Each night as I kiss my twins goodnight, they pick that exact time to tell me everything they can remember about their day. “Mama, I need to tell you something mama, did you know that at lunch I ate four cookies and I did not eat any vegetables?” or “Mama, I need to tell you something mama, I figured out how to hang upside down on the monkey bars… I fell a few times, but I didn’t hurt myself at all!” If I let it, this delaying tactic can go on and on. The usual indication that the time for storytelling is over is when I say “Goodnight boys, say “goodnight mama!”’ Often, one of my twins will comply with a quick “night-night, mama. I love you.” The other one, however, will quietly sit in the dark waiting. “If you don’t tell me goodnight, honey, I know what is going to happen… I will leave, and you will cry and cry and cry until you get to tell me goodnight. Can we just skip that part this time?” I will grumpily say. Yet still, he holds his peace. So, I will quietly close the door and swear that I will not give in when he cries. The minute the door latches, the wails begin… and go on and on. Both of us holding our ground until inevitably either he falls asleep or I give in and let him come and say “Mama, I didn’t get to tell you goodnight… Goodnight, mama.”
This stalling technique, not alien to most children I imagine, is intriguing to me. In my heart I know it is simply their way of holding onto me and to the day just a little longer. There is no ill will in that little heart that cries hysterically when he didn’t get to say the one thing he wanted to say to me before I was gone. That desperation surely flows from the love and excitement his tiny body just can not contain.
This love that bursts out of them so easily whether through tears or hysterical laughter is something I often wish I could bottle up. Children show their emotions so explicitly. They wear their hearts right there on their sleeves for all to see. They know how to laugh, cry, and love in ways that I feel often get lost with age and experience. Or maybe, they just become so subtle that we stop noticing them in one another.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, the Lord says “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another.” What struck me most about this line was how it began… “My children.” The Lord says “My children” to the adult disciples gathered round Him. There are a couple times throughout the Gospels where the Lord reminds us that we are called to be like children in the way that we love and interact with each other and the world around us. And here when he is leaving his disciples with the last and greatest command, he begins with “My children.”
Sure, it is important that my sons learn discipline and that they learn not to overreact to situations… they’ve got to live in the world afterall. No one wants a 35 year old throwing a tantrum at dinner. However, I also really hope they can retain more than a little of that expressive love and emotion. I hope they can remember that even when they are grown, the Lord will rejoice in their love and will say to them “My children…” and love them just as boldly in return.
May we take a moment today to sit with our emotions for this life we have been given and express our love in concrete ways to one another. And most of all, let us look for those subtle ways our children, our families, our friends are reaching out to us and reach right back.