|An excerpt from One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly, by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Available here.|
My life is punctuated by parentheses. Spaces and moments that are not the main point, not the absolute essential, and which rarely end with an exclamation mark. Pieces that are inserted right in the middle of things, causing me pause, asking me to reconsider what was said before and after. I think of these curved parenthetical lines as protective walls intentionally put up amid routine and chaos. I think of my current parent self as author, the creator of curated paragraphs for the little babes who rely on intuition and the whirring wings inside their little bodies.
On a car ride home from a friend’s house, I decided what matters to me more than my own cynicism is softness. A soft heart is what I want. I put on some choral music as soundtrack for our drive home through the suburbs. The moon was round and layered in a quilt of clouds. Remy had gotten his shirt muddy, so he was bare-chested with black-and-white striped pants, and in the rearview mirror I could see his round face looking back at him against the dark window. Thea moved her arms in slow circles. We drove for a while without talking, and then I sensed Remy wanted to say something. I turned down the music, and he said, “Mom, Jesus is close by here. He is in my mind telling me to do good things, and I’m listening.” All I could muster from the front seat was, “That’s nice, Remy.”
I stumble over my words. I do not know how to voice the complexities of both my faith and doubt to my four-year-old with my limited language, and so, often, I say nothing at all. I have spent a lot of time worrying that I do him a disservice by not articulating every nuance of my belief and unbelief. But tonight I understood that my words will always be secondary to what he can learn to hear himself.
I am a maker of parentheses, pockets of safety and peace wherein my children can nestle into themselves and listen. It is not my job to tell them what to hear or understand there, but rather to simply trust it. I think of our car ride home as a brief parenthetical moment in our day. That is my job, to listen carefully enough to know when a sentence needs pause, and to be brave enough to employ the proper grammar—to place that rounded wall, a deliberate sacred space. The world is full of run-on sentences, of exclamation marks and words that are not well thought out. The world will not so easily offer my children that space to pause and breathe, to look at their reflection in the window with the moon high above and believe that Jesus is in their head, telling them to do the best things.