My youngest child is wiggling her front tooth. It’s a thrill, it’s a project, it’s unmitigated glee. I’ve seen this before.
A kid waits for the first loose tooth longer than they wait for Halloween, for summer vacation. When’s it gonna fall out? My friend’s already lost two. Then one day… a shift. Could it be? Let’s do this!
I’m happy for my girl, but I feel waves of sadness breaking over me, here and there in recent days. I’ve been watching my kids grow out of littleness for 15 years. What’s harder about this, now?
It may be the denial I’ve afforded myself. To this point, every time one of my children has outgrown some precious stage or season (standing up, tying shoes, losing teeth), there’s been a younger sibling just growing into it. I was a preschool parent for over a decade – didn’t have to believe I’d ever see my last finger-painting. But now, when the youngest gets done with a thing, it’s really done. Jammies are going to Goodwill, not the attic, and the Thomas spoon won’t be in the drawer for much longer.
There’s something about the two front teeth, you know? When a grin still has the originals, your baby still looks like a baby. I mean, you know, kind of. But man, when those giant clunky chompers come in, there’s no fooling yourself. Your kid is big.
She’s yanking at this tooth and beaming at me. I can’t tell what she’s saying, because she’s got a hand in her mouth, but it’s something about how great this is.
I’ve heard church people joke that we made Christmas a holiday because we love babies - the sacred infant is just an irresistible image. I think there’s something to this, but church and life won’t let us cling to beginnings. There’s a thing called the liturgical calendar that charts a path for Christians’ spiritual attention throughout the year - by the second week in January we’re supposed to be reading the part of the story when Jesus is baptized as a full-grown man. So much for savoring youth, right? Before there are leaves on the oak at my house, Jesus will be facing death and what lies beyond.
At times I feel my own life tumbling forward with such ferocious speed, and I have moments of panic, I won’t deny it. My girl works on her incisor as her brother walks past and grabs the car keys. I see the man he’s very close to becoming, the man I won’t be able to protect as he confronts many fearful things beyond our home.
Lent is a journey, life is a journey, and it frays the nerves to consider that we can’t decline to embark. Not only that, as we go we can’t stop, we can’t hardly press pause. We’re moving forward in this thing, like it or not, becoming what we are to be, discovering all we are meant to find. We make choices along the way, and we ought to make good ones, but we cannot claim total control. We can’t remain always safe in our parents’ care, and we cannot save our little ones from every harm.
But there’s a kind of trust that many have found a way to embrace on this journey, even when the landscape is unforgiving, and there is danger afoot. It’s a trust that Jesus knew, which never suggests that trouble isn’t lurking. A simple faith lies in wait for any of us to grasp, faith that grace abides, that what is needed will be found, that healing and hope are real, and that joy, even new life, will come in the morning.
I smile with my kids as they push beyond childhood, even as I grieve, even as I worry, because most of the time my faith is stronger than my fear. I’m not going to be able to banish from my soul every one of those moments of panic I was telling you about. But I’m working on filling my days with gratitude, courage, forgiveness and trust.
You know, the stuff that keeps you hanging in there, taking the next step.
The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa, pursuing transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays at 5pm. 102 E. 2nd St., Davenport