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Gingerbread Houses and Nightlights

Gingerbread Houses and Nightlights

Someday, I’ll have to grow up. But not today.

I was married when I was 21 years old, and I have been a father since I was 22. I’ve often thought that this meant that I had to grow up fast. However, I have recently considered the notion that it meant quite the contrary. Whether growing up in my parents’ home or becoming a parent myself, I have been surrounded by little children my entire life. In fact, there has been at least one child under three-years-old in my home for almost every moment of my adult life.

As Jesus taught us, “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” This quote from Our Lord could be understood in a number of different ways, but it is perhaps of special poignancy to those who are actually around little children all day long. Unless you are spiritually tone-deaf, the mere presence of children has the effect of conveying dulcet innocence upon you. That is a great grace. The blessing I have received is that my life is directed to the things of children, and consequently, away from the secular culture of adults.

For instance, I hear names of pop-culture figures bantered about. I don’t know much about who they are or what they’ve done to achieve fame. However, I do know a lot about Pet Shop Toys, Dora-the-Explorer, dolls, Legos, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, snow-cone machines, grammar workbooks, roller coasters, strollers, Yertle the Turtle, night lights, phonics, computer golf, ballet shoes, miniature cupcake baking machines, and violin “twinkles.” My heart and soul are immersed in the innocence of children.

Being so involved in the lives of nine children, I have so little interaction with the things of the adult world that at times it’s… fantastic!

Having our children with us allows us to steep our hearts and souls in innocence. People occasionally compliment homeschooling parents for their willingness to teach their children at home. It’s not a bad idea to stop for a few moments every once in a while to consider what they bring to the table. Life is beautiful, and if we listen, they remind us every day.

For instance, a few weeks before Christmas, I took the girls to an upscale mall outside of Washington, D.C. to enjoy the yuletide sights and sounds. (I know that some people don’t appreciate the liturgical faux pas of decorating weeks before Christmas, but I’ve never had a problem with it. To me, the celebration of, and devotion to, the Infant Jesus transcends the calendar. What strikes me as strange is when people decorate for Halloween months before the last day in October.) At the mall, I marveled at the Ferrari and Lamborghini cars that were parked inside. The girls were more interested in the magnificent decorations. They were awed by the huge green fir trees, the blue and pink ornaments, the sparkling lights, the wrapped presents, and the delicious Christmas chocolates.

In this same shopping complex, the Ritz-Carlton had built a life-size gingerbread house room that you could actually walk in, smell the gingerbread, have your picture taken, and shop for goodies. I noticed that some of the children (not mine) had eaten some of the gum drops off the wall.

As we walked back to the car, I asked Philomena if she had the time of her life.

Half-jokingly, I asked her: “Was this a top-ten moment, Philomena?”

Philomena answered: “More like top five.”

“Seriously? Top five, Philomena?”

She looked at me, puzzled, as though I had inexplicably missed the grand significance of what had just transpired, and explained, “Daddy, we went inside a gingerbread house!”

“I see your point, Honey,” I responded.

Recently, as the rest of the world debated politics, finance, or whatever was the cause célèbre du jour, the members of our family were thinking different thoughts. As we drove to liturgy for the feast of the Epiphany, I asked the children a question that seemed pretty important, at least to us. I posited the question: “If the Man with the Yellow Hat (from the Curious George books) drove a yellow sports car, would he come to be known as the Man with the Yellow Car?” I argued the case, but was voted down, and with some pretty compelling arguments.

We’re not trying to answer the mysteries of quantum mechanics or solve the riddles of theoretical astronomy. We’ll let other people worry about those trivial things. We’ve got fish to fry.

Feastdays are a pretty big deal in our house. Lisa and I like to illustrate the importance of remembering who the children are named after, so that they may emulate the saints. I recently took our eight-year-old daughter, Dominica, to the Build-A-Bear Workshop for her feast day. For those of you who haven’t been there, you search through the store, pick out a bear or another animal, put a heart inside, and press on a machine to “stuff” the bear. Then you can shop for accessories for the newly-stuffed animal. If I didn’t have children, I don’t know what I’d be doing. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be stuffing bears, and I really doubt I’d be helping to pick out clothes for them.

My face looks every day of 41 years, but my heart knows better. It’s a young world, and it’s a young life. Homeschooling our children means simply more time spent with them—more time learning about the world of children. That is an under-appreciated blessing. So the next time you get out the phonics workbooks and first grade math flash cards, remember that the biggest lesson in these exercises might be yours to learn.

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About John Clark

John Clark is a homeschooling father, a speechwriter, an online course developer for Seton Home Study School, and a weekly blogger for The National Catholic Register. His latest book is “How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape.”
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