Monday, April 6, 2015

Two Easter Mondays

Easter Monday, April 2009, The Schönbrunn Gardens, Vienna, Austria
Easter Monday, April 2015, The Parking Lot at the Pediatrician's Office, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
A retired pastor whose son, granddaughters and great-grandchildren are part of my congregation hugged me and blessed me after the second service on Sunday. We talked, and he asked, as he always does, "So ... how are the kids ... ?" And the unspoken questions that we both know are there in the ellipses go something like this: "Have they seen you, lately? Are they acting out? Does the congregation still love them? Does the congregation think you spend too much time with your family? Do your kids blame the church for you being away days and nights and weekends? Do they blame God?"

And there may be other questions I haven't even thought of yet, hidden in those ellipses, in that dear pastor's eyes and in the way he hugs me and blesses me.  There's another pastor of the same generation who also comes to visit his family in my congregation sometimes; he brought me communion after Walter was born.  Sometimes when he visits he'll ask the question and then sigh deeply and say, "It'll be OK!" before I've had a chance to answer at all, and then he hugs me again. There are many untold stories and years of experience behind that hug.

The truth is that, at this point in our lives at least, it is OK, and even wonderful, for me to be a pastor and a mom. The two weeks leading up to Holy Week were rough, though, no lie. Lots of long days, late nights, busy weekends and sleepless kiddos. We ate out a lot, and that takes a toll.

Holy Week itself was humane by contrast: no evening meetings on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and I was able to get home early enough on all those days to start dinner before the kids got home at 5:30. Maundy Thursday worship and meal are combined; our most kid-friendly Holy Week service of the five services this week, and also my favorite.  The kids stayed home with Sean and Baba on Good Friday, but I was home by 7 to help with bedtime.  We were even in bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday, the night of our first annual conference-wide Easter Vigil, though of course I was too excited and elated by the events of the night to go to sleep.  Saturday was a busy day all around, with egg dying, runningrunningrunning outside with Umma and Baba, Umma's birthday cake baking/decorating and Walter skipping his nap in favor of cleaning the living room with Baba.  I got the sense that the kids were maybe a little more tired than non-pastor's kids might be on Easter weekend, but overall were no worse for wear, maybe even slightly better grounded into the rhythms of the Triduum than the average 1 and 3-year-olds (I may be reaching, here.)

After the second service Sunday morning I was pretty worn out, and I could see that my support network was maybe even more worn out than I was.  If you were to put "preaching and presiding at two Easter services after a full Holy Week" on a scale balanced against "caring for two small children, giving them a festive Easter experience and preparing Easter lunch" you would get a good visual of why it made sense to have me on one side of the scale and Umma, Baba and Sean together on the other side ... and also why they were probably more tired than I was.  Naps all around (except for Baba. He drove home.)  When bedtime came, Walter resisted until about 11 pm, and Sean turned to me and said, "I'm broken.  I'm starting to get sick. I'm going to call in and sleep all day tomorrow." I told him he should always plan to take Easter Monday off. "Like in Slovakia," I said. And remembered ...

My first Easter Monday after a busy Holy Week was in 2009, when I was on internship in Bratislava, Slovakia. Sean and I were both teaching at the bilingual high school and I was also interning at the English speaking international congregation. I think we taught classes until Wednesday, and then my supervisor and I worked on the putting together everything needed for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Sean cooked and cooked and cooked for a community-wide Easter potluck. Early Monday morning we hopped on a train to Vienna and spent the day wandering around the gardens at the Schönbrunn, which was free, and so beautiful.  We took a nap on a bench by a fountain, sitting in dappled shade.  It was maybe a touch too warm, which was perfect after the relentless sleety winter of just weeks before. I sat on that bench with my head on Sean's shoulders and felt about as completely happy as a person can feel. 

Easter Monday 2015 has been different, of course. One of the concerns Walter shared with us late Sunday night was that his ear hurt, and he'd said it a few times over the weekend, so we decided to try and get him in to see Dr. L. Walter has been so healthy, other than allergies and little fleeting maladies best treated at home, that he hasn't been to see Dr. L since his well-child visit in October. With Sean and I both going the ear-check took on the feel of a fun family outing, which was kind of odd, but also really genuinely nice.  And it turned out that, yes there was fluid in his ear and gunk in his throat due to the tyranny of springtime, but no ear infection. We took our boy back to daycare and commenced sleeping. It was a really good, happy day. 

While we were waiting for Dr. L, Walter did some extraordinary imaginative playing.  He assigned roles: I was Junior Gorg, he was Wembley Fraggle, Sean was Gobo Fraggle.  It started out pretty standard Fraggle fare. Sean told Walter to run through my legs. I chased him and said, "Ohhh, you pesky fwaggles! Stop stealing my wadishes!"

Then Walter gently touched my arm and said, "Junior, Junior no.  We're not stealing your radishes. We are planting OUR radishes."  I looked at Sean, confused.  This wasn't in the script. "You mean," asked Sean, "You mean we should grow our own radishes, Wembley?" "Yes, so we don't have to steal from the Gorgs!" "Oh," I said, still in character. "Do you need some help?  I'm a pwetty gweat gawdener." (At this point I started to question my commitment to the voice, a bit.) "Yes!!"said Walter/Wembley, and we proceeded to plant a bed of radishes on the exam room table.  Every time we encountered a scenario where there was potential for conflict (the dinosaur appliques on the walls also wanted my radishes) Walter, on his own, came up with a non-violent solution (Walter and I collected grass for the herbivores, fish for the carnivores, and old meat for the scavengers, and then I explained to the dinosaurs that they shouldn't eat my radishes while Walter planted another radish bed especially for them.)  I know he doesn't have as much success doing that with his peers at school, but I was very proud of him. And grateful for that time together.

When I took the picture of the three of us in the van in the parking lot, I was thinking about the picture of me and Sean in the Schönbrunn, and how it would be funny to compare them.  I do think it's pretty funny.  

But here are the things I want to be sure NOT to say:

  • That life and ministry with kids is any more or less an adventure than life and ministry without kids.
  • That my life and ministry before my kids was all palaces and sun dappled afternoons in Vienna, and that after kids it's all trips to the pediatrician's office.
  • That I'm happier now, or that I was happier then. 
  • That my life before my kids wasn't full or meaningful, because it was. Quite full, quite meaningful.  And my ministry, though it was just at its start, was too. 
Sean and I dearly, deeply wanted kids, and we are overjoyed to have Walter and Sally in our lives. Part of loving them well, I think, is realizing that we are still real and full people apart from them. We existed before they were born, and we continue to exist as fully differentiated human adults, the way we hope they will be, someday.  I think Sean and I may have gotten a glimpse of Walter, the peacemaker, today. He's already his own person, and goodness knows Sally is, too. 

Based on the sighs and hugs and blessings of my elders, I can guess that there are challenging times ahead. But I don't know what the next years and decades of life and ministry will bring by way of challenges (one could point out that I technically don't even know what tomorrow will bring, but shhhhhh.)  For now, we are OK, and today we are a little better than OK: we are Easter Monday happy.  I know, because as we got out of the van to go see Dr. L., Walter, unprompted and unfamiliar with the term, said this: 

"What day is it?"
"Easter Monday?"
"Yes, buddy, it's Easter Monday. Come hold my hand."

And he did, with one of the biggest smiles I've seen on him in a long while.