This summer, my wife bought the kids a cardboard house — it’s basically a giant coloring project, giving them a chance to color in the bricks and plants and details on the outside of a house-shaped cardboard box that’s big enough to sit in.
But once inside, they’ll find the walls are blank. And that’s when the real magic happens. Because any 6- or 8-year-old can color in the pre-drawn spaces on the outside, and they’ll all pretty much look the same. But once the kids figure out that it’s actually OK to color on the inside walls of this house, well, no two will look alike.
Jacob and Lauren went to town. After a full afternoon hard at work, they finally invited me in to see, and I squeezed in the doorway as best I could to take it all in. What a great feeling to be welcomed to their world, to see how they would run and decorate a house if it were left to them.
There were a couple of portraits of distinguished-looking people (or at least, as distinguished-looking as one can be when drawn in marker). They even crafted a set of house rules, which included things like, “No running,” “No ice cream,” and, curiously, “No drawing on cardboard.” Cute as ever, and I took pictures galore.
As I twisted my body to leave, I noticed I was sitting in front of one other decoration:
I must have stared at what was clearly Jacob’s handiwork for five minutes. While we believe in God, we’ve never been a super-active religious family, maybe a couple of church visits in the past year. We almost never talk about our faith or say nightly prayers. Jacob has taken religious education classes the last couple of years, and had just started up the most recent round two weeks earlier — though he’d missed the second week.
Would this have come from his CCD classes? The way it’s phrased doesn’t look like it would have been copied from a church sign. We don’t have anything like this in our actual house, and I don’t think any relatives do either. I felt proud, but in a very confused way.
I tried to casually point out how much I enjoyed all the artwork. Who was in the portraits? Just people. Who made up the rules? That was Lauren’s idea, but they both added them.
Why did you put up the nice sign by the door?
And that was that.
Like most kids’ toys, the house was used for three or four days, then banished to the basement, which is where toys go when we can’t quite bring ourselves to throw them away.
I never asked more questions about the sign. I told myself that I would, but partially rationalized that maybe this was something best for just him to know, or that it must have just been copied from something he’d seen somewhere and thought it belonged in a house, or that he wouldn’t be ready for a deep talk about faith.
But on that last point — no, it’s almost certainly me that wasn’t ready for such a talk. In my twenties, exploring religion, I happened to see some teenagers giving a speech about their unquestioned faith, which clearly gave them a confidence and peace I’ve envied and never understood. In my thirties, I went on a weekend retreat that was so emotionally powerful that I thought I’d seen the light… but after a month, that light had faded nearly as quickly as it appeared. Now I’m raising two kids in a nearly-religion-free household.
And this pops up.
I’m afraid that I’ll somehow wreck it for him. I want Jacob to have faith in his faith, to feel it in his bones in a way which I only had for one fleeting weekend. It’s something I’ve chased, on-again and off-again, trying to find a way to fully believe. Talking with him about that doesn’t seem like it would help, though I’d love to explore with him and encourage him and develop whatever is important to him. I just don’t know how.
I know parenting isn’t supposed to be easy, that there will be challenges to find ways to relate and encourage your kids to be the best they can be, even when their interests or passions are in areas that are completely foreign. Jacob turns to me often to explain his latest Minecraft revelation, a computer game that completely absorbs him but I know little about. Sometimes he knowingly says, “I understand you might not want to know about it.” But I listen to those stories all the same.
I wish I’d asked him more about his sign when it was a fresher moment, for him and for me. Perhaps I just need a little more faith in myself.