"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Falling, and Getting Up Again

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for first-time parents to do is not to overreact when they witness their little one's first falls. Especially with that first child, the tendency is to hover and try to prevent as many of the little bumps and bruises as possible. Early on in my parenting I decided that I was not going to hover or overreact. Now that I am raising my fourth toddler, I think I can say that I have actually improved on this front, and it struck me the other day when I was in the back yard watching the three youngest at play.
 Robert happened to trip and fall, which is pretty common for someone who has only been walking for four months. I didn't even get up from my seat on the deck steps, but instead waited to see how he would react and if some mama comforting would be needed. To my surprise, he got up, turned to look at me, and clapped delightedly. I almost felt that I could translate his eager clapping into words - the words I often use when my kids fall - "Great fall! And you got right back up! Way to go!" He seemed to know that some cheering was in order after his great fall and quick rising. It struck me in a sort of profound way that this child, barely one year old, already had learned the joy in getting up after a fall.
Nor is Robert the only kid who has been falling lately. For Patrick's third birthday, he got his very own Micro Kick Mini Scooter, just like Eva's. I had been hoping she would outgrow hers and pass it on to Patrick, but since she was still using it daily, Patrick asked for his own (blue!!!) scooter. He learned how to use it remarkably well in an astonishingly short amount of time. But one thing he hasn't quite mastered is the rear foot brake. When we were taking Maia to school one morning, he decided (following Eva's cue) to scoot up and then down the little hill that the school is on. As he began rolling down the decline, it hit me that he wouldn't know how to brake, and could run into the on-duty police officer, the fire hydrant or even go into the street. I wasn't sure how Patrick would solve this problem, but I soon found out when he attempted to dismount doing a jump stop and ended up doing a knee-skid on the asphalt. When he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and I looked down at the scraped knee, I said, "Wow! That was great! And look, you finally will get a Superman band-aid!" That was all I needed to say for Pax to hop back on his scooter and roll the rest of the way home. What's a little blood, when a Superman band-aid is on the way?
Meanwhile, after a month or two of using the balance bicycle (which Eva came to late because of her love for her scooter), Eva (not yet five!) began riding a regular two-wheel bicycle, without training wheels, in the past week. It's been really fun to see her take off and do so well at bicycling. But of course, she's also had her share of falls, given the normal difficulties of learning how to steer, as well as stop and go. Even though I've gotten more relaxed when it comes to these things, I don't like to see her on the ground with the bike on top. Today when it happened, she waited for me to catch up and help get her straightened out, and then she looked at me and asked, "Was that a good fall?"
 "Yes," I said, "that was a good fall," as she climbed back on her bicycle and pushed off once again. It couldn't have been comfortable, the way she fell and with the bike on top, but all she needed was a little affirmation and a smile to get her going.

It seems  pretty clear that whether learning to walk, ride a scooter or ride a bicycle, that falls are going to happen. Bumps, bruises, scrapes, and of course, dirty faces, are all part of the lesson of childhood. Kids need to know that they can fail and still try again. They need to expect mistakes and learn that they can deal with them. They need reassurance that these little failures are all just a part of learning. And it won't be long before walking, scooting, and bicycling are a sort of second-nature where accidents are rare.

But the falls and failures of life continue long past the adventures of childhood.What a blessing it is to get back up after a fall, to hop back on with determination, to realize that the little setback does not eliminate the possibility of achieving a goal. That getting back up, not giving up, trying again, and rejoicing in the new attempt is itself a skill. It is not just a natural virtue of perseverance, but rather a testament to how we see the world. To paraphrase John Howard Yoder, the Christian world is not so much about cause and effect as it is about crucifixion and resurrection. As much as we would like to think that hard work equals success or commitment assures our achieving our goals, the world just doesn't always function like that. We can't always anticipate the bumps in the sidewalk, the people who step into our way, or the ruts in the ground. We cannot guarantee our own achievements. But we can get back up again, with a smile, and when we do that, we witness to the supernatural perspective of crucifixion and resurrection. The victory has already been won for us, and it is in uniting our sufferings to Christ that we come to share in his glory.

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