First Teachers

Anyone who has heard me give a presentation to parents knows that I love to quote the prayer over the parents that happens at the end of a baptism in the Catholic Church. It’s the part where the priest or deacon tells mom and dad that, in addition to having to buy diapers and formula, books and blankets, tuition and car seats, they are the “first teachers in the ways of faith.” Okay, to be fair, the rest of that isn’t actually in the prayer, but I swear it is implied.

First teachers. That’s heady stuff. There is an implication there that mom and dad have a clue as to what they are doing in their own faith lives. “You cannot give what you do not have,” the wise man says. So if mom and dad haven’t read the catechism or learned their prayers, they may want to spend that first year reading up on the Good Book so they are prepared.

I thought about that first teacher stuff the other night when I took the children to the track behind their school for movie night. The littlest really wanted to go and once she promised the eldest she would not sing along to every song in “The Greatest Showman” (which was the movie of choice), we had a deal. We picked up some chicken and some drinks, packed the folding chairs in the van, and set off. Mom was flying back from a trip and Friday night is movie night anyway, so this might prove to be fun.

It was a circus.

Actually, it was a circus happening around a movie about a guy that starts a circus. There was as much chaos in front of the screen as there was on the screen. Some kids chose to play basketball instead of watching the movie. Others chose to run around and scream on the playground. One little group of girls – all with light-up sneakers – decided to chase each other in and around those who were actually watching the movie. When one of them hit the inflatable screen for the third time, I thought my second youngest would lose it.

“What is wrong with these people?” he asked.

“Their parents,” came the response from the eldest child.

No one was in charge. No one had control of the situation. As my children sat there watching the film, I began to wonder why they were so irritated. It wasn’t because they wanted to run around, it was because this was billed as a movie night for families and since we’ve had movie nights for years, they knew how this should go: start the movie, pause it for snacks and bathroom breaks, and otherwise sit quietly and laugh, cry, or fall asleep. But running around, tripping on the tie downs for the screen, and generally shrieking about was never on the agenda for my kids.

It turns out the movie was a backdrop. An excuse to get families together. We went expecting one thing and what happened was something else. That’s not a bad thing, but the realization didn’t help ease my irritation.

At one point, I remembered, as I was trying to pass out Oreos to those kids sitting around us behaving themselves, what Ron Rolheiser says about those times when screaming and yelling of children irritates us. He calls the unabashed outpouring of noise and merriment “joy” and says that it can irritate us because this joy gets in the way of our own misery.

“Was that true?” I wondered as I sat there in the cool fall night? “Was I miserable in some way? Was this joy around me irritating me because there was something inside me that needed to change.”

“No,” I finally concluded.

These parents should be watching their kids.

Being a first teacher is hard.


The “A” Word Disappears

Lent begins on Wednesday. In the Donovan household (and at liturgical celebrations everywhere), it has always meant the absence of the “A” word. When the children were younger, it seemed like a big deal. You could not sing “Alleluia” around the house – and when one child did, another would correct them (sometimes harshly). Yes, it seemed that “dummy” and “idiot” remained in the common vocabulary, but heaven forbid that anyone sing praise during Lent.

The children are getting older and I doubt there will be much discussion of the “A” word this year. I don’t know whether they have aged out of the novelty of it or if their focus is pulled in so many directions, they have just forgotten the big deal it used to be. This year, we need to make Lent a big deal again. We need to try harder to “live Lent” intentionally. Perhaps this will mean giving up ice cream or candy or making a concerted effort to read more, watch less, or spend more time outside. Perhaps the iPad or Wii will go unplugged and we will dust off the family Bible.

Family time has always been a sacred tradition in our home. Friday night movie nights are a long-standing commitment we enjoy. Sunday Mass is sacrosanct. But last year Lent was consumed with packing and moving and emptying a house we occupied for 11 years. Lent rushed by and we fell into Easter without realizing we had failed to live Lent well.

This year, we will slow down. We will pause. We will pray. We will sacrifice. We will make some new traditions in our new home and we will spend the next forty-plus days understanding why the Church asks us to live in the dessert for a bit.

Then, when Easter comes, we will sing that “A” word loud and long. We will rise up and celebrate the reality that death falls over into life. We will celebrate being Easter people.

But to make Easter a more powerful experience, we must first live Lent well.

Are you ready?