My son's Nicaraguan kindergarten teacher, a sweet Catholic nun that wasn't much taller than her students, smiled at me meekly as she gently pushed a small note with three words written in all caps into my hand. The bell rang and a flood of sweaty five year olds streamed out of the classroom into the open courtyard where mothers were waiting in what little shade they could find in the mid-day sun or under their brightly colored umbrellas.
Abel rushed out and squeezed my side, his white uniform shirt untucked and stained with dirty fingerprints from playing in the dirt at recess. "Do the kids in your class all drink juice boxes?" I asked. "Yeah! All of them. Except me. The teacher buys me one every day. She's so nice."
I sighed, a bit embarrassed. It was a small "mom fail" but it still was disheartening. Abel's teacher had her hands full with a student that didn't speak Spanish and a mother that didn't either.
- - -
We were weaving our way through the snarling traffic of Managua, dodging horse carts, expensive Land Rovers, street vendors, and the constant swarm of motorcycles.
Abel was bleeding profusely from a cut on his forehead and needed stitches. We hurried him into the ER but I struggled to communicate. How could I explain, with the few Spanish words that I had, that my son was running through the house in a Spider man costume that was too big for him and he had slipped on a pant leg and hit is head on the toilet? I couldn't. They stitched him up and we were on our way. He didn't need a major surgery but it was unsettling to know that I didn't have the vocabulary to clearly share my son's medical history with a doctor.
- - -
"He won't write his name," Abel's teacher patiently explained to me in a slow but non-patronizing manner. We were back in the kindergarten room and I glanced down at some of his papers. "MAX" was scrawled on at least a dozen of them.
I grinned. Abel adored the book "Where the Wild Things Are" which is about a boy named Max that loves to wear costumes, go on adventures, and make mischief. I often read him the book at night and sometimes we teased about how I knew a boy that also is very similar to Max.
I wanted to explain Abel: to demonstrate that he wasn't just being a naughty kid and show how he had a huge imagination and identifies deeply with a character in a book but my grammar level didn't allow for it. I said that I would talk to Abel and nodded. I knew how to solve the immediate problem with the teacher but couldn't solve Abel's (perhaps my?) problem of being misunderstood.
- - -
It's been nine years since those first challenging and overwhelming times that left me uncertain and vulnerable. Thankfully my Spanish has improved and I can go to parent teacher conferences and to doctors' visits with ease. Abel's Spanish is even better than my own and he has found his way. He's still imaginative and once in a while gets into mischief of one sort or another, but he has the cultural skills to explain himself. I am no longer shouldering the awkward and sometimes terrifying burden of having adult responsibilities with toddler level language skills.
But there have been times lately, maybe due to the pandemic, maybe due to raising four teenagers, maybe due to the isolation of being cut off from flights, teams, family, and friends, that I have felt the weight of having adult responsibilities but at times what has felt like toddler level faith. I have been pushed to new limits and it's uncomfortable. I need to grow and to learn but it's humbling and not in a way that is beautiful like being quiet at sunset and realizing how small we are in the universe, but in a way that's like being sunburned with skin that is peeling, raw, and ugly.
This Lenten season maybe you are like me, not exactly the poster of missionary parent perfection. Maybe you are shouldering adult responsibilities but with toddler level coping skills due to burnout, toddler level theology to deal with the profound suffering, political division, and angst around you, or toddler level patience due to having kids on Zoom classes in subjects that you never even took in high school. Maybe you were even too tired to acknowledge Lent let alone give something up.
God is with us in our weariness. In our weakness. In our crankiness. We are understood and we'll come out of this season differently than when we entered it, hopefully deeper in our faith and love for each other.
"We always come at Lent like we are going to shape God. Like we are going to tell him all about our willpower and our devotion to Him...God takes our plans and pushes them further this season. He pulls them apart and puts them back together. In so many ways, Lent is the season when Jesus shapes us." -Sarah Condon