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Friday, August 21, 2015

Keepers of Our Children's Hearts

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the hearts of our children. 
Our children are growing up faster than we realise!
It started when our then 2-and-a-half year old had trouble sleeping at night. This was sometime after Easter, and also after we had attended the funeral procession of Singapore's First Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew the week before. The boys had been exposed to the concept of death, and had had some ideas about the finality it involved, although I am sure their understanding was still at an early stage.

One night after a long week of bedtime struggles, I went into his room for what was probably the fourth time to pray for him. We asked God to send His angels to fill the room and to "tell any bad men to go away". In the darkness, I heard his little voice say, "Mummy, I am scared that the bad soldiers will come and put a crown of thorns on my head." I assured him that it would not be the case, that Jesus died once for us and we did not have to suffer the same death he did, and kissed him good night.


However, my mind was whirling when I went back to our bedroom. On one level, I found it rather amazing that little E had internalised the story to such an extent, but on another, I wondered if we had been exposing him to too much at his tender age, even though the story of the Cross was one we had wanted him to understand.

That was in April. We've since had a few more episodes of being afraid that "the bad men will come and take me away", but thankfully they have been few and far between. 
E spending precious moments reading with his Mama while on holiday. We have since then been mindful to read not-so-scary stories to him, especially before bedtime.
Our children are born with tender hearts. Their hearts have not been calloused like ours have, hardened towards sin and immorality, indifferent to suffering. It has been a reflective journey of watching our boys grow up; Their eyes gradually opening to the fact that this world is not all perfect and rosy, far from the safe and secure haven of their babyhood years.
Don't get me wrong. We do not aim to raise our children in an ivory tower, like Rapunzel, unaware of the goings on in the world beneath them. Not that we could even afford such a tower! We do not shy away from exposing them to the realities of life - a dead squirrel just run over by a car which their Kong Kong let them touch before rigor mortis set in; the fact that Jesus our Saviour suffered and died on the cross; the realities of poverty, suffering, aging, death.

We try our best to be present in their feelings, yes, even the negative ones, and to help them know that they are part of the human condition. Our boys are made aware of the natural disasters that happen around the world and pray for the people who are suffering a a result of them - the earthquakes in Nepal and Kota Kinabalu, the floods in a province of the Philippines where their beloved Aunty M (our helper) is from. 


Yet somehow there is a distinct difference between allowing our children to understand the realities of life as they grow (in an a manner respecting the stage of development they are at) and exposing them to others' subjective interpretations of what the realities of life are (and the reason people often give for this is that they want to prepare their children for the "real" world. But what is real?).
One of the constant thoughts in our minds as parents is how to prepare our children to be resilient and anchored in firm foundations, in a world which is so fickle and where nothing seems "real".
The reality is that very little can prepare us for the real world. As adults, we often find ourselves unprepared for the harsh realities of life; I wonder how we can expect a 3- or 5-year-old to be able to do the same? Not much can ever prepare us, that is, except a grounding and rootedness in one's foundations, and meaningful deep relationships that are built to last. And trust me, most of these will not be found in the latest The Hunger Games movie or Grand Theft Auto game, but are found within the comfort and stability of a family and the supportive networks which surround it.


Mark and I have discussed this issue at a few points since our younger son's sleepless episodes. We have realised that he is a boy with a big imagination and an even bigger heart. In fact, both of our boys have always had that intensity of emotion about them. We love it because it makes them giggle their hearts out when something tickles their funny bone. It is the same spiritedness that causes them to tear when they hear that someone is in pain. However, it is this very sensitivity which comes with fears that often overwhelm, because somehow they are more attune to the fact that this world is, indeed, not what is was meant by its Creator to be, and is in fact decaying by the day. 


We have resolved to make conscious decisions to expose their young hearts to whatever is true, noble, right, pure, holy and admirable. We take them out on nature walks to remind them of the beauty of Creation. We talk a lot about History and Geography and expose them to different cultures and languages because it is an amazing and diverse world out there. We choose excellent "living books" for them to read because we believe that books are our mentors and can change lives. We travel a lot, just because we love living life to the full! And we are embarking on Classical Conversations as a homeschool curriculum because we believe it will help us to do just that.
At the first Orientation Meeting of our new Classical Conversations community.
Breakfast, drawing and a nature walk with lots of squirrel spotting!
This also means that we will not do some things - we limit TV time to at the most one short DVD viewing a day; We allow them to watch a Youtube video of Gustav Holst's The Planets or Riverdance, but we will never let them randomly surf on Youtube. We are intentional in all of this no matter whose house our boys may be at. Studies show, for example, that early exposure to pornography is a key factor in later sexual promiscuity and broken relationships in marriage.

We put a lot of thought into what movies we show them - the number of movies our boys have watched can be counted on one hand, but they include classics like The Sound of Music and Jungle Book, as well as slightly more modern ones like Toy Story and Beauty and the Beast. We want our boys to understand some elements of pop culture, but not necessarily to embrace all of it.
One of the boys' all-time favourite Disney movies - Toy Story! The parents like it too...
And so it with much tenderness that we hold their little hearts in our hands, and a bit of trepidation that we watch them come face-to-face with the world in all its beauty and ugliness, and pray hard that the foundations we have been building in these early years will be a lifelong anchor to their souls.


One of their favourite stories at the moment is The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola. It is a beautiful tale in the heart of Sorrento, Italy, about a poor orphan child and his rise to fame  as a famous juggler, as well as his tragic end as he grows old and is no longer appreciated as in his younger days. Fame is fleeting. Giovanni eventually realises that whatever he puts his heart to brings glory to God when he does his one final act of juggling for the Christ child. One of our favourite lines in the book must be "If you give happiness to people, you bring glory to God as well."
This book has had a great impact on the hearts of our family. A reminder to do all things for the glory of God. In this photo, we were practising painting Roman columns and arches like the artist did.
I must admit, when I first read it to the boys, I myself did not anticipate the ending. My jaw dropped when I turned the page and read, "suddenly, his old heart stopped. And Giovanni fell dead to the floor". Uh oh, I thought. This is where the two of them break down sobbing, and I will regret ever having read this book to them. Not to mention the life of orphanhood, poverty, hunger, and hardship which their beloved Giovanni had had before that. 


Well, no crying ensued, but in the following days they were thoughtful, and kept turning to look at the page of the poor clown sprawled upon the floor, surrounded by his rainbow of juggling balls. 


"And he died?" they kept asking. "His heart stopped?" 


"Yes, he did, sweetheart," I would reply. "Giovanni was old. But he lived a good life, didn't he? And he made people laugh and brought glory to God." 


My two nod wisely, and I am reminded again of how as parents, we have been given the precious and priceless responsibility of being stewards and gatekeepers of their hearts. May we not be found wanting.
May we be faithful stewards of these little boys' hearts. Here they are with painted faces, like Giovanni the juggler.

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