“Zu früh alt, zu spät weise.” / “Zeit verloren, Leben verloren.”
— a couple of my favorite German proverbs
My wife and I are raising bilingual children. She’s Taiwanese and I’m ‘Murican, and we are of one mind that we want our kids to be completely fluent in both of their formative languages. (Of course , this will not stop me from teaching my kids German and Latin, and having them take the usual suite of foreign language classes that any education should include.)
Since she spends most of the day with “mama,” my daughter’s Chinese (Mandarin) is better than her English, but one of the words she uses exclusively in English is “outside.” (Well, okay, it still comes out as “owsigh,” but “baba” gets his little girl.) For now “owsigh” has a rigidly concrete meaning: it is whatever she can see through the back parlor door when I open it. The back parlor is joined to the kitchen but, because of a small step down and the generally unwelcoming nature of the parlor (it’s basically just a storage space and where we make toast and coffee), she almost always only leans forward from the kitchen to peek at “outside” when I head to the backyard to workout.
In any case, today I put my foot down, shut off the incessant replaying of “Barney: Pet Friends” that my daughter loves, and decided to take her “outside” to gather pecans. (NB: As a Southern boy, I will teach my kids to say “peecans,” not “puhcons.”) Our neighbor has a massive pecan tree just across the fence over our driveway, and after every workout I’ll bring in a handful of them for snacks. I’m happy to say that my daughter enjoyed scavenging for pecans as much as, if not more than, swaying to Barney. Granted, I think there’s a real value in shows like Barney, mainly in terms of teaching little kids about colors, melody, warm social interaction, basic vocabulary, how to get hypnotized, etc. But it filled me with such joy to get my daughter out in the grass and grit of the real world.
After a short lunch, shortened by our daughter’s frequent chirping gesticulations at “owsigh,” we then headed to one of the best used bookstores in the USA, Chamblin Bookmine, my other favorite slice of the real world since I was a young teen. (Guess what another of my daughter’s exclusively English words is?) As I culled a half dozen books that go on my endless to-read list, I tried to affirm my daughter every time she brought me “booh” after “booh”.
Then we headed home and, while both babies slept, I used that rare synchronicity to convince my wife to try out some exercises that I typically do, but it turned out to be too much of a change from her usual “late afternoon walk with the two-baby stroller,” so she tried to teach our pecan-neighbors’ granddaughter how to jump rope, while I ploughed on with my Sisyphean fitness hobby. Then the babies woke up, my wife prestidigitated inside, and Lil’ Pecan Girl strolled into our backyard to see what I was doing, but once I got to my sledge-hammer drills, I sent her back to the safety of “over there.” I left “owsigh,” took a shower, mysteriously fell asleep at about 6 PM, and then woke up. Now I’m blogging about it. Fascinating stuff, I’m sure.
Am I rambling? Not quite, since I’m trying to make an evangelical point. There was something very… wholesome, and thus very holy, about today, and I need to take it seriously as a criterion–a semiotic guide–for the quality of my life. I went to confession Friday, and the main point the priest made is that, while I could get by with the habits that lead me to sin, they would never enable me to be “the best man, the best father, the best Catholic you can be–is that what you really want?” It certainly is not what I want, and today was a gratuitous running parable about what redeemed life–what life as God intended–should look like, albeit in an asymptotic fashion, this side of the Eschaton.
My patron saint is Francis de Sales, and I think one thing that tipped my hand to choose his support, is that I had a hunch that I would not end up a priest, but I wanted to be as orthodox and as a devout a laymen as I could manage–a true priest of the domestic Church. I have not always succeeded in that, and I’ve certainly not read nearly as much of St. Francis’s writings as I ought, or wanted to, have read by now, but I still turn to St. Francis as sure guide and a sure ally in my proleptic struggle towards holiness. Nor is his blatantly apologetical and proselytizing stance lost on me; mystically speaking, as a convert from Calvinism, I may be yet another of St. Francis’s hard-won converts.
The heartwarming upshot, kiddies, is that taking your kids outside, and even just being a good neighbor (for the non-kid-breeders out there), is a genuine step on the path to glory. The key is to remember that you will die someday, and those who you neglected or spurned may very well also die without ever approaching the ever merciful God. Get out there. Get in there. God is waiting for you.