Letting Our Kids Remind Us What's Possible
“I don’t know any airplane song.” Whose response could this be but mine?
“No Mommy, YOU sing the airplane song.”
“Ok, really sweetie, I don’t know an airplane song!”
He pouted a moment, then the light dawned, I mean, I actually saw the thought form in his head. He looked back at me and tilted that head, now brimming with his brilliant notion, to the side, “Pleeeaassseee Mommy sing the airplane song.”
Oh, of course. If one says the magic word every desire WILL be granted. So what could I do? I glanced at my husband, choking on a sandwich as he chewed and laughed simultaneously, and I belted out,
“Airplane fly in the sky!
Airplane fly in the sky
Zooming all a-around--
Landing on the-uh ground!”
Oh what, you can’t hear the tune in your head? Yeah, here’s a clue-- it doesn’t matter! Pick any random combination of notes and it would be as terrible as what came out of my mouth in that instant. The point is, folks, that I can’t sing, can’t write a song, and don’t know an airplane song written by anyone else. And yet, in one of those true I almost don’t know which of us is the teacher moments, this little blond, diapered ball of potential yanked it out of me. He and his brothers have been singing that little ditty constantly in the two days since the incident. In fact, over the past couple of years my family has accrued a repertoire of several similarly created songs--The T-Rex Song, The Volcano Song, and The Fluffy Song to name but a few. Our children, coming into the world unblemished and unhampered by preconceived limitations and biases, challenge us to reach beyond ourselves and the limitations we have accepted as true, and do those things we honestly think we cannot do.
The matter of making up songs on the fly is a cute example of this that makes for a nice object lesson, but do our responses to even these insignificant interactions have deeper consequences? I can ask my four-year-olds to do virtually anything, and their answer will be ok Mom! The idea that they can’t dance, paint, or fly would never occur to them. And yet, if I ask my seven-year-old to try the same things I am much more likely to hear, I can’t…I’m no good at…I’ll never be able to… Part of it is the development of his own unique personality, but beyond that is some curious thing that occurred between the time he was four and now.
Maybe it happened at school, when the normal rules and restrictions of a classroom naturally countermand the daydreaming dancing in the rain and planning trips to the moon we do in our home life. Could the harsh practical realities of this world have infiltrated his being already? Or maybe he saw me hesitate and hang back a little too much when faced with certain tasks, or opportunities, and surmised that while I’m game to try anything for his sake, the truth is that there are a whole lot of things I really know I can’t do.
This is the best argument I can think of for being bold and stepping out even into those areas that make me uncomfortable--I can’t bear to be the reason he stops reaching for a life, truth, experience beyond the small, fenced-in realities most of us accept in adulthood. It is my job to show him what is possible. It is my job, not only to say, you can do whatever you set your mind to, but to demonstrate that even all grown up the impossible is not really impossible, that I continue to reach, believing that I, too, can accomplish what I set myself to.
How is it that in our society as a whole we read stories and flock to movie theaters, cheering on characters who defy the odds to win the game, get the girl, or kill the monster, but in real life we see the impulse to strive for that “hero moment” as foolish or irresponsible? How is it in our particular religious culture that we believe in a God of miracles, one who will grant our righteous desires and who gives us the freedom to move about our lives, working for what we will, that we tell each other “faith promoting” anecdotes about people who have followed the guidance of the Spirit without knowing how or why it was given, and then roll our eyes at those who step out in faith in real life to follow guidance from this same God?
I guess the answer doesn’t really matter right now; it’s enough to know this tendency to doubt and disdain exists and that we must overcome it if we are to succeed. I am not suggesting we all quit our jobs and run off to Hollywood to become starlets, Nashville to become country music stars, or Voldar Prime to become the best danged star-nebula pilots the Interplanetary Confederacy has ever seen--Just that we keep our hearts and minds open to possibilities beyond what we are currently living--that we check in once in a while to ensure that we are on the path to what our hearts truly desire, and that we not close ourselves off to side-trips along the way.
What a gift it is to have children we are obligated to daydream with! When I was about four I asked my mom what a miracle is. I was looking for the actual definition of the word, not some “deep” existential or metaphorical rejoinder. She paused for a moment and then responded, “everything is a miracle.” Somehow I got the implication and this answer was sufficient to fill me with a wonder and awe that has never dissipated. I remember it was late and I had gotten out of bed for probably the eighth time that night. Instead of yelling at me and ignoring what she may easily have mistaken for a stall tactic (of course there is no way in the world that it was such a thing), she answered my question, gave me a folded honey sandwich (exactly what is sounds like--one piece of white bread with honey oozing through it, folded over on itself), and allowed me to eat it in the living room, while I spun around, head flung back, looking up to make the ceiling look like a record player (yes, I'm that old). Spinning and chomping, I contemplated the breathtaking truth that I've never stopped contemplating--still able to tastethe honey and feel shag carpet under my feet--everything is a miracle.
And let’s really look at this--how many “impossible” things have you accomplished since becoming a parent? I breastfed my adopted triplets exclusively for a year. Hah! Just about nobody--pediatrician, OB-Gyn, or midwife--thought such a thing was possible, and for sure it wasn’t easy (or always pleasant). So yours might not be as strange as mine, but I guarantee any devoted parent will have plenty of examples of doing “the thing [she] cannot do,” to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt. I have several friends who returned to school after having children, hoping to show them it's important to keep progressing in life. Perhaps you managed to return to activity in the church, or found the strength to get your temple recommend because eternity without your little ones is unacceptable. Maybe you undertook a cross-country move with your children while a spouse deployed for military duty, or perhaps you are a single parent who juggles full-time work and kid-nurturing. And I'm betting somewhere out there is a parent who made tracks fro Voldor Prime and is moonlighting, er, earthlighting part-time in the star-nebula fleet. Then there are those of us who rise the challenge and provide the star-nebula theme song when our two-year-olds request it, at the drop of any one of the many hats we parents wear.
Chances are we are already accomplishing what to someone else is impressive. It is a blessing to be able to look outside of the places we have settled and see that our potential is really much closer to what a four-year-old sees than to what we have accepted in adulthood. Luke 1:37 tells us, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” Hey, I know! Let’s embrace the opportunity guiding young souls gives us and reach for that “Airplane Song” within. After all, who are we to say there’s no such place as Voldor Prime?
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
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