My children all like to leave me coloring pictures and notes on my nightstand. I don’t like to see piles of anything stacked up in the house, but the pile of coloring pictures and notes from them is off limits from 'dad purging'. My wife and I receive all sorts of treasures on our night stands from our kiddos. We receive coloring pages, origami figures, handmade comic books, "I love you" notes and even Lego structures. My oldest has gotten creative with leaving his artwork in various locations for me to discover. He has started leaving them in places that he knows I will see them, such as my crochet stash or next to the Nespresso machine. He knows, I do not miss a cup of coffee and it’s a chance to surprise me. His latest project really affected me when I saw it and it made me pause for a moment. I laughed at first and then just looked at it with feelings of gratitude and appreciation.
He wrote me a note on a piece of white computer paper. “Dear Dad, you once got a message bottle in Animal Crossing. It was a cooking recipe. Go to Nook Stop and upload your recipe app. That’s all! From your son.” He signed it too. For those that do not know, Animal Crossing is a simulation Nintendo Game where the player character is a human living in a village of animals and can do various activities like fishing, planting, swimming and designing the village. He left the note for me right next to the stove because he knew I would make eggs for breakfast after I got home from Cross-fit in the morning. I was stunned by his note because it was the first time he has ever written to me completely in cursive. He had no idea that in such a simple task, he was showing me how much he has developed, learned and how much he has grown up.
I find that it is tempting to fall into this trap where parenting feels like a never ending abyss of giving, giving and more giving. I saw a meme just the other day that said “Do you want to know what having four kids is like? Imagine you’re drowning and then someone hands you another child.” I’ll admit that I laughed out loud when I read it and then I sent it along to my wife. I find there’s a danger, however, with humor like this. Humor like this actually desensitizes us and leads us towards attitudes where we view our children as more responsibilities, or worse, obstacles to peace. This is dangerous because it can lead us towards attitudes of narcissism as parents. I don't like feeling overwhelmed as a parent, but the feeling is worse when I fall into the trap of thinking it's their fault. When I look at my children with gratitude, however, then they become beacons of God’s love in my life and that is exactly who they are.
I’ve been using this Examen for Parents and praying the rosary for my family almost daily, and I think that is why my son’s note caused me so much pause. I think spending more time in intentional prayer is what allowed me to appreciate his note with gratitude, rather than just a silly art project of his. Instead of just looking at it as another paper for the pile or a victim of “dad purging”, it became a prayerful moment for me. It was a moment where I experienced and felt God’s love as a parent and I felt so proud of him.
Another reason that I appreciated his note so much was because It helped me to appreciate the value that daily handwriting practice has had four our children’s education. We utilize it to practice writing and studying their spelling words. Daily handwriting reinforces practice with difficult letters, and we use it to expose them to bible passages and church hymns. We assign them practice several times a week in their writing tablets. They have fun learning how to write their cousins names, names of the states that their family members live in and how to write their favorite foods. Now I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my wife here. She is the one who has been tremendously creative with their handwriting assignments and deserves all the credit!
The kids feel empowered when they are able to put their ideas onto paper. Their faces are adorable when they’re focusing on each stroke of the pencil to write their letters the correct way. This little note from him about our Nintendo game was a moment of joy to me because without knowing it, he was showing me how much he has learned and grown. I saw how much he must have focused from his use of capital letters, correct spelling, appropriately sized letters, attention to punctuation, and his underlined title of the game. He even signed his name! This ordinary moment became an extraordinary grace filled moment and I look forward to seeing what he writes next.