Not that we’re creatures of habit around here, or anything, but I will say that we have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch about three days a week. On the non-P, B and Jay days, we rotate in a selection of other standard staples: hot dogs, baked beans, mac’n’cheese, chicken nuggets, etc.
But one day last week, I had the audacity to make something different for lunch. Something, I am still stunned to report, which we had never had before.
I don’t know what came over me. I suddenly had a strange yen for . . . variety. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the urge to variegate. Especially not to the wild crazy extremes I went, making something no less exotic than a pasta salad. Bacon and Veggie Pasta Salad, to be exact. Radical, I know—I live on the edge like that.
From the reaction of the kids, you would have thought it was a dish flown in by NASA direct from Mars.
When I first brought it to the table, there was a moment of baffled silence.
And then you could see something turn over in their toddler brains as the thought penetrated through the fog of confusion: this is not on the approved list of lunch items.
It was a thought followed closely by a keen sense of dismay when they realized that this strange pasta-salad-thingy was being offered in lieu of, rather than in addition to, our standard selection of lunch fare.
Finger pointing and incredulous questioning ensued, such as: “What’s that?”
Questioning in turn gave way to accusation: “Why can’t we have peanut butter and jelly?” (On the page that looks like a question, but as spoken it plainly meant: You’re hoarding all the PBJ for yourself and foisting this gunk off on us!).
Which soon devolved into outright demands: “I want peanut butter and jelly!”
As the agitation among the pre-school proletariat grew more pronounced, their older sister (my six-year-old daughter) sensed opportunity (her motto: “Never let any domestic disturbance go to waste”; she’s the first to take advantage of any of the frequent parental distractions occasioned by her siblings, aged 4, 3, and 1). She decided to harness the power of the mob and began inflaming the passions of the populace like the best Athenian demagogue ever to have their name scratched on a pottery shard for ostracism. Before I knew what was happening, she had them chanting: “We want PBJ! We want PBJ!”
Chanting. In my dining room. I kid you not. The whole scene was growing more rowdy by the second, and we were just a few ticks away from soccer hooliganism.
I tried to check the course of the runaway crowd by pointing out: “It’s got bacon!”
But it was too late. The train had already jumped its tracks.
And then the disturbance morphed from a PBJ protest to full blown insurrection. My six-year-old provocateur declared: “I’ll take Dad’s pocket knife and then I’ll be Dad!”
She proceeded to pander in the worst, most base way, promising the howling mob that under her tenure of Dadship her siblings would eat PBJ for every meal, and that they would be able to “do whatever they want” and “play all day” (as opposed to the hard labor and continuous toil they suffer under now). The rabble cheered loudly in support of her bid for usurpation.
I shook my head and muttered to myself, “It’s got bacon, for crying out loud!” But to placate them I made their precious PBJ.
But I kept my pocket knife.
Now that I knew the pocket knife was The Scepter of Fatherhood, the symbol of office and key to power, there was no way I was going to let it fall into the hands of my resident six-year-old revolutionary.
And just for the record: they missed out, big time. The bacon and veggie pasta salad was delicious.
But what was really interesting to me was the discovery that my pocket knife was such “a thing” in their collective consciousness. I wasn’t aware that it held any significance for them outside of getting their packages from Grandma and Grandpa opened when they come in the mail. But I guess those little people were making memories even when I wasn’t looking, and even about things that didn’t register with me as being particularly noteworthy.
It was an eye opener that the little stuff really does matter. As parents we can tend to focus a lot of attention on the big events—birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, the annual summer vacation—and work hard to try to make those special. Which is all good. It’s just something to keep in mind that the kids are making memories with the everyday things, too.
Scripture tells us to “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5, 17).
For a long time I wondered just how you do that. I don’t think it was a call to murmuring—I don’t think St. Paul meant for us to be constantly mumbling prayers from the moment our eyes crack open in the morning until we finally find our way back to the pillow at the end of the day—though we certainly should be turning to God all throughout our day, with our requests, problems, questions, thanks, and praise, in audible and mental prayer.
But there are also the in-between times, when we aren’t vocalizing a prayer, audibly or mentally—and those times can still be a prayer, a prayer lived in action rather than spoken in words.
St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on and plunge into eternity, there to remain forever what we have made it.”
It was God Who put us here, in this place and this time, and God Who gave us the tasks to do which face us each day. Those tasks, all those ordinary moments of the day, are our opportunities for prayer. With each we can raise our minds to God, give God our “yes” to what He’s asked us to do, and intentionally do the work He’s given us with love and attention and joy, all offered for Him, turning the work itself into our prayer.
As a parent, that might mean singing a little song when we wake the kids in the morning. Then they’ll remember how Mom and Dad were so joyful and “always” started the day with a song. Or maybe by making a point to greet the kids with a smile and a hug first thing when they get home from school (saving the admonishments about muddy sneakers for later). Or maybe by imparting a little silliness to the nightly washing of the dishes, or a snuggle before tucking them in for sleep. Maybe by just getting down on our kids’ level to listen to them and treat them with the dignity and honor of a child of God.
Because that’s what they are: God’s children, who He’s entrusted to us for a time. God’s with us every moment of the day as we do our best in raising His kids, even when we’re making the PBJ’s (under duress or otherwise), to accept all the love and joy and faithfulness we put into our “yes’s” to Him in all the things, large and small, He asks us to do for Him.
Copyright 2015 Jake Frost.
Image/Art work: Author: Juliusz Kossak (1824-1899); Title: Warsaw Insurrection 1794; end of the 19th Century; from https://commons.wikimedia.org, public domain.