So this post opens with a bit of TMI (too much information) but stick with me.
Since she was very young, one of my daughters has had a hard time with going #2. We were even taking her to a pediatric gastroenterologist for a while an hour away because her 15 month old self would hold it for 7 days. Yep, sometimes 7+ days. Yuck, and all sorts of not good.
It’s not surprising that this issue would rear it’s ugly head (or refuse to show itself…sorry bad joke), when we were potty training. As days would stack up, our sweet little girl got crankier and increased her sass level exponentially. No surprise really, she was full it it, literally. Poor girl, nothing we were trying was working. Until Grandma came to the rescue!
Grandma, Ben’s mom, works with elderly folks and their caregivers. When they are having trouble in this area, she always recommends prunes. The individually wrapped ones specifically, so that it almost looks like candy or some kind of special treat. When she was visiting us last winter, we got some and right away in the store she looked straight at my full-of-it girl and said, “Oh look, the commissary has Sugar Plums! Just like in Twas the Night Before Christmas, remember? The kids dream about sugar plums and how yummy they are. This is great! I can’t wait to have one when we get home.” Needless to say, John also wanted one and for the rest of her visit, every lunch, Grandma and John and our trouble maker had a “sugar plum.” To this day, she has one every day and we haven’t had any more issues. These quite literally saved our lives.
Now the funny part, and the purpose of sharing all that quality information with you, is that now we are all trained. No one, not even Ben and I when we are alone, call the prunes “prunes.” They are sugar plums. I write sugar plums on my grocery list. If someone asked me if I had prunes in the house, my first reaction would be to say no. We have completely bought into the idea and have integrated the term into our everyday family language.
The same goes for Wheat Thins. I head once, Jim Gaffigan I think, that families are either Wheat Thins or Triscuit families. We happen to be a Wheat Thin family. However, you wouldn’t know it if you heard us talk about them. In our house they are “simple crackers.” I came up with this gem on the fly when John asked for crackers for a snack when he was about 3. I think he had wanted the peanut butter cracker sandwiches, or maybe graham crackers. I don’t remember, I but do know that we didn’t have what he wanted and all I had were Wheat Thins.
He was at the table and couldn’t see what I was pointing to, so I couldn’t say “I have Wheat Thins” because he wouldn’t have known what those are. So I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have – insert desired crackers – but we do have some plain crackers, are those OK?” His eyes widened to the point I thought they might pop out and his joy surpassed Christmas morning levels. “We have PLANE CRACKERS!” Oh dear, remember his dad is a pilot and our lives revolve around the comings and goings of military aircraft out our back window. This was going to get tragic, fast.
I quickly apologized and said I read the box wrong. They weren’t plane/plain crackers, they were simple crackers. Thank goodness he bought it and wasn’t too broken up about the whole thing. And so it goes, the grocery list says simple crackers, Rosie only knows them as simple crackers, and Clare probably will as well.
These are funny little quirks that every family has, especially with young children. We don’t have special words or phrases to be exclusive, sometimes they are simply are spur of the moment and of the utmost necessity. Or, they are made out of a silly story, like nicknames that people hold onto from that one day on the playground when… Regardless of how we acquire them, our families have a special language entirely our own. Perhaps similar to other families, but still unique to us.
The Church’s language (and other religions as well) functions in a similar manner. We have some funny words and key phrases that to someone not familiar with the Church would find weird, obscure or confusing. We have some practices that to other religions seem different or unnecessary. But without these unique words, this language of significance, we would not be able to fully express who we are and what we believe.
This is the whole point of Baptism and the Sacraments of Initiation. Before you can be in the family, you have to learn about the family. This is especially pertinent to teenagers and adults who are choosing to enter the Church. There is a process, a rhythm, to the rites and liturgies. There is discernment, which takes time. There is learning, which takes time. There is wisdom in not being able to wake up one day, decide to be Catholic, and be baptized that evening.
I guess the reason why I felt compelled to write this post is because of the stories I’ve heard. I know adults who have gone through the initiation process and come out on the other side feeling like they don’t know much more than they did before they started. This is wrong and it is a disservice to them and to the whole Church. Just as important, and especially applicable to my own situation, are the stories of those who were “raised” Catholic without any real training in Catholicism. How can you be raised Catholic if you don’t know the difference between Incarnation and Immaculate Conception? How can you be raised Catholic if you don’t firmly believe that the Eucharist is truly Jesus’ Body and Blood? How can you be raised Catholic if you don’t believe you need to go to Confession?
As parents, it is our job to raise and train our children in their faith. We cannot leave it to others, to wait for a school to teach them or expect one hour on Sunday mornings to do the trick. If you were sacramentally married, you made promises to your spouse and to God that you would not only be open to children, but that you would raise them in the faith. This means giving them the language of our faith as well as teaching them how to live it out. What an incredible gift and challenge. You have before you saints-in-the-making, even if they are covered in flour, play-dough, syrup or paint. Even when they yell back, pout, and whine that “this dinner is not my favorite.”
Your greatest gift to your children is your love for our Lord and His Church. Through your actions, your service and your gift of the language of the Church, you give them this great gift.