As a parent, there aren't many moments where you get to step back, pat yourself on the back and say "well done."
Kids move too fast. They are learning behaviors, reactions and skills at such a lightning-fast rate that every "good job" seems to be paired with a "don't even think about it." The pendulum swings radically. This is how it goes every day at my house with an active and ever more articulate two-year-old boy: naughty that you knocked over your eight-month-old sister, nice that you said sorry and kissed her forehead. Repeat ad infinitum.
But every once in a while, there is a moment of grace. This was ours.
Before dinner each night, we pause, hold hands and share what we are thankful for in our day. Nothing too profound, usually: nice weather, good community, a supportive extended family, that we live in a relatively peaceful place -- that sort of thing. But it is a really important moment in our day. We didn't plan it this way, but Patrick and I are seeing our "thanks time" as a way of inculcating our kids with the ethic of gratitude, giving them the language of appreciation in a culture of entitlement. Our "let's say thanks" is a way of setting the tone for the meal as a time of sharing and togetherness. It helps us settle into family time and put the day -- its frustrations or failings or hecticness -- aside.
With our held hands and our moment of pause, we make space for each of us to share and grow and acknowledge one another. The kids really love it. Rosena usually starts by saying "ditto" to whatever we have said and then adds something lovely to the mix about school or family or the weather that day. Seamus and Madeline have largely been mute. But, a few nights ago, after we celebrated the anniversary of Saint Francis House -- a Christian Worker community in New London, Conn. -- with a fiesta downtown, Seamus interjected that he was thankful for "Cal, Anne, Mike."
Patrick and I looked at each other and our eyes gave each other big pats on the back -- nice job Dad, nice job Mom. He gets it. He gets it.
Saint Francis House is comprised of two rambling old Victorian houses, half a dozen residents, a robust schedule of prayer, study, clarification of thought, community engagement and peace witnessing. Cal and Anne both live there. Mike helps Cal.
Anne Scheibner and her husband Emmett Jarrett founded the community 15 years ago with their two children, then aged 10 and 14. Together they helped to found the Homeless Hospitality Center, deepened the city's ecumenical, cross-cultural and multi-racial work for justice and peace, and incubated countless initiatives that continue to better our community. Father Emmett, an Episcopal priest and Third Order Franciscan, died four years ago. Anne carries on the work of organizing, building and nurturing community with wisdom, tenacity and panache.
Cal Robertson moved into Saint Francis House this fall. He is a Vietnam veteran, who -- for decades -- has carried out a daily peace witness at the Navy Submarine Base across the river in Groton, Conn., and in downtown New London. He moves and speaks slowly; his war wounds were sustained not in battle, but in the difficulties of being there -- something veterans of every war face when they return to civilian life. He is deeply gentle, but deeply angry about how the U.S. government sends young people off to war to kill and be killed, to damage and become damaged. Mike is also a Vietnam veteran, and is helping Cal organize a new chapter of Veterans for Peace in our area.
I try to share morning prayer at Saint Francis House on Monday mornings. Seamus, Madeline and I often roll in on the late side -- it starts at 8 a.m. I think both kids understand it as special, quiet time even though they are little. Seamus tends to explore the area behind the altar, where there are African violets, a box full of coins, golden letters that spell out "peace" and countless other fragile and fascinating items. But he is, for the most part, really quiet and respectful about it. Madeline sits on the floor or in my lap and watches everyone talk in turn and in unison. It mesmerizes her. Afterwards, we chat for a few minutes and then Seamus shakes Cal's hand and we say goodbye.
He gets it. He gets it. Respect, appreciation, gratitude. It is learned behavior, sure. But he is not just learning it from us. He watches his big sister Rosena and how the people at Saint Francis House and throughout our community treat one another. A parent can ask for nothing more.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go teach Seamus how to glue plates back together.
This article was originally published by Waging Nonviolence, where the author's column Little Insurrections appears each week. Her book "It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood" is due out this winter on O/R Books.