What it takes

Jonah and I had a date for church this morning. We’ve gotten to the point where Gabriel goes a couple times a month. There’s only so much racing and chasing we can manage, and really, we’d rather he were outside running circles than making a mad dash for the altar.

J was a little more squirrelly than usual. We’ve been out of the church proper for almost three months, meeting in the social hall while repairs were made. He was very excited to be back in “the big church.” Usually we can get a solid five minutes of ease out of him upon our arrival, but today he was squatting atop the pew with Where’s Walrus wide open, rocking from side to side and talking a kind of bookish gibberish to himself. There’s always been a Gollum-esque quality to Jonah, minus the creepy “My preciousssss” obsessive chatter. It’s in the way he moves. He has a wonderful litheness about him—creaturely in a kooky but charming sort of way.

But what it takes somedays is full body contact. At one point he was on my lap, facing me and showering me with kisses. On my nose, my eyes, my neck. Then he had a piece of my hair in his mouth, then he was sniffing me. Every few moments he would look me straight in the eye and say, “I love you mom.” Either that or, “How long until Holy Communion? Five minutes? Twenty?”

One routine that must be particularly strange to watch involves me putting my hand down the front of his shirt so that I’m touching his skin while my other hand clamps down hard over his eyes. “Tighter, tighter!” he whisper-commands. It’s hard to know how hard to push. I fear shoving his beautiful big eyeballs into his skull, and my hand can stay clamped like that for only so long before it starts to cramp.

It must be a lot to take in. Of course it is. I remember my first visits to an Orthodox Church. I would plant myself in a pew behind a large pillar so that I could watch and hide all at once. As soon as the service was over I’d break for the door. There’s still a little of that tendency in me. The icons, the chanting, the incense, the bright stained glass. Priests and altar boys in robes moving about. The periodic Paschal shout of “Christ is Risen!” answered by a hundred voices shouting back, “Indeed He is Risen!” Of course he needs someone to clamp down hard on his eyes. Sometimes it’s just too much. Turning all of his attention on me seems to have the same calming effect. Sniffing my hair brings him down to a more familiar, less stimulating place.

On the spectrum of sensory input, Jonah’s a seeker (to the often extreme), so I can forget that even he can be overwhelmed. I’m starting to think it happens more than we know or have in the past discerned because he’s almost always smiling. He’s game and he’s goofy. His goofiness is probably the biggest sign that he’s got more than he knows what to do with. When he starts slapping his head three-stooges-style and falling to the ground, you know it’s time to bail. Get to some heavy work or a swing. Whatever it takes…which is how I tend to approach Church these days. I try to ignore the looks that come our way. Some are real, some imagined. I have to admit that there’s part of me saying, “Screw ’em.” (I know. Nice sentiment to be having in church.) But if there’s one thing Jonah’s given me, it’s perspective.

It’s so easy to judge. It’s so easy to be unkind and think you know best. Jonah has taught us how to be his parents. Through his cries and his caresses, through his climbing and running and spinning he shows us what he needs—which is sometimes to be left alone, but more often to be helped along. To be calmed down so he can be with us better. So we can be better with him.

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