Last week, my husband and I took Liam to my family’s second home–a farm in the mountains. Growing up, that’s where we spent the major portion of every other week, taking our homeschooling supplies with us. After some of us started attending school, we spent every other weekend there and lots of summer time. My cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all live just down the road, and acres and acres of rolling fields and pine forests surround our house. We learned to garden, cared for horses, and went on many adventures with my grandmother and cousins. We rode go-carts and dirtbikes, went fishing, and caught fireflies at night.
As I grew older, though, I didn’t like what felt like two disjointed lives. I never felt like I fully belonged either place; I missed out on church, friends, and school events back home, and I missed out on cousin and extended family events at the farm. I longed to spend all my weekends in one place, thinking it would make our family stronger and more “normal.”
Through that trip to the farm last week, I noticed my subconscious desire to make my son’s childhood everything I wanted mine to be (and I say this with some irony, realizing what a charmed childhood I had).
Now we live just miles from where I grew up in the suburbs. Assuming we stay here, Liam will grow up with friends his age. My siblings and I lived too far to walk to our friends’ houses, but Liam won’t. He will be able to walk to school. He will have long, lazy summer days here. He can be “in” with the neighborhood kids and never miss a Vacation Bible School. He can be rooted. All the holes–all the things I felt were missing–I can try to fill for him.
But by giving him all I wanted, I’ll be leaving out much that shaped me.
My two lives taught me about people so different from myself. Our suburban home was in a very materially-wealthy city. But our farm was in a rural area with small homes, less money, a tiny, white Baptist church where the biggest offering was probably smaller than the smallest at our home church. My friends went to schools with cutting-edge technology; my cousins went to a rural school where the teachers were the same ones who had taught my mom. My friends talked about college all the time; my cousins talked about the jobs they would get and the families they would start after highschool. And I tasted it all. I attended the full-blown Bible school of my home church and the country church Bible school complete with Hardee’s burgers and Dollar Store candle crafts. And as much as I hated being torn between two places, I can’t take for granted how I was changed–how I learned understanding and openness toward people, how I learned to appreciate complexity.
On the farm, I had lots of land to explore. We were free to wander off and just be. We learned how to grow things–where our food comes from and the work involved. And though I missed out at times on feeling rooted and connected, I wouldn’t have these other lessons without experiencing both lives. My childhood was full and rich. There were hard things and wonderful things, and my parents weren’t able to shape it all.
I can’t shape my son’s childhood either. He will have experiences I never had but miss out on things I experienced. For example, he may grow up with lots of friends nearby, but I fear that he will miss having close relationships with his cousins like we had. As his mother, I have much less control than I think, and he will perceive and experience things uniquely. It’s not about me and what I would have wanted, and even if I try to fill in all the perceived holes in my childhood, there will still be holes in his.
We can’t give our kids a perfect childhood. And even if I succeeded in giving him the childhood of my dreams, I would miss out on giving him the childhood I never dreamed of but that ultimately made me who I am.
It’s true of faith, too. If it were up to me, I would make it good, innocent, pure and simple. It would be a tidy package I could hand to him.
I can try to teach my son the lessons I wish I had learned and read him the books I wish I had read. I can try to do for him the things that worked for me–the books and songs and Sunday School classes. But I can’t simply give him my faith, and the songs that spoke to me may not speak to him. I can’t prevent him from making my mistakes or having doubts or fears. And that’s a good thing because we need this full, beautiful, messy complexity. We need the holes, too. It’s a part of faith and a part of life.
There’s freedom in realizing that I can’t control how my child experiences, perceives, and learns, and what he loves and hates. He is unique. And I pray that the holes in his childhood, the things we do wrong, and the things we do right will all point him closer to the One who does have control. I pray that he will find beauty and life even in the holes–that he will be able to peer through those holes and see even more clearly, just as I am starting to do.