

Me: “M-A-M-A.”

S: “Do you NOT want it to be spelled M-A-M-A?”

His refutations of my every statement are often accompanied by whining, whimpering or wailing. As if all the NOs weren’t already enough to grate like fingernails on a chalkboard.

These are the BASIC FACTS OF THE UNIVERSE, I want to laugh (or yell). 55 will always follow 54. Sacramento will always be the capital of California. Wednesday will always come after Tuesday. Why are we wasting our time arguing about unchangable truths?

After losing my temper over one too many similar exchanges, I found myself fuming as I washed my hands. God, help me to be patient with him, I prayed, my always prayer.

Then I added, Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have someone say “no” to your every “yes”?

At which point I caught my own eye in the mirror. And heard God give a simple reply: Yes.

My toddler’s constant naysaying is all-too-familiar, if I’m honest. Because it’s exactly what I often say to God, wrestling away from a loving embrace with all the stubborness that free will and even wilder nature bestow.

I say no to moments to love, chances to grow, opportunities to serve. In choosing my own selfish pride, I’m arguing against a basic fact of the universe: the existence of a loving Creator, in whose constant “yes” rattle all my little “nos.” Maybe being contrarian isn’t just a stage of toddlerhood; it’s a condition of being human.

I get his frustration, sympathize with his desire for control. The world can be an exasperating place to figure out. Maybe I need not just more patience, but more empathy. After all, I still refuse to accept basic facts about existence. Like the inevitable mortality of those I love. Or my own limitations. To name but a few.

Karl Rahner called it the supernatural existential – that we exist everywhere and always within God’s free offer of grace. All our yeses and nos echo within God’s one emphatic YES.

This mama calls it theologizing the terrible twos.